Theater & Cinema

Squid Game: Art in the Darkest of Places

Jimena Escoto 1 November 2021 min Read

Television may not have as long a history as other art forms. Nonetheless, it has taken inspiration from them. Now it is time for the most popular series right now: Squid Game. This amazingly crafted South Korean series got worldwide attention for its crude portrayal of the inequality, poverty, and debt crisis that the country suffers. Additionally, they addressed issues of immigration from North Korea and Pakistan and organ trafficking. But in this article, we are going to talk about those shots that remind us of iconic artworks. Maybe you spotted some of them. I should warn you: there will be SPOILERS along the way. 

The Scream of Squid Game

Squid Game. Art reference to Edvard Munch’s The Scream in Squid Game, S1E01. Squid Game/ Netflix.

Art reference to Edvard Munch’s The Scream in Squid Game, S1E01. Squid Game/ Netflix.

The Scream is one of the most famous paintings in Western art history. There is something incredibly intriguing about Edvard Munch’s masterpiece. Why is that person screaming? Are they surprised or terrified? Is it something they are seeing or is it behind them? We can barely distinguish two other human beings, but they do not seem to react the same way. Luckily, in Squid Game, we know exactly why participant 306 reacted like that.

Edvard Munch, The Scream of nature, 1893, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway.

Edvard Munch, The Scream of Nature, 1893, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway.

Squid Game’s Triangular Table

Squid Game. Art reference to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party in Squid Game, S1E08. Squid Game/ Netflix.

Art reference to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party in Squid Game, S1E08. Squid Game/ Netflix.

You do not see many triangular tables ever. Truly, it is an odd shape for furniture, so it naturally stands out when you see it. In episode 8 Front Man, Seong Gi-hun, Cho Sang-woo, and Kang Sae-byeok are rewarded with a luxurious dinner as finalists after surviving the Glass Bridge game. Taking the whole traumatic experience aside, the table is precisely in that triangular shape, one side for each of them. The call back to Judy Chicago’s Dinner table is inevitable. Of course, Chicago was trying to visibilize women in history while Squid Game is emphasizing the number 3 (against the 456 participants that began the game).

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, USA.

Escher’s Crazy Staircases Take Us to Squid Game

Squid Game. Art reference to Escher’s Relativity in Squid Game, S1E03. Squid Game/ Netflix.

Art reference to Escher’s Relativity in Squid Game, S1E03. Squid Game/ Netflix.

One of the show’s cleverest ideas was the design of the staircases. The space is full of intricate halls and multiple fake doors that would make any attempt to escape highly difficult. In fact, we see its effectiveness in episode 5 A Fair World. Furthermore, the colors like the childhood games in themselves add to the perversity of using very innocent elements in such a vicious place. But here, we can only think about M. C. Escher’s worlds. Specifically, we think of his print Relativity. In fact, the director Hwang Dong-hyuk, admitted it was a source of inspiration.

M.C. Escher, Relativity, 1953. The Boston Globe.

M.C. Escher, Relativity, 1953. The Boston Globe.

Squid Game’s Surrealist Ball

Every group in this show has its own aesthetic. For instance, the VIPs remind us of one of the avant-garde movements. In 1972, Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and her husband hosted a surrealist ball. Naturally, Salvador Dalí attended with other celebrities, such as Audrey Hepburn, Baron Alexis de Redé, Hélène Rochas, and the supermodel Marisa Berenson. The dress code was simple: “black tie, long dresses & surrealist heads”. The fancy event was held in the Chateau de Ferrières in France. As a result, the guests came up with elaborate masks, very similar to the ones featured at Squid Game. Moreover, the entire decoration is equally extravagant.

AdVertisment

Front Man’s Art Reading List

Squid Game. Lee Byung-hun as Front Man in Squid Game, 2021. Netflix.

Lee Byung-hun as Front Man in Squid Game, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021. Netflix.

Are you looking for art books? Maybe Hwang In-ho, aka Front Man can help you. This character is one of the most mysterious of them all. At last, episode 8 Front Man features the long-awaited and shocking revelation of this character’s identity. But before we discover that, there were some clues about him in episode 2 Hell. When Hwang Jun-ho is trying to find his missing brother, he goes to inspect his room in search of clues. And what do you know? If that is really Front Man’s room, then he must be a total art lover. The camera pans over his desk where there are a few books in Korean and English.

Squid Game. TV series still from Squid Game, S1E02, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021, Netflix.

TV series still from Squid Game, S1E02, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021, Netflix.

As we can see, some of them are about Western art history. Actually, it looks like he is into modern art as he keeps books on Picasso, Van Gogh, and Magritte. He even has this last one’s The Empire of Light II twice on the walls. The painting couldn’t possibly be a random choice. The artist is characterized for his intriguing works. Particularly, this one raises questions as the sky depicts daylight, while the lower half presents a night scene. Moreover, the single light in the middle of darkness could relate to the winner and only survivor of the game.

René Magritte, Empire of Light II, ca. 1954, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

René Magritte, Empire of Light II, ca. 1954, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

So there you have it, some details that make this show all the more enjoyable for us, art lovers.

Bibliography

1.

Ed Cripps. “Party Animals: The Rothschild Surrealist Ball”. 2016. The Rake. Retrieved on October 24th, 2021.

2.

Laurs Mars. “5 artistic references in Squid Game on Netflix that you missed! And HIDDEN DETAILS”. 2021. Youtube. Retrieved on October 23rd, 2021.

3.

Olivia Singer. “Lessons We Can Learn From The Rothschild Surrealist Ball”. 2015. AnOther. Retrieved on October 24th, 2021.

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