You might think that extremely gluttonous members of the upper class are an easy target for satire, and plenty of critics of Triangle of Sadness would agree with you, but I can honestly say I will never get tired of their over-indulgent worlds coming crashing down. Yet again, director Ruben Östlund takes aim at the inequalities of society in his latest black comedy, and it immediately glides into my top films released in 2022.
Triangle of Sadness follows a collection of incredibly wealthy guests on a luxury cruise ship guided by an alcoholic captain played by Woody Harrelson. Guests include a Russian fertilizer tycoon (the self-proclaimed ‘King of Sh*t’) and a sweet elderly British couple who made their fortune from hand grenades and land mines. However, the story mainly follows a model called Carl, played by Harris Dickinson, and his influencer girlfriend Yaya, played by the late Charlbi Dean.
As the cruise progresses, things start to take a turn for the rich guests. Stormy seas, projectile vomiting, and pirates all have a part to play in the unravelling of the serene lifestyle that each character has built for themselves. Class levels ultimately turn on their head and the guests have to degrade themselves in incredibly satisfying ways.
Perhaps driven by the current social mood, satire of the super wealthy seems to be the flavor of the day at the moment. Mark Mylod’s The Menu recently took at aim at the pretension and exclusive nature of fine dining, and The Triangle of Sadness has a very similar feel. The guests have paid extortionate amounts of money for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and while they might have got what they asked for, it’s not exactly as they hoped.
The first portion of the film successfully gives the audience a glimpse into the ignorant mindset of some of the uber-wealthy characters. One Russian woman, desperate for the boat’s staff to “enjoy the moment,” forces them to immediately stop what they’re doing and go for a swim. What might seem on the surface an attempt to let the staff have some fun is just another instance of the rich making the poor bend to their will, inconveniencing everyone on board.
In a similarly comic but maddening moment, another guest complains about the dirt-covered sails ruining her sunbathing spot. When the captain informs her that the motorized vessel in fact has no sails, she continues to argue her point vehemently. “Well then in that case, we will clean the sails,” Harrelson’s character ultimately concedes, followed by a large frustrated glug of champagne.
That leads us to Harrelson’s performance as a whole which as usual is completely flawless. His character – a Marxist who drowns his sorrows in booze as he’s forced to work for some of the greediest capitalists on earth – seems one of the only really relatable characters, but I guess that also depends on your ideologies. One of the film’s best moments comes when the captain spends a drunken night with Dimitry the fertilizer magnate, trading quotes and berating guests on the ship’s intercom.
While Harrelson puts in a great shift, his lesser-known peers also do Östlund’s writing justice. Dickinson, who recently appeared in The King’s Man and Where the Crawdads Sing, expertly conveys his character’s insecurity despite his good looks. Playing a toilet manager who ends up with a vital role, Dolly De Leon is also riveting as Abigail who has a real likeable quality while not being afraid to get her hands dirty.
Finally, it’s also important to note the performance of Charlbi Dean, who I’m sure drew on her modeling background to portray the role of influencer Yaya with such realism. Triangle of Sadness will always have a sad note over it due to the sudden death of Dean in August last year shortly after filming. At just 32, the South African had plenty more to give and her performance here demonstrates that she fit into the world of cinema perfectly.
I’m ashamed to say that, while I’ve heard good things, I’m yet to watch any of Östlund’s previous work. After seeing how the Swedish writer/director expertly deconstructs the worst elements of our society, Force Majeure and The Square have definitely made their way onto Soggy Popcorn’s watch list.