Triangle of Sadness is not the best class satire of this decade, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most unorthodox.
Published on March 16, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Director Ruben Östlund has crafted some of the most compelling satires with his filmography, including Force Majeure and The Square. With such a resume, Triangle of Sadness feels like one of his lesser films, especially for being his first English-language film. It almost feels like the film is intentionally made blunter and more straightforward for American audiences to read the vicious class struggle comedy at play. That being said, even for being a more simplified picture of this relevant topic, this dark comedy has some bursts of charm and cleverness.
The hindrance of such a picture is that it has an uneven story with its wildly shifting focus. For the first act, the film follows the lifestyle of the male model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and the social media influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean). Their relationship is a hollow one built more on clout than romance. Further complicating their relationship is the uncomfortable nature of the gender dynamic, where a struggling Carl feels he needs to fulfill the male stereotypes of paying for everything and being more of a leader, aspects he does not embody.
Before the film can explore this dynamic deeply, the picture has whisked away to the second act on a luxury yacht. Aboard this vessel is a slew of filthy wealthy guests and money-hungry workers. It is here where the film becomes lost in its ensemble of characters, including the demanding director Paula (Vicki Berlin) and a stuffy elder couple that speaks way too calmly about being in the business of dealing with war weapons. The messaging becomes far more savage when the greedy capitalist Dimitry (Zlatko Burić) gets into a jovial argument about politics with the drunk communist captain Thomas (Woody Harrelson). While they bicker over the PA system, the rest of the yacht becomes flooded with puke and poop as the guests grow ill.
And in case the power dynamics and class divide weren’t blunt enough, the third act hammers home all of this with the off-putting island arc. The survivors of the attacked yacht seek refuge on an island where the tables are turned. The once scorned worker Abigail takes complete control of the survivors as the only one who can hunt, start fires, and cook food. When the dynamic shifts, so do the perspective on gender, where Carl and Yaya find themselves in many different places.
There are some great scenes in Triangle of Sadness, even if a big chunk of them have an air of pretentiousness. So much of the class satire is reduced to the common complaints of the social media era and the grotesque depiction of the crumbling world via a yacht of sickness. Sometimes these scenes are brilliant for the absurdity, and sometimes the on-the-nose commentary falls flat. The political debate between Dimitry and Thomas is one of the rockiest scenes for roller-coasting between thoughtful insight and cordial absurdity. That being said, it does have some funny lines, as when Thomas remarks, “I’m not a communist; I’m a Marxist!”
Triangle of Sadness is not the best class satire of this decade, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most unorthodox. The cast performs excellently, requiring a knowing nature and several levels of egotism and despair. The best thing to say about a film like this is that it might be weird and blunt enough to leave a memorable mark. It will be hard to forget the debate on communism while a whole yacht is overflowing with vomit.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.