February 10, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Sophia Lisco
Enough brow-furrowing throughout the years can lead to a few wrinkles, and NEON Productions wants to help you get rid of them. For a short period, purchasing a ticket to their newest release, “Triangle of Sadness”, would earn you a free unit of Botox to smooth away your woes. Named for the expressive patch of skin between eyebrows, Ruben Östlund’s film was a festival favorite that was laughably bleak, mimicking much of their marketing tactics.
Earning Östlund’s second Palme d’Or, the highest prize at Cannes Film Festival, “Triangle of Sadness” leverages Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson to highlight lesser-known stars like Harris Dickinson and the late Charli Dean, whose combined attractiveness alone makes the film worth watching (and might even inspire booking a Botox injection appointment). The two play Carl and Yaya, a pair of what I’d call “models-slash-influencers” engaged in a toxically transactional relationship, who are gifted a luxury cruise. As seems to be the trend in recent media, the audience follows a group of the uber-wealthy as they embark on an elite experience on a fantastic yacht (see “The Menu,” “Glass Onion,” “White Lotus,” etc.).
The three-act structure of “Triangle of Sadness” couldn’t be more pronounced, serving to create a structural hierarchy that mirrors the social castes that the film’s characters fall into. Östlund’s satirical dialogue moves in full force by the opening scene of the first act, when Carl and Yaya bicker over who will pay the bill after their meal. Yes, Carl is the man, but Yaya said she would pay last time, and she makes more money than him. Besides, Carl argues, shouldn’t they avoid slipping into these patriarchal gender roles? It soon becomes apparent that these two are only together to build their careers, yet Carl intends to change that—Yaya will fall in love with him on this cruise.
Act two: enter the hilarious cast of characters aboard the lavish vessel once owned by the Kennedy family. As Östlund sets up a social hierarchy in real time, viewers meet a shit-selling Russian oligarch (no, really, he runs a fertilizer empire), a charming elderly couple (with serious money in hand grenades and land mines), and a pitiful bachelor (with more money than he knows what to do with). Moving down the totem pole from Rolexes to Sperrys, there’s a hilarious shot of a staff meeting involving the white, European cruise attendants who are preparing to meet the needs of every guest in hopes of generous compensation. Finally, in the windowless hull of the boat is the cleaning crew, made up almost entirely by people of color who, through a spectator’s lens, experience no interaction with the guests at the top.
Somewhere off to the side is the Marxist, alcoholic captain of the boat played by Woody Harrelson. Fans watching “Triangle of Sadness” for his performance will be satisfied, if not slightly underwhelmed he does not emerge from the captain’s den until well into the second act. The wait is worth it, however, for the ensuing captain’s dinner is the most uproarious scene in the film. As the captain neglects his duties for the night, the yacht is at the mercy of the treacherous storm that rocks the boat. The camera tilts as the courses keep coming, and everyone grows uneasy as guests begin to excuse themselves. If you have a weak stomach, this is the perfect time to fast-forward. For better or for worse, Österlund does not shy away from bodily fluids and seems to enjoy lingering for a bit too long when the vomit starts spraying. As things start to escalate, the prestigious captain’s dinner turns into a shitstorm (no pun intended). Consider yourself warned.
Due to an unfortunate encounter with murderous pirates, the established social hierarchy is soon capsized as the third act begins. The surviving passengers are plunged into a world where money, good looks, and expensive perfumes have lost all value. Here is where another breakout star, Dolly De Leon, emerges as Abigail, a janitor on the yacht. As survival skills become the most valuable commodity, all structures of power collapse. When the true nature of their situation is revealed, Abigail and the other passengers are faced with some very serious decisions, and viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about the nature of mankind.
In line with last year’s Palme d’Or recipient, “Triangle of Sadness” delivers some “Parasite”-level social commentary. The political and social satire is well delivered and easily digestible, making the film more accessible to general audiences— this is perhaps why “Triangle of Sadness” earned a Best Picture nomination at this year’s upcoming Oscars. When the cruise attendants quite literally perform a money dance and the land mine moneybags are blown away by their own grenade, it becomes hard to miss Österlund’s intentional “eat the rich” sentiment. Despite tackling elitism, gender roles, and political philosophies in plain English, “Triangle of Sadness” is original and entertaining— Österlund might not be saying anything new, but he’s saying it very well.
“Triangle of Sadness” is available to rent or stream now.
A message from the film columnist:
I’m Sophia Lisco and as the Catalyst film columnist, I love to talk about movies, especially with CC kids! To stay connected with what I’m watching and to swap recommendations, follow me on Letterboxd— user: sophmagotes.