Director Ruben Östlund wrote the script for his new film Triangle of Sadness at around the same time as the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017.
So when Östlund’s previous interest in beauty as currency collided with the society-wide exposure of endemic sexual assault and harassment within the entertainment industry, the product was a film that relentlessly constructs, reconstructs and deconstructs the sort of lives and relationships in the world that perhaps we uncritically produce, reproduce, and at many times suffer.
The film follows the lives of those within or connected to the ‘1%’. We begin with two influencer models, Yaya (Charlbi Dean Kriek) and Carl (Harris Dickinson), the entry-level characters of a wretched ensemble aboard a luxury cruise. Östlund focuses on its staff and customers as the politics of class are increasingly foregrounded through scenes of carefully crafted hilarity, discomfort and disgust.
Take, for example, perhaps this movie’s most infamous scene, the captain’s dinner. The alcoholic (not so) closeted Marxist ship captain, Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), is finally dragged to the main dining hall of this extravagant luxury yacht, where the rough conditions at sea trigger seasickness in nearly every wealthy patron. All the elements of filmmaking are masterfully brought together to make incarnate that satirical diatribe against the rich, that their disgusting wealth makes them nothing more than members of that decadent class: the bourgeoisie. From soundtrack to cinematography to the actors and the array of perfectly convincing sets of overflowing toilets and cabin walls stained with bodily fluids, Triangle of Sadness delivers a sequence which provokes you to laugh hysterically and, simultaneously, voyeuristically stare on in abject shock.
The second half of Triangle of Sadness explores how the domination and oppression that wealth almost necessarily lays down works when abstracted away from a clearly hierarchical setting. In a Lord of The Flies-esque scenario, the superb Dolly de Leon brings to life Abigail, a cleaner on the yacht. Class ressentiment and her own motivations distil for the audience an account of the disturbing, determining role power has even in intimate circumstances.
This inventive satire of how beauty, wealth and abuse work together is, however, far from exhaustive. We may see much of our world in Östlund’s, but I can’t say that Triangles of Sadness argues anything new about class or exploitation. Nevertheless, when, to quote the director, ‘the main challenge of the modern filmmaker is to convince audiences to leave the privacy of the living room or bedroom and come together to watch films’, this work not only meets that challenge head-on but goes above and beyond in faithfully portraying the contradictions that living in an unfair unjust world leads to.