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Triangle of Sadness: Anything but subtle
Film review

Triangle of Sadness: Anything but subtle

3 by Tómas Atli Einarsson 3 min. 08.12.2022
It is wildly entertaining but has the grossest vomiting scenes in film, says Tom Einarsson
Photo credit: DR

Having finally sat down to watch Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness I can see why people wouldn’t shut up about it. 

Irreverent and anything but subtle, its three parts feel like three different films with each fusing a sense of social realism with an all-pervasive and political atmosphere. 

One moment it’s over the top, with people vomiting on a rocking boat, and the next, complex but unspoken social hierarchies are upended and re-investigated from the bottom up. 

That being said, Triangle of Sadness also commits to a certain thematic sleight of hand that, while certainly encouraging post-viewing discussion, is brute force. It will bombard you with contrasting political views before setting up a scenario where such ideas might be put into practice, effectively begging for post-viewing arguments over what the film is trying to say.

In the film’s first part we meet Carl and Yaya (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean Kriek), a pair of models in a rocky and superficial relationship. They argue over money but eventually make up, with Carl seemingly much more into Yaya. The latter seems more attached to her phone and status on social media. The pair get an offer to take part in a cruise for free as a means to garner some free promotion due to Yaya’s status as an influencer. 

The second part, taking place entirely on a large yacht, represents a big old social layer cake. At the top are the guests - arms dealers, Russian millionaires, influencers - while the staff serving them are the middle layer. They expect very generous tips at the end of the cruise in return for bending over backwards for their guests’ whims. The yacht’s underclass literally and figuratively make up the bottom of the yacht’s population. Immigrant workers clean the toilets and work in the engine room, rarely crossing paths with either guests or crew. 

When a storm hits the ship during an elaborate dinner event, Triangle of Sadness is at its best; the set rocks back and forth, people projectile vomit and Woody Harrelson gives a couple of indignant smirks. 

It’s only after the film’s funniest scene that it enters its social experiment phase. To both audience and people aboard the yacht, Woody Harrelson and Dimitry, a self-professed Russian capitalist (and played by the fantastic Zlatko Burić), engage in an ideological debate over the ship's PA system. They go back and forth arguing over whether capitalism or communism are better, quoting Thatcher, Lenin, Reagan and Marx in turns. 

While genuinely funny, these contrasting positions are quickly put to the test. The yacht is raided by pirates and sinks; a handful of survivors make it to an isolated island to fend for themselves. 

I can’t spoil much more but suffice to say that this is a clearly-orchestrated thematic move. Triangle of Sadness gets the viewer going with a lively political debate before forcing its cast to reinvent society as a band of desperate castaways. 

The status quo on the boat is flipped on its head as power shifts to those actually capable of manual labour. This move, while certainly interesting, is also a little vulgar. 

The capitalism-communism debate on the yacht haunts the survivors on the island, although they never acknowledge it. Triangle of Sadness isn’t as interested in elaborating on previously established themes as it is in passing the thinking part onto the viewer. 

In other words, the film is practically designed for people to start debating whether the survivor’s micro-society was an example of capitalism or communism, whether either is viable when it’s a matter of brute survival, or whether one is better than the other. Good luck seeing it with a politically-minded moviegoer; you’ll never hear the end of it. 

So while it will certainly be a dinner topic, Triangle of Sadness is also the least subtle of all the recent overtly political films. Knives Out at least masked its commentary on wealth accumulation with a well-written murder mystery while Parasite brilliantly wove class into every fibre of its nailbiting being. 

Not so much for Triangle of Sadness. It blasts you with an overt analogy for class society and has its characters literally debate capitalism and its alternatives. Then it dumps the cast on an island to act out a thinly-veiled exercise in political theory. 

It is wildly entertaining and will probably top future clickbait articles about the grossest vomiting scenes in film. But is Triangle of Sadness subtle? Not terribly. 

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