There is a clear absurdity at the heart of modern capitalism. With an increasingly disconcerting level of inequality, a growing inevitability of ecological collapse, and a simultaneous embrace of mindless excess by the top 1%, it’s hard not to feel helpless, confused, and enraged by the status quo. The approach of some filmmakers has been to detail and incisively satirize these dynamics, providing a sharp, empathetic and even educational look at the class divisions of the modern world. Indeed, to varying degrees, films like Parasite, The big courtand sorry to disturb you received applause for their comments. But, there isn’t always a need for such pointed commentary in films about class, economics or politics – after all, that’s the job of analysts and politicians.
As demonstrated Ruben Ostland triangle of sadness, there is also a place for caricature and brutal, crude catharsis. Just as there is room for depth and insight, there is also an understandable hunger for something less cerebral; something that simply acknowledges and laughs at the grim state of affairs. To briefly detail the plot (although it’s best to go totally blind), triangle of sadness follows a group of incredibly wealthy individuals on a private yacht as their journey is derailed by a series of increasingly absurd events. Rather than a deeply thoughtful exploration of social class, from Ostlund the priority is to first humiliate its ultra-rich characters before happily subjecting them to the ultimate indignity of exploitation and class role reversal. It may not be the most substantial satire, but its biting observations of social class, caustic humor, and third-act subversion certainly resonate with audiences.
laugh to cope
There may be defeatism in from Ostlund vision; a sense that in the face of such insurmountable opposition, all one can do is resort to acid mockery and fleeting subversion. Indeed, much of the film would be painful if it weren’t so funny. Through the brilliantly constructed last moments, this defeatism materializes.
Ostlund seems to suggest that the beast (in this case, the rich and powerful) cannot be tamed or even knocked down, but only pushed from afar. Nowhere is this sentiment better summed up than by the perpetually drunk and politically discouraged captain of the ship, portrayed with weary acceptance by Woody Harrelson.
However, the potentially divisive social commentary is only one facet of a film filled with terrific performances, a scathing script, and a consistently unpredictable sense of humor. When these things come together under from Ostlund meticulous direction, he creates some of the funniest moments at this year’s festival. Special mention here should go to several stage flight line deliveries from by Vicki Berlin character, the cheerful wife of a successful arms manufacturer.
Another highlight of the film comes perhaps from the less cartoonish characters, Yaya and Carl, interpreted with precision and nuance by Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson. Through this “influencer” couple, Ostlund channels a more grounded discussion of gender roles, relationship dynamics, and what he called the “currency of beauty.” Indeed, in the relentless trend of commodification, even the self is fair game. From their introduction as a couple in a brilliantly extended dinner sequence, Dickinson Carl, sensitive and talkative, is an amusing foil to Yaya, cold and calculated.
Elsewhere, the third act offers a hilariously sour and poignant performance from Dolly de Leon. A little like Dickinson and Dean, by Leon brings a piercing humanity to his character, elevating the role beyond the caricatures that surround him. Its story and dark ending can stay with the viewer long after watching it.
At some level, a large part of triangle of sadness feels like a cinematic equivalent of the anti-establishment political cartoons that were once so ubiquitous in cultural discourse. Take for example the nauseating sequence of passengers vomiting and alternately downing expensive champagne to relieve themselves, or the sight of At Zlatko Buric weeping oligarch removing jewelry from his wife’s corpse. There is an immediacy and a brutality in this mark of satire which recalls the simplicity of political caricature; a compression of an idea into an easily understandable and often ridiculous image. Although it may not work for everyone, from Ostlund The unpredictable and refreshing retreat of the rich and beautiful is well worth a watch.
Have you seen triangle of sadness? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Triangle of Sadness opened in limited theaters on October 7, 2022!
Watch Triangle of Sadness
Is content like this important to you?
Become a member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry’s great articles. Join a community of like-minded, movie-loving readers – access our network of private members, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.