ⓘ Play (2011 film)


ⓘ Play (2011 film)

Play is a 2011 Swedish film drama directed by Ruben Ostlund and written by Ostlund and Erik Hemmendorff. Inspired by actual court cases, it portrays a group of black boys who rob a smaller group of white boys by the means of a psychological game. The film was heavily debated in the Swedish press. It won the Nordic Council Film Prize in 2012.


1. Plot

In Gothenburg a gang of five black teenage boys act out an elaborate scheme for taking the belongings of one Asian and two white teenage boys, in which the blacks play good cop/bad cop this is previewed at the very start of the film with an earlier theft from two different boys. First they ask the time. When one of the victims checks the time on his mobile phone they claim it looks like the one that was stolen from a brother of one of them. The three boys have to come along to verify this with the brother. At one point the eight have to flee from a gang of adults, and one black and one white boy together get separated from the other six. By phone they find out the location of the others and reunite. Then after some moving around, one boy of the gang wants to quit; the gang leader responds by beating him up and kicking him. The four remaining gang members proceed with the three boys.

They end up in a deserted place where the four force the three to participate in a running contest, with one of the three against one of the four, where the group of the winner gets all valuables of all the boys. The two walk along a curved path to the starting point from where they have to run back to the others. The three lose due to a trick of the four: the boy from the group of three thought they had to run along the path, but the other boy ran straight. The three are now free to go. They have no phone to contact their parents and no money for the tram, so they travel without a ticket; they do not explain this to the conductor, and get fined and scolded by him for fare evasion.

Later the father of one of the victims of a different unseen theft confronts a gang member, but this is disapproved of by a female bystander who interprets this as racist.


2.1. Reception Critics reviews

Play was generally acclaimed by critics. The film holds an 81/100 average on Metacritic. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes also reports 80% approval with an average rating of 7/10, based on 15 reviews.


2.2. Reception Political reaction

The film led to a public debate in Swedish mass media, which in particular saw many indignant reactions from the far left of the political spectrum. The debate was triggered when author Jonas Hassen Khemiri published a list in Dagens Nyheter, with the title "47 reasons that I cried when I saw Ruben Ostlunds film Play ". Among Hassen Khemiris reasons were number six, "because I thought it was racist", and number 27, "because the audience laughed when the black robbers called a white guy an ape".

Åsa Linderborg, chief cultural editor of Aftonbladet wrote a column about the film. She derogatorily characterised Ostlund as "arty", and described her encounter with a black man soon after having left the theatre: "Within a nano second, my involuntarily programmed brain rolled out the same confused trailer for the progression of history as it always does when I see a coloured human: slave ships, Tintin in the Congo, cotton plantations, Rwanda, ANC, Muhammad Ali, the Cosby family, I Have a Dream, negerbollar, Malcolm X, children with flies in the face, Obama, AIDS, Idi Amin. a suburban mob stealing cell phones. I refuse to believe that it is this - another cliche - that Ruben Ostlund wants to achieve. But what is it he wants then?" Swedish Politician America Vera Zavala responded to Linderborg in the same newspaper. Vera Zavala argued that the film is not about race at all but about class, and described Linderborgs text as "language populism". She expressed admiration of Ostlund as "the long-missing star in the Swedish director sky. Someone who dares - despite the expected cliche accusations of racism - to describe a brutal class society where Swedes rob Swedes." Lena Andersson of Dagens Nyheter argued that both class and race are secondary in the film; that it rather captures the universally human abuse of power, and that it is provoking because it allows the audience neither to put blame on someone else nor to feel guilty about itself in an easily recognisable way. Andersson wrote: "Whats troublesome with Ostlunds film is that it holds up a mirror, for once not for the white to mirror its predominance in, but for the oppressed to see that he is capable to oppress. This burdens both parties. The perception of the other follows the same mechanisms whatever the name of the group is and doesnt become prettier because the group suffers or has suffered."