Ruben Östlund has made a habit of gleefully exposing human frailty in its many guises. From cowardice and emasculation on display in Force Majeure to the vanity and hypocrisy depicted in his biting satire The Square, Östlund is not one to shy away from the chance to expose our weaknesses. Triangle of Sadness is more – much, much more – of the same.
The action opens with a casting call for male models. Carl (Harris Dickinson) is up for a job and is asked to prance and pout. The boys are being followed around by a TV presenter, who asks if they are upset at the gender disparity in their business, with the women earning so much more than them. There is also some fun poked at fashion ads (pouty and distant for designer brands, smiley and inclusive for the cheap ones). When Carl takes his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean Kriek) to a fancy restaurant, that gender disparity comes under the microscope when the waiter appears with the bill. This leads to an argument and one of the funniest moments of the film. Östlund is excellent at prolonging the argument and our agony as the couple bicker over money and equality. However, the director’s decision to prolong another scene is a little counterintuitive, the joke – or what might better be referred to as the literal gag reel – overstaying its welcome. More on that in a bit.
Yaya and Carl are next seen on a luxury yacht, guests due to their joint success as influencers. They are joined by their companions who are a motley crew of arms manufacturers, a purveyor of fertiliser Dimitry (Zlatko Buric) with wife and mistress in tow, plus an array of other millionaires. The ship is captained by Captain Thomas (Woody Harrelson), a drunk and a socialist who rarely leaves his cabin. Chief Steward Paula (Vicki Berlin) is the one truly in charge of things, gearing her staff up with a rallying cry of ‘Money!’ as she inspires them to work hard for their generous tips. Further below decks are the predominantly Philippine staff in charge of feeding and cleaning up after their spoilt and oblivious charges.
When the yacht sails directly into a storm, a shitstorm quickly follows. The groans and agonies of the characters was replicated by many in the cinema; the sight and sound of so much shitting and vomiting too much for the queasier filmgoers. Perhaps Östlund does lay this on a little thick, but he is having so much fun doing so that it seems churlish to ask him to stop. His delight in the suffering of the rich as they writhe in their own excrement is really what this film is about. He wants to depict the rich as vulgar, unaware and despicable and he slathers us with this opinion as liberally as he covers his characters in shit.
It is when the survivors of the shipwreck arrive on a deserted beach that Östlund shows what real power and leadership look like. It is the toilet cleaning manager (Dolly De Leon) who knows how to fish, how to prepare a fire, how to prepare the food. The wealthy survivors are as helpless and useless as kittens.
Nothing about this film is subtle and little of it is original. Yet it is consistently entertaining and performed with real gusto. Harrelson and Buric as the drunken sparring partners, slinging quotes by Lenin, Marx, Reagan and Thatcher at one another, are particularly fun. As the beautiful models, Dickinson and Kriek are a treat, the former particularly revelling in his comedic role. Whilst not his best film, Östlund has nevertheless made a very good film. It looks as beautiful as its model protagonists and is both intelligent and engaging, albeit a little too long. Why wouldn’t you want to see the wealthy suffer? Eat the rich! Go see this film!