Triangle of Sadness (now available on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video) is the second Palme d’Or winner for Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, the first being 2017’s The Square (his 2014 effort, Force Majeure, ONLY took home the Cannes Jury Prize). Boasting up-and-coming stars Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man and Where the Crawdads Sing) and Charlbi Dean (of TV’s Black Lightning; she died suddenly earlier this year) alongside sturdy veteran Woody Harrelson, Ostlund’s latest is a satirical black comedy potshotting the filthy rich, and takes great pleasure in seeing them suffer – especially during a grossout vomitfest that’s one of the year’s you’ve-gotta-see-THIS sequences.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The “triangle of sadness” refers to the wrinkle between your eyebrows that occurs when you’re experiencing a perfectly normal emotional state. It’s also the kind of thing the fashion biz must ERADICATE – you can’t have any of your models looking sad, you know. “Grumpy” and “happy” are more appropriate expressions for this line of work, which our protagonist Carl (Dickinson) is in. His girlfriend Yaya (Dean) is an influencer, and it’s established right off the bat that said profession earns more money than Carl’s runway-model gig. We learn this while they bicker about who should pick up the tab at dinner, and it balloons to a full-on fight rife with all kinds of infuriating acts of passiveness, aggressiveness and passive-aggressiveness.
That was Act I. Act II finds the couple aboard a yacht populated with bloated richie-riches, an overeager staff trained to never say no, and heavily armed security guards. A helicopter whup-whups into the area and drops a yellow case into the sea, quickly retrieved by the crew and quickly whisked down to the kitchen – when a billionaire on an ultra-luxury cruise wants Nutella, this is how they get it. Carl and Yaya sunbathe on the deck and argue when she’s friendly with a shirtless crew member and Carl complains about the guy to management and a bit later Carl sees the guy being fired and escorted off the ship and Carl feels bad about it. Meanwhile, flies buzz prominently in the foreground of shots and the sound mix because of the prominent moral rot and decay among the passengers – or maybe it’s a flies-drawn-to-feces metaphor. It works either way, I guess.
As Carl takes a photo of Yaya pretending to eat pasta for a social media post, we meet some of the other character types on board. There’s Dimitry (Zlatko Buric), a Russian slob who earned his fortune in fertilizer, and introduces himself by saying, “I sell shit.” Paula (Vicki Berlin) is the staff supervisor, always with a smile pasted on. The Captain (Harrelson) gets blotto-drunk inside his cabin and never ventures out. An elderly couple tells Carl and Yaya how they made a killing manufacturing hand grenades, but their business hit a rough patch when the U.N. started regulating landmines. The ship lists and sways violently in a storm during the Captain’s dinner, while passengers try to stomach oysters, escargot and what appears to be a pile of extra-gelatinous hand sanitizer, but is probably something nasty that a crustacean excreted. It doesn’t end well. That scene, I mean. More happens in Act III, where representatives of the class struggle aboard the ship end up in a dire scenario, leaving many of them despairing and likely wondering if they’ll ever have an opportunity to belittle a wine steward or undertip a concierge of color ever again.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Triangle of Sadness often feels like Michael Haneke’s Gilligan’s Island meets Yorgos Lanthomos’ Titanic. Fans of Bravo’s Below Deck franchise (and its many spin-offs) will also find the circumstances familiar, if supremely elevated.
Performance Worth Watching: Harrelson – who doesn’t go as over-the-top as we might expect, somewhat disappointingly – and Buric are equally amusing and ridiculous during a scene in which they drunkenly debate the tenets of socialism and capitalism.
Memorable Dialogue: “I’m not a worthy socialist. I’m a shit ssshhhhhocialishhhht.” – The Captain
Sex and Skin: Nothing beyond a scene in which Carl and Yaya engage in a little foreplay roleplay.
Our Take: Bodily fluids erupt and Ostlund doesn’t discriminate – the offal blurts forth pretty much equally from both ends of the digestive tract. And just when you think the filmmaker has rendered shit and vomit the great leveler, he shows us how the servant class ends up diligently scrubbing the floor in the wake of the wealthy’s gastrointestinal rebellion. Ah well, then. Perhaps this mighty, unforgettably vile sequence is a simple exercise in schadenfreude, as amusing as it is sickening.
Consider yourself warned, then. Triangle of Sadness takes big, sneering swipes at the moneyed class, so anyone with a wicked (and understandable!) lust to see billionaires suffer beneath Ostlund’s satirical sledge has a lot to snigger at. The screenplay’s odd, unconventional structure – the first act is a compelling study in male/female power dynamics, the second indulges familiar upstairs/downstairs class-struggle strata and the third devises a Lord of the Flies scenario – suggests there’s a greater idea at play, although what it may be remains either obfuscated or never thoroughly developed. The film is essentially Ostlund playing with proletariat/bourgeois stereotypes, lightly lampooning influencers and the fashion industry, breezing by feminism and the folly of societal facades, and iterating some obvious assertions about humanity’s failure to find the utopian mean between sharing what you earn and earning what you share. He at least takes the eat-the-rich concept a step further than usual, showing us what the rich eat when it goes in and then comes right back out.
Our Call: The rich are an easy target, but ever a worthy one, and Triangle of Sadness stirs enough eff-the-ruling-class righteousness to warrant a watch. STREAM IT, but this recommendation hinges on the strength of your stomach.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.