Director: Ruben Östlund Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly De Leon, Zlatko Buric, Woody Harrelson Running Time: 149 minutes
The ‘triangle of sadness’ gets a title drop early doors in Ruben Östlund’s latest satire. Journeyman male model Carl is asked to relax his while trying to book a job – his immediate financial security depends on sleight of hand and sex appeal. That the name sounds like some kind of cursed oceanic zone is no coincidence. Bluntly but with infectious glee, Östlund takes a series of class caricatures and hurls them out to sea.
Played by Harris Dickinson, Carl is part of an ensemble but makes for a really interesting character – the gap between who he sees himself as and who he really is being wafer-thin. He wants to avoid traditional gender roles in his relationship with influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean), he yells in her face about that specifically…we’re introduced to the couple in the film’s first chapter, which is centred around an awkward argument. Yaya, who makes more than Carl, conveniently forgets to pay for a meal despite promising earlier. He can pay, it’s just the principle, and she would have paid, she really just forgot. Carl’s bristling within this relationship makes for a interesting introduction to Triangle of Sadness‘ wider insights about power. He’s smart, but emotionally dishonest about his issues, which blinds him to actually solving them. Carl’s assertive passiveness and Yaya’s convenience of ignorance pick at something beyond wealth and gender, a wider privilege that’s happy to pass by but which bubbles quickly to the surface at the slightest hint of conflict – it won’t be the last one we see.
Yaya’s career and the free perks that come with it land the pair on a luxury cruise. It’s one where the staff are told under every possible circumstance to cater to the guests, that no demand is too unreasonable. We meet a few – a boorish Russian manurigarch (“I sell shit”), a pair of the most at-it-again Brits you’ll see this side of the Irish Simpsons Fans page. A sad sack tech millionaire, forever alone. Demanding old people. A crying baby. Is it any wonder that the ship’s captain, a heavy-drinking Socialist played by Woody Harrelson, tries to stay locked in his room at all costs?
Coming from the director of Force Majeure, it’s inevitable that disarray is on the horizon for these people, who’ve forcibly shoved their own karma out of whack. Östlund shows how people in lofty positions can’t help but make things worse for others. None of the passengers on the ship are Bad People, but inevitably, repeatedly find themselves from doing Bad People Shit. It’s the natural end result of the power dynamic that, when push comes to shove, they’re happy to keep. Carl’s impotent jealousy over Yaya smiling at a ruggedly handsome crewmember gets the man inadvertently fired. He didn’t explicitly want that, but does nothing to stop it. An insistence that every member of staff stop doing their jobs and ‘enjoy themselves’, going for a swim for the guest’s personal satisfaction, leads to dire, dire consequences. The bottom very much falls out of the cosy social dynamic aboard the yacht (incidentally, formerly owned by Aristotle Onassis and Jackie O in real life) and when the shit settles, we see desperate manoeuvring to establish a new hierarchy within our triangle, like so many Titanic deckchairs. A Filipino toilet cleaner Abigail (an excellent performance by Dolly De Leon) is, in so many words, the captain now, with others scrambling to assert their place behind her.
Östlund isn’t going out of his way to critique the rich and powerful – their odiousness is refreshingly self-evident. The artifice is so absurd to him that he plays around with it like a kid messily playing with their food – the results can be a bit all over the place, but fun and sincere. The camera unnervingly pans in conversation, or when the ship is on choppy waters, effectively playing to the uneven ground his characters are on socially. The film’s big sick selling point, a farcical dinner that causes mass, graphic, gross food sickness among the ship’s guest, is a scene dragged out to rakish length, both in the traditional and Sideshow Bob sense.
The structure is uneven – that run time will be felt. But it’s hilarious, hitting that It’s Always Sunny sweet spot of cyncisism where it is brutally honest about characters’ actions, but not uncessarily cruel in how it sees them. It’s definitely unpleasant, but undeniably satisfying – like pimple popping videos. To say the least it won’t be for everyone. But Triangle of Sadness is slick and sick – much like the bodily fluids that flow freely in the film’s queasy centrepiece.(3.5 / 5)