Love Watching Rich People Puke and Poop at the Same Time? Then Triangle of Sadness Is the Film for You
Film and TV have got a lot of mileage out of satirising the super-rich of late. There’s Succession, of course, and The White Lotus, which returns next week, and now Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and is out in cinemas today. Östlund’s darkly comic film—which earned itself both an eight-minute standing ovation and, allegedly, some walk-outs at its Cannes screening—pulls approximately zero punches as it exposes the venality of the upper echelons of modern society, as you might expect. But Östlund goes further: rather than just point out their baseness and leaving audiences to judge or despair, he’s going to make them—and us, for are we not both privileged and complicit?—suffer.
The film has a three-act structure which has the peculiar effect of both providing its two hour and 20 minutes with structural integrity and also, by inviting comparison between the three segments, highlighting the ways in which they are somewhat tonally disjointed (an intentionally sad triangle perhaps?). In the first act, we meet Carl and Yaya (pictured above), a workaday male model (played by the impressively versatile British actor Harris Dickinson) and his more successful model girlfriend (the late South African actress, Charlbi Dean, who died suddenly in August). A glimpse of their lives in the fashion industry offers laughs of the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel variety (“triangle of sadness”, we learn at one of Carl’s castings, refers to the frowny bit between your eyebrows). But Östlund still makes clever, nuanced observations about their power dynamic—in particular during a romantic meal that descends into an uncomfortable altercation over which of them is going to pick up the bill—that are a reminder of the delicate critique of human interactions at which he is so adept, most notably in his 2014 breakthrough, Force Majeure.
In act two, Carl and Yaya are seeking to patch over the fissures in the relationship on a luxury yacht holiday to which, as influencers, they’ve scored a freebie invite. This setting will be of particular interest to those who enjoy an episode or two of Below Deck (and who doesn’t! Series 10 starts in November, peeps!) and a special hat-tip is due to Vicki Berlin as Paula, who gets the misguided officiousness of the “chief stew” down perfectly. The assorted guests are as disgusting as you might expect: a Russian oligarch, his wife and his mistress (another sad triangle); an elderly British couple who reveal themselves to be munitions manufacturers (called, subtly, Winston and Clementine), and a lonely tech mogul who gives out luxury watches like party favours. The drunken captain, played with the usual likeable insouciance by Woody Harrelson, professes to be a Marxist but is clearly suckling at the teat of capitalism, the philosophical chagrin of which results in him taking an Ahabian stance in several scenes and refusing to come out of his cabin.
But before a third act that sees the guests and crew shipwrecked on a desert island and the social hierarchies starkly reversed (and, between Carl, Yaya and cleaner Abigail, played by Dolly de Leon, the plotting of yet another sad triangle), Östlund unleashes a torrent of the most literal, visceral kind. When the captain is finally lured out of his cabin to host the customary dinner in his honour, the weather is on the turn, and the mood—like the crockery—is on the slide. For a while the wait-staff and guests soldier on, guzzling spoonfuls of wobbling aspic while swallowing hard, but before very long we’re in territory that would make Mr Creosote, the Farrelly Brothers and Tim Robinson blush: vomit, shit, cascading toilet bowls, the works. And it goes on. And on. And on.
Which is presumably the point. That just because it’s not funny anymore doesn’t mean you—and they—shouldn’t have to continue to endure it. Many critics have highlighted this sequence as the strongest part of the film and while yes, it’s indelibly memorable, it’s also, as you might imagine, pretty gross. But maybe Östlund’s argument is that all that subtle skewering—the observation of insidious mannerisms and blithe hypocrisies, as seen is The White Lotus, or Succession, or even his own 2017 art world satire, The Square—is not really doing the trick. Certainly, as we set a blissful course, fuelled by inequality and greed, towards an environmental and humanitarian iceberg, no one seems to be paying much attention. In Triangle of Sadness, he doesn’t posit eating the rich so much as eviscerating them in the most disgusting of ways. If you can watch it and enjoy it, then good for you, you’re made of strong stuff. But maybe keep an empty popcorn carton handy just in case.
From: Esquire UK