The ultra-rich passengers of a glamorous super yacht get their comeuppance in Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness
Triangle of Sadness is the latest headline grabbing feature from Swedish satirist Ruben Östlund. Where Östlund’s first film Force Majeure skewered toxic masculinity and his second The Square mocked the snobbery of the art world, Triangle of Sadness takes aim at the vapid super rich, subjecting them to a brutal onslaught of punishment that highlights the inequalities between the haves and have nots. Triangle of Sadness is Östlund’s second film in a row to win the Palm d’Or at Cannes and was reviewed here as part of the BFI London Film Festival where it is playing ahead of a general release in October.
Triangle of Sadness is split into three acts and largely follows Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean,) a pair of superficial models/influencers who find themselves trapped alongside a varied group of arms dealers, oligarchs, aristocracy, and their domestic staff. Co-stars include Woody Harrelson as a drunken, Marxist ship Captain, Dolly De Leon as cutting toilet cleaner Abigail and Vicki Berlin as unfailingly professional chief steward Paula.
The first act sees Carl and Yaya attempting to make their mark at fashion week whilst bickering about money – awkwardly playing at being progressive and socially conscious whilst really trying to fit in with the genuine rich people around them. In the second act the couple have inveigled their way onto a luxury super yacht to hobnob with billionaires and abuse the harried service staff who are desperately, frantically trying to grant all demanding wishes of their absurd clientele.
The third act (and it’s not too much of a spoiler to say this, it’s in the trailer) sees a cataclysmic event as the yacht is shipwrecked and the airheaded elites left to fend for themselves, lost on a desert island with barely any supplies and only a few surviving members of yacht’s crew to rely on. The power dynamic is flipped on its head as the crew members are the ones with the skills, and the previously rich passengers find themselves on the bottom rung of this newly formed society.
Yet in a cutting mockery of real society, Ostland reminds us that sex always sells as Carl comes to find that his looks can carve him out a special place in the new hierarchy. Maybe there *isn’t* more to life that being really really ridiculously good looking?
Where Östlund’s previous work may have mocked it’s central characters with more of a slow build, a subtle wink or a backhanded comment that then snowballs into something more – Triangle of Sadness is balls to the wall offensive, unflinching in its mockery of the vacuous elite from the very opening minutes. It’s a takedown so brutal that you actually start to feel sorry for these people in some moments.
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Though it may feel less clever to lay it out so plainly; the absolute unflinching chaos of Triangle of Sadness is very, very funny. (Take warning, your enjoyment of the comedy may vary based on how much you laugh at the sight of gratuitous vomiting – there’s alot of gratuitous vomiting.) Though a great deal of thought has clearly gone in to creating a subtle air of discomfort and moral decay in the set up to the punchline (the ever-present flies on the yacht, the sickening sound effects) it’s the grossest moments that have the audiences laughing the hardest.
As hilarious as it is astute, Triangle of Sadness barely gives you a chance to breathe as it forces its unlikeable characters from one torment to the next. Shamelessly outrageous, delightfully unsubtle, and irresistibly grotesque.