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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Triangle of Sadness (2022)

It’s been a while since my last review. My phone is filled with notes on every film I have seen since my last review - the anxiety continues to grow inside me the longer I let these notes build up. But then fate rears its head and forces my hand, combining two things I absolutely adore made by one of my favourite current satirical filmmakers. Now, that’s not to say I am not going to eventually write those other pending reviews for my mental well-being, but I mean this right here, Triangle of Sadness, has the universe saying to me “get ‘er done”. So…Triangle of Sadness…it’s worth the hype. It’s thought-provoking but most importantly, it’s stupidly fun, providing each character and chapter with significant challenges that allow for writer/director Ruben Östlund’s favourite themes to flourish more than ever, making it my favourite film of his to date. It also sports one of the best ensembles of the year, with everyone relishing in the madness of Östlund’s laboratory.

Ruben Östlund’s latest Palm d’Or (his second in a row) winning comedy Triangle of Sadness combines minor, but significant elements of shows I have been enamored with recently: No. 1. Survivor, which is, no lies, one of my favourite shows/franchises of all time, even despite lackluster recent US seasons (Survivor AU and SA for the win); and then No. 2. the Below Deck universe which is probably my favourite cinematic universe as it stands (Sailing Yacht fans where you at?). But that’s a discussion for another day, I’m getting side-tracked (special thanks to my girlfriend for introducing me fully to these worlds - further proof that we are in the golden age of television).

It’s a movie about the social and economic elite as they indulge in their riches and themselves, eventually leading them to their deserving downfall once their little worlds collapse in on themselves in the face of chaos, destruction and unyielding uncertainty. Models Yaya (Charlby Dean Kriek, who unfortunately passed away suddenly this year from freakishly random circumstances. RIP) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) are in a symbiotic relationship. They’re both young, they’re both hot, so naturally, their presence in each other’s lives rack up their followers on social media which leads them to score a free ride on a luxurious 250 million dollar super yacht - rubbing shoulders with the wealthy elite, sitting comfortably on top of the social and economic ladder that towers over the different tiers of staff from less privileged to most privileged (not-so-coincidentally, darker to lighter skin-tones).

There have been lots of comparisons already made between this and Parasite (2019), Bong Joon-Ho’s fellow Palm d’Or winning AND Oscar-sweeping black comedy. I mean, it’s obviously an easy comparison. Both films deal with class disparities seen through the iris of darkly humorous observations that eventually paint both classes of poor and rich in unfavourable shades of shit, thanks to the circumstances that befall them. But this isn’t just a first-time leap into themes of class and the power it holds over each tier on the aforementioned step ladder for Ruben Östlund. Like Joon-ho, Östlund has been dealing with themes of class in every film he has made to date. Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017 – another Palm d’Or winner) focused on the affluent, wealthy elite as they partake in the privileged indulgences that their wealth and social status allow them to revel comfortably in. Instead of utilizing protagonists primarily from the bottom of the social ecosystem like Bong Joon-ho does in most of his works, Östlund opts to focus on the self-obsessed, first-world problemers perched on top of this ecosystem, often having the poorer, working-class individuals fixed into the background as observers, rather than fully-functioning characters (namely the janitor in Force Majeure). Östlund, who once worked at a ski resort before heading to film school, has an idea of the kind of people that pass through these worlds catered primarily for those with maddening amounts of disposable income. The Square shifted focus to the ridiculousness that is the art world with similar comical disdain. But it’s with Triangle of Sadness where Östlund’s favourite ideas are at their loudest - skewering everyone, from all walks of life and class (aimed mostly at the wealthy of course) with his patented vignette-structured script.

Told in three chapters, Östlund is at his grandest, boldest and wildest here. (these are seen in the trailer, so just for context and not spoilers) Chapter 1 is titled ‘Carl and Yaya’. Chapter 2 is called ‘The Yacht’ and finally, chapter three is named ‘The Island’. Each chapter unwinds the coil spun tightly around the film’s central ideas, exposing its myriad of colourful and ironically realistic characters that further implies how doomed we are as a species. Yaya and Carl, as mentioned before, are the beautiful people that the film mostly circles around: characters that are both relatable but also completely unrelatable depending on which end of the class spectrum you’re on. Like all of Östlund’s films, privilege is a key focal point, but here, it has him hitting all aspects and angles of the different machinations it takes the shape of. These said privileges range from skin colour to money, to being at the right place at the right time (shout out to Russian billionaire Dimitry who literally sells shit) and in Carl and Yaya's case, pretty privilege is a driving force in their careers and their lives - using it to gain access to certain areas not afforded to the rest of us average looking bozo’s who also happen to not be particularly wealthy. Östlund doesn’t just show the benefits that befall you if you tick off all the boxes in gaining these upper hands in life but delves deeper into his favourite themes in Triangle of Sadness, more so than ever.

On the surface, Triangle of Sadness may or may not be a Marxist manifesto. It’s constantly contradicting its ideologies and themes with each character’s progression and degradation throughout its plot that plays like a collection of humorous vignettes that feels so very Östlund. The boat itself is a major contradiction and literal plot device that allows for these ideals to spiral and eventually sink itself - eventually leading to the events and consequences of everyone’s behaviours, world views and even their possessions physically, literally and metaphorically. No one is really equal here. Even the privileged aren’t as equal as one another but are certainly far more equal than those waiting on hand and foot for their every desire and order (the Russian oligarch’s wife orders all the staff to stop working and have a dip in the ocean). Let’s go back to Yaya and Carl because it’s their early interactions in chapter one that helps set up the ideas and themes found throughout Triangle of Sadness that blossoms and eventually withers away in the salty ocean current later on. Carl is auditioning for a modeling campaign in the opening scenes of the film. A man interviews each of these beautiful, flawless-looking young men, who are all shirtless, about what it takes to be a model. But there’s a hilarious sequence where he tests their mettle as male models.

“Is this runway casting for a grumpy brand or a smiley brand?”

“Show me that Balenciaga look!”

They all brood, grumpily of course, but also, sexily…of course.

“Suddenly I’m dressed in something way less expensive. It’s H&M!”

They all break out in cheerful, happy-go-lucky grins before turning serious the moment the interviewer mentions Balenciaga, then switching back to the “I’m poorer but happy” smiles of an H&M peasant.

It’s not just a funny scene, but it’s obviously saying a lot. Why does grumpiness equate to being wealthy? Why do sunny dispositions equate to being lower than that? Does money really buy happiness? Or does broody, grumpiness spark joy? This is Östlund’s wonderfully satirical voice blooming in full here, echoing the very same sentiments he was scrawling onto the canvas with The Square, but as mentioned before, is louder and even more ludicrous here. **MINOR SPOILERS Shortly after this modeling audition that may or may not have landed Carl that job, he is at a swanky dinner with his fellow stupidly beautiful model girlfriend Yaya. The check arrives, but neither of them leaps for it. Carl looks at it, Yaya pretends it’s not there, distracted and scrolling through her phone. Soon, there’s an awkward, heated argument about the check in the restaurant. Carl reminds Yaya that it’s her turn to get it, but she smiles and pushes it more onto him, implying that he touched the check first so he must get it. Carl brings up equality, that in order for this alliance to work, they need to be on the same wavelength in terms of giving and taking within the relationship. As mentioned before, it’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both, propelling them further up their career paths as well as being an obviously sexually beneficial one. Yaya eventually concedes, “It’s fine, I earn more than you anyway.” Carl quickly feels bad, even more so when her card doesn’t clear, forcing him to pay anyway. The argument persists though, having them argue in and outside an elevator about equality. “I WANT US TO BE EQUAL! I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FUCKING MONEY” yells Carl (paraphrased). This, however, can never be true, and with that fight, we are effectively granted access to the central ideas and their contradictions that makes Triangle of Sadness hysterically frightening in its truthful observations of the world around us. MINOR SPOILERS**

As much as Carl (rightfully) wants them to be on equal footing in their relationship, he is also the most deeply flawed character throughout the film. He wants equality, sure, but only really for himself in a branch of the fashion industry that is dominated by women in not only demand but pay as well. This is another interesting piece of modus operandi deployed by Östlund in Triangle. Women are constantly in power and have power over their feeble-minded male inferiors throughout. Sure, life isn’t like that as it’s never been equality men have afforded women. But here, they constantly run the show while the men think they do. Yaya has control over Carl’s jealousy, the chief stew aboard the ship (Vicki Berlin) runs the show while the captain (Woody Harrelson) remains locked in his quarters, drinking any and all voice of reason away; and finally, when all society breaks down **SPOILER, the survivors wash ashore on a nearby island with the women taking full control: particularly that of the once lowly maid Abigail (Dolly De Leon) having her own “I’m the captain now” moment that is empowering for anyone sick of taking beatings down from those above them. SPOILER**

“I’m a shit soshia-I’m a shit sosh-I’M A SHIT SOCIALIST”. The drunken captain, an American Marxist shares drinks with the resident Russian capitalist (Mr. shit salesman) as they wail into the ship’s intercom system and play drinking games. The Russian slobbers over the intercom mic: “The ship is going down. The ship is going down. The ship is NOT going down”, giggling at uncertain doom amidst a violent storm while sparring quotes with his opposite in ideals: an American who openly admits, is a shit socialist, failing at living in the skin of the Marxist he once dreamt of being - his own ideals having betrayed him, leading him to be a boat captain in an industry carved and built on the back of hyper-capitalism, bringing people from around the world together to bathe in their wealth: A tech wiz who recently sold his company for an unknown fortune, a sweet old, English couple who have profited off of war and suffering by selling explosives to brittle, developing countries, Carl and Yaya getting a free trip on the boat thanks to social media granting their pretty privilege a few steps up the ladder, and of course, the literal shit salesman from Russia (to be specific, he sells manure. A shit ton of it too apparently). They’ve all gathered here thanks to their wealth of privilege; products of being in the right place at the right time – absorbing the favourable boom offered to them in an exact time in humanity’s short runtime on Earth.

Then there are the others: The worker bees who toil away to make sure their expensive trips are to their enjoyment. Although they serve their flashy masters, their “guests”, they’re effectively expendable playthings to them. And even then, they’re not all equal. The stews and deck crew (all white) do as they’re told, providing a refined image of service and luxury: "Yes ma'am! Yes sir!". Beneath the exterior, lying at the bottom of the totem pole, are the maids and engine crew, people who are, of course, people of colour, earning far less than the rest of the manicured crew shuffling above them. A great example of this is through a visual gag has the chief stew pumping up her team. They sit in one of the Yacht’s many lounges before they start chanting “money” over and over again. They grow louder, to the point of being completely ravenous about the idea of receiving massive tips from their guests. Then we cut to the maids and other crew in the doldrums of the boat, confused at the noise blaring above them. They’re not equal. Not even close.

This is why The Island is such a great chapter in that, like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, shows how power eventually corrupts all, regardless of background. **SPOILERS Once the boat is all but at the bottom of the ocean, the remaining survivors find themselves stripped of both luxury and necessities. But of course, almost immediately, the privileged demand to be in charge. After all, they’re still the guests and are technically still on holiday. Right? The chief stew leaps at the opportunity to continue serving her wealthy and beautiful masters, possibly out of pure professionalism or possibly out of getting that big tip. Once Abigail arrives with water, food and a sheltered boat that could prove to be a vital part to their survival, she is subjected to working once again for the guests, being pushed around by the chief stew before she finally takes control, using her set of skills in fishing, making fires and well, keeping them all alive in order to, well, keep them alive. Once again, the men thought they were in charge. Hell, even the chief stew thought she was in charge, only for Abigail to remind them very quickly that they have no power here because they have absolutely nothing to offer in saving their lives. Once again, the right place at the right time. Fortune afforded to a lucky individual: Abigail. Good for you, gal. “I’m the captain now.”

(paraphrasing here). SPOILERS**

Triangle of Sadness pokes fun at the class struggle most effectively on the island: stripping away the privilege of the privileged, subjecting them to helpless insects scared of the unknown noise blaring at them from the dark of the jungle. There will be the occasional beneficial, symbiotic relationship created, exploited and exposed, but for the most part, these characters and their journeys are brought to ironic, thrilling and unexpected finales that have Östlund’s instinct for satire firing on all cylinders. It’s an outrageously funny, ironic and even gross experience that proudly sports a 15-minute vomiting and diarrhea sequence, all while Woody Harrelson’s character relishes in the misery he is able to inflict onto his guests, a means of compromising with his failure in socialism and sticking it to the fat pigs he feels disdain for.

Like Parasite, a fellow, recent Palm d’Or winner, it views the idea of class itself as a dangerous and frivolous thing that has unfortunately staked its claim permanently on humanity. There’s no hiding from it, and in those moments where the rich and beautiful are vomiting and shitting all over themselves, when they are washing up lifeless on the island, sharing the same fire with the other crew members, fearing the same strange noise in the jungle, class all but vanishes. In the film’s thrilling final moments, Östlund reminds us that this is wishful thinking - that once we have a taste of something better than what we have experienced or are experiencing currently, we will never change. For better or for worse.

Where you can watch it: In theatres (Worldwide)

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