SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers about “Triangle of Sadness”.
“Triangle of Sadness,” the latest film from writer-director Ruben Östlund, follows a fashion model influencer, Yaya, and her boyfriend, Carl, as they embark on a cruise for the super-rich.
The privileged passengers demand obscene things, from washing the non-existent sails because they’re dirty to flying jars of Nutella out to sea. The luxury yacht is managed by a stern woman, Paula, and her always-smiling crew, but it’s commanded by an eccentric Karl Marx-quoting captain played by Woody Harrelson.
At first, everything goes according to Paula’s strict plan. But when a heavy storm hits during the extravagant captain’s dinner, chaos begins to unfold. Passengers struggle to eat their squid and sea urchin, spewing their less-than-appetizing dinner all over the ship. The entire sequence is nauseating not just for the passengers but for the viewer as well.
The night ends in disaster, and Carl and Yaya find themselves stranded on a deserted island with a small group of survivors. What follows is a satirical survival story that explores gender dynamics and class relations.
The narrative structure of the film is unusual, as its three acts are split into very distinct parts. While it was somewhat jarring to watch the plot constantly shift into unexpected territory, I was engaged from start to finish, always curious about where the story was going. Clocking in at 138 minutes long, “Triangle of Sadness” is by no means a short movie, and I felt the effect of its drawn-out run-time in some of the more meandering sequences.
“Triangle of Sadness” is at its best when it realizes and plays into the absurdity of the situations it presents. There are a few bits that are laugh-out-loud effective due to the performances of the ensemble cast — namely Harris Dickinson, Harrelson, Charlbi Dean and the film’s breakout star, Dolly De Leon.
De Leon plays a very small part throughout the first two acts but quickly becomes the star of the show once the shipwreck kicks into full gear. The commentary on class and gender becomes the most blatant in the third act, especially when her character — a Filipino maid named Abigail — takes charge of the survival situation. Because she’s the only one who knows how to make fire and catch fish, she establishes herself as the new captain. Abigail subjects the group to the demeaning treatment that she had to go through as they become dependent on her for survival.
This role reversal is about as far as the social commentary goes, though. The technical execution of “Triangle of Sadness” is stellar with gorgeous cinematography and distinct editing choices, but its message feels self-congratulatory and too familiar. Östlund spends over two hours telling us something we already know: excessive power leads to exploitation.
Don’t get me wrong: themes don’t have to be subtle to be executed well. That’s why satire is such an effective tool for social commentary. Absurd characters are thrown into absurd situations in order to dissect a certain social issue or cultural taboo.
If its themes were as clever as its plot, “Triangle of Sadness” would be an instant dark comedy classic.
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