Melissa Findlay gives her take on Ruben Östlund’s latest satirical black comedy, Triangle of Sadness…
Recently nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness is one that I have had on my watchlist for some time ever since it won the Cannes Film Festival’s highest accolade, the Palme d’Or, in May last year. The expectations were high, and I was not disappointed.
This satire and irony-riddled film introduce us to Carl and Yaya, a couple who are both models and come onto a luxury cruise as a gift from a brand that sponsors Yaya. The dynamic between Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) is something the audience quickly learn is filled with tension as male models earn only one-third of what their female counterparts earn. The tension arises after Carl feels pressured to always pay the bill at dinner but thinks it unfair as Yaya makes more money through her Instagram influence. For Östlund to choose to focus on this dynamic of a couple – where the female is making more than the male in an industry that perhaps is the only one in which this happens – makes for an interesting watch. It seems as though Carl has much more to lose in the relationship than Yaya, which is displayed in an argument between the two where Carl gets very passionate about who pays the bill payment.
Whilst on the cruise, it is clear that it’s a microcosm of the hierarchy within society. We see guests who are mostly older, white, and wearing expensive clothes; the stewards and deckhands who run the ship, who are still all white but are clearly beneath the guests; and finally, the maids and cleaners who are all people of colour and crammed into the small living quarters. Now, anyone who has clocked in enough hours watching Below Deck as I have will know that these hierarchies on the boat are no surprise. It can cost up to £50,000 for a charter of a superyacht, and the guests can demand the most outrageous requests which are expected to be met no matter what.
At dinner one evening on the boat, Carl and Yaya are sat next to a grotesque Russian millionaire named Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), that meets all the stereotypes that you can think of, and the two women with him. It is clear here that Östlund wanted to show the difference between Carl and Yaya and the other guests as they represent this new-age wealth of influencers compared to the old-money businessmen.
During the Captain’s dinner one night, a storm hits. The waves make every passenger seasick and causes carnage throughout the boat. This scene is not for the weak-stomached and contains just enough puke to institutionalise an individual with emetophobia. This, however, is used merely as a backdrop for the real crux of the film as both the captain (Woody Harrelson) and Dimitry are getting drunk together and are going back and forth on political theory. Like Dimitry says, the irony of “an American communist and a Russian capitalist” is comical.
As the sun begins to rise, an active grenade falls to an old couple’s feet, who had previously explained that they manufacture hand grenades and land mines. We then see pirates begin to take over the ship as the grenade detonates. Was this irony too on the nose? Maybe. Did it still work? No comment.
A group consisting of Carl, Yaya, Dimitry, Paula (Vicki Berlin) – who was the Chief Stewardess, Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin) – a lonely millionaire, Therese (Iris Berben) – a guest on the cruise who can’t walk or speak that well, Nelson (Jean-Christophe Folly) – an employee who worked in the engine room, and Abigail (Dolly de Leon) – who was the toilet manager on the cruise, all become stranded on a nearby island.
Interestingly, the group quickly become reliant on Abigail as she is the only one who can start a fire or catch fish with her bare hands. Östlund has shown what happens when the script becomes flipped, and the wealthy guests no longer have the upper hand. They have to play into Abigail’s rapidly growing ego and power trip as she punishes other group members by not sharing food.
The scene that encapsulates this movie the most is when the body of Dimitry’s wife washes up on the shore and he is holding her, crying, while taking the expensive jewellery off her body to keep for himself. Greed was definitely the defining theme within this film and what it can do to a person, which is also evident in the scenes between the Captain and Dimitry, who discuss that, of course, wealthier people are capitalists because it benefits them the most.
The group start to become more settled in island life as a matriarchy is established, with Abigail at the top. Abigail also invites Carl back to the rescue boat at night, which acts as a shelter for only her to sleep, and in exchange for fish, Carl has to give Abigail sexual favours.
This plot point within the film was an extremely interesting one for Östlund to include. Despite the movie’s main takeaway being the greed of the wealthy, gender roles act as a secondary theme. Carl was a fascinating character to include as he represents more of a modern man, whose girlfriend is the breadwinner and is essentially playing the stereotype of a woman who sleeps her way to the top of the hierarchy.
The ending for Triangle of Sadness is left quite open ended. We see Yaya and Abigail trek to the other side of the island only to discover that there was a resort at the back of island the whole time. The film ends with Abigail sneaking up behind Yaya with a rock in her hand. This is then presumed to be Abigail wanting to keep the resort a secret because, for the first time in her life, she has authority over a group of people.
In my opinion, the cinematography was overlooked by the Academy this year when this film was not nominated in that category.I think the shots and muted colour palette blend seamlessly throughout the movie and was made to look eerily tranquil. With a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, it is definitely something you watch when you are able to carve out enough time to view it. However, unlike most longer films, this was not a struggle to sit through and it keeps you constantly entertained which is impressive in itself. Moral of this story being: rich people are assholes and it felt good to watch a movie where they have to struggle.