Triangle of Sadness (2022)

It’s quite frankly impossible to deny that Ruben Östlund’s directorial output – sparse as it may be in quantity – has been consistently delivering both in terms of visceral enjoyment and intellectual engagement engendered by the subject matter the filmmaker has dabbled in. In fact, from Involuntary to The Square, Östlund successfully crafted a string of politically charged satires awash with allegories and teeming with extratextual frustrations consciously imposed upon unsuspecting viewers in order to unsettle and force them to think critically about aspects of their existence they’d rather left alone in the dark.  

Triangle of Sadness, Östlund’s newest Palme d’Or-winning piece, is no different in this regard. It builds upon the filmmaker’s prior body of work to assemble a veritable mosaic of thematic depth and unequivocally proves that Östlund no longer ‘dabbles’ or plays around with the idea of aggravating the very audiences he is attempting to appeal to, but he openly dives headfirst into the dark waters of unflinching satire that – through the forcefulness of its allegorical constitution – is geared to inflict unspeakable damage upon those it is attempting to mock.  

The movie uses a young couple – she (Charlbi Dean Kriek) is an Instagram model, he (Harris Dickinson) is her boyfriend, a model – as an anchor to weave its highly episodic braid of anecdotal vignettes. Yes, they both have names – Yaya and Carl. But it does not matter one iota because their characters are archetypes written to fulfil, question and upset a set of societal norms on our behalf. We meet Carl in the opening of the film, during a modelling audition, which to the naked eye is indistinguishable from a cattle auction where a group of sad faces ogle supple young bodies in search of one that would sell their brand the most convincingly. The process is vapid, shallow, excruciating and downright degrading to its subjects who willingly subject themselves to objectification, lewd comments and observations that openly try to insult their intellects.  

Perhaps, this is also where the filmmaker wants us to question whether these models know they are being made fun of or if they are indeed too stupid to notice how they are being taken advantage of; however, if Östlund’s prior record is anything to go by, this is a purposeful gambit on his behalf. He is setting up the audience to take a side in this experiment and to set themselves up on a moral high horse, off which they will be eventually thrown. And that’s just the opening scene, a short prologue if you will. 

Blink and we’re at a restaurant where Yaya and Carl just had dinner. Akin to wartime correspondents we are parachuted into the middle of what looks like a battleground in between artillery barrages where the relative serenity of the situation is undercut by the fact the landscape is peppered with craters left by high explosive ordnance dropped just a minute ago. We are in the eye of the storm because – as we can infer – the matter of settling the bill is about to be raised. She’s on her phone pretending not to see the waiter, while he is trying to remind her she had apparently promised to “pay next time” the last time the two had dined together. She earns more than he does, but she also knows he is societally obliged to take care of his date, while he seems perfectly aware of the fact she is using this societal obligation as an excuse not to pay in the first place despite the fact she is more well off than him. In fact, after a brief but brutal exchange it turns out she did not bring enough money to the restaurant in the first place, thus suggesting that she had never intended to even attempt to pay for dinner. And he knows it. The fight continues in the taxi. He feels manipulated and used. She feels threatened. He lashes out. She gloats over his display of anger. They separate. They cool off. They reunite. They kiss and make up.  

Cut to a luxurious yacht where Yaya and Carl are now basking in the sun and idling as the crew is humming about, preparing to host a batch of exorbitantly wealthy guests on board.  

Cut to Carl complaining that one of the crew members took his shirt off and made him feel emasculated.  

Cut to the captain (Woody Harrelson) refusing to leave his cabin, drunk into a stupor and freely quoting Marx.  

Cut to a cute elderly couple gleefully admitting they made their billions selling hand grenades.  

Cut to a Russian billionaire espousing the basic tenets of capitalism while his wife amuses herself by telling the yacht crew to take a break in the pool. 

Cut to the captain’s dinner.  

Cut to a storm.  

Cut to everyone vomiting and pissing and defecating, helpless to the whims of Mother Nature joyfully striking through the safety cushion of their fortunes and denuding their vulnerable biology. Cut to pirates, desert islands, explosions, betrayal, class warfare, biblical allegories, sex and prostitution. 

Suffice it to say that Triangle of Sadness doesn’t so much unfold as it snowballs into an avalanche with its multiple vignettes never cohering together to become a unified voice. Instead, they add to a cacophonous onslaught that somehow feels incredibly pleasurable, perhaps because it is bypassing our senses to attack our intellect directly. It might not make much sense to an outside observer, but Östlund’s movie makes total sense while making none. It’s an orchestra conducted by a madman where the strings play a waltz, the horns are doing a Wagner piece and the choir in the back is giving everything a church-like feel while percussionists are busy pounding awa perfect quarter-note triplets. The movie as a whole is an example of controlled insanity similar in spirit to Darren Aronofsky’s mother! From a few years ago.  

However, there is a classier way to categorize what Triangle of Sadness is attempting that considers both the gravity of this undertaking and Ruben Östlund’s own standing in the history of the medium as it is being written now. A holistic look at his career will immediately reveal that his work is heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel, who spent decades critiquing the wealthy, skewering the privileged and undermining the primacy of the Catholic Church, thus upsetting the calcified societal status quo and prodding at the very values the audiences of his time would consider fundamental. 

Similarly, Östlund has always expressed interest in interrogating gender norms, conservative worldview, class divides and the perceived listlessness of the richest castes of the modern Western societies. He seemed to be perfectly at home bathing in the tears of emasculated men, laughing in the face of what modern societies espouse as virtuous and peeling off the epidermis of politeness to see what we are really made of when pushed to the brink. From Play to Force Majeure and The Square, his body of work has consistently grown in scope and aspiration while the filmmaker himself has evolved to be ever more uncompromising and unflinching in the methodology of his messaging.  

Thus, if Force Majeure was his Belle de Jour in the way it interrogated the frail masculine ego, then Triangle of Sadness is Ruben Östlund’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, an unmitigated triumph of artistic expression that translates wholesale into intellectual titillation. Östlund soars as a storyteller and an acute critic of our society who is perfectly aware of where our soft white underbelly resides and who is not afraid to slice it open and see our entrails spill onto the pavement with a majestic shlurp. 

Triangle of Sadness is a masterclass of critiquing through comedy that uses so damn perfectly it’s allegorical underpinnings to talk about the reality of our existence many of us are unprepared to face. We live in a world where the rich have gotten richer, the poor are getting poorer and as the rift between classes widens immeasurably, we are completely oblivious to this catastrophe as we are busy chasing dopamine hits on Instagram and TikTok. In a way, this movie is crown jewel not only in Östlund’s filmmaking output but perhaps in the recent run of eat-the-rich movies like Parasite, Snowpiercer or Us. It successfully places a mirror in front of our very faces (much like most of his other movies, mind you) and forces us to take a long hard look at the world we have created for our children through complete lack of conviction and guts to keep checks and balances on the ruling castes. Instead we bought into the lie we could one day join them, if only we worked hard enough or we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Not many filmmakers are capable of reducing the viewer to tears and having them blow their stitches while knowing full well what they were laughing at was no laughing matter.

What this movie achieves, in contrast to many others, is that it finally establishes a stable landline to the past that should once and for all inform us we have been taken for fools for way too long. We’ve been having the same conversations about the class divides, the idle rich and the vanity of our comfortably numb existence for decades now and it is clearly undeniable to anyone interested in anything beyond what Marvel has in store that another generation of filmmakers has come of age and grew tired of the same issues that made Luis Buñuel or Michael Haneke lose sleep at night.  

Between its unfettered and brutally straightforward energy, the seemingly incoherent structural cacophony and the sheer talent of its performers, Triangle of Sadness is easily the movie of the year in my opinion, and perhaps a strong contender for the movie of the decade in a few years’ time. In any case, it is an unequivocal proof that Ruben Östlund is a singular voice that speaks truth to power and upsets the status quo in ways other do not, which makes him nothing short of the Luis Buñuel of our time. 

One thought on “Triangle of Sadness (2022)

  1. Pingback: Oscar Noms, the Death of Hollywood and Early Onset Dementia | Flasz On Film

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