Triangle of Sadness
Writer-director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Henrik Dorsin, Vicki Berlin, and Woody Harrelson.
Released in cinemas.
The obsession to achieve equality is a farce unto itself. No two people can be equal: whether they’re of the same gender or class. Both gender and class are key factors in Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness. Power is the third factor that makes it a metaphorical triangle. The term Triangle of Sadness refers to the frown lines between your eyebrows. We get to know about it when a male model is asked to work on his triangle of sadness by a casting agent/creative director of an ad campaign.
The film begins with a kickass sequence where male models show how to pose for different brands. The cheaper the brand, the happier the expressions. The more expensive a brand gets, the more serious your face turns as if you look down upon the customer. The ones obsessed with big brands in order to show off their status quo are actually looked down upon by the creators of these brands. All of us are part of this larger farce called consumerism. A piece of stunning background music plays over this opening sequence. It’s a satire, alright. I was pleased with that realization.
The following sequence, which seems to be never-ending, shows the male model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his model/influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) arguing about who pays for dinner. Modeling is one of the very few professions where women get paid more than men. Male models earn only 1/3rd of what female models do. No feminist groups are fighting for gender equality in pay there. The desire for a female body is way higher/stronger than the desire for a male body. No wokeness about equality can challenge the norms of nature. Anyway, let me not indulge in it any further.
Östlund walks this thin rope of balancing between the gender lines/roles/perceptions to the best of his abilities. It is sick to doubt the intentions of a filmmaker, but one could sense that Östlund is unapologetic about his gaze. I sensed he tried to show things the way they are. So, during the latter half of the film when Carl is emasculated by Yaya and another woman Abigail (a solid Dolly de Leon), whether you laugh at Carl’s expense or you get offended by it depends solely on your obsession with your gender politics. I watched this film at a preview screening. Many ladies had a great laugh when Carl was manipulated for sex by Abigail and for food by Yaya. Just put Yaya in place of Carl and those laughs will turn into frowns.
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Anyway. Carl and Yaya get a sponsored trip on a cruise that mostly has the wealthiest from across the globe. There’s a Russian businessman and his wife and mistress. An elderly British couple who is in the business of arms manufacturing. There’s another super-rich but a lonely businessman. Woody Harrelson plays the cruise captain who is having some sort of breakdown. Östlund takes his own time to establish all these characters so that when the hell will break loose we’ll know why these characters behave the way they do. Also, this setup provides a tragicomic impact when the tables turn.
How do the tables turn? On the night of the captain’s dinner, because of tyrant weather, the cruise starts rocking. With that begins a squirt fest of vomit. It’s quite graphic but hilarious at the same time. I will refrain from giving too many details because it kills the fun. But the key characters of this film are left stranded on an island of sorts with no amenities whatsoever. The most evolved species/generation are thrown back into the jungle where it all began for mankind.
And when this happens, the power gear changes and Abigail, a toilet cleaner on the cruise now possesses the highest power. Because she is the only one who can arrange any food or has the natural reflexes to survive in dire situations. The entire group reluctantly agrees to bow down to the high command. And thus begins the real triangle of power, greed, and opportunism. It is also when the film seems to drag in parts. But I guess that has got to do more with our attention span than the film’s pace. How quickly can things move on a deserted island?
Östlund keeps you guessing throughout about where it all could lead to. And apart from the beginning of the climax, I couldn’t guess what might happen next. That’s such a rarity these days with feature films. In most films, you can predict how the film is going to pan out because there are only certain things that can happen in two hours, no?
As for the performances, all the members of an ensemble cast are in top form. Woody Harrelson can perform this kind of role in his sleep. I particularly liked the performances of Dickinson, Dean, de Leon, Vicki Berlin who plays the main stewardess, and Zlatko Burić who plays the Russian businessman.
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Amidst the chaos, there’s a sharp undercurrent of social commentary on not just class and gender but also capitalism, socialism, communism, and their old common friend corruption. The scenes involving Harrelson and Burić are particularly hilarious and profound.
Triangle of Sadness is a big screen spectacle for the sheer atmospherics it achieves with great action choreography, cinematography, production design, sound, and background music. The most pleasing thing for me to take away from this film was that although the world is living in a satire that is not even funny anymore, there’s still room for a great satire to be seen on the magical silver screen. Go check it out.