I guess I’m just happy to go along with whatever Ruben Östlund wants to deliver, even if he’s going down with whatever ridiculous ship he’s set up. I was supremely entertained by his breakout film, Force Majeure, and truly won over by his art culture satire, The Square. Now Östlund has delivered Triangle of Sadness, a commentary on the uber-rich. I found it to be a riot. The film is overlong and a little messy, but it’s also hilarious and features what’s likely the grossest set piece I’ve seen in a movie awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also Östlund’s darkest film and not one without setups that beg for further discussion. Basically, it’s rich with material.
Divided into a few parts, the film opens by establishing Carl (Harrison Dickinson), a male model with a chip on his shoulder regarding his position next to his girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean), a model and influencer. The middle stretch of the film focuses on this couple, along with many other affluent individuals, during their time on a superyacht for a luxury cruise. Their captain – a constantly drunk, pro-communist American played by Woody Harrelson. As varying forms of class conflict ensue regarding the passengers and the crew, an eventual shift in the setting changes the power dynamics even further.
The French title for this film translates to “Without Filter,” which certainly seems appropriate. At nearly two and a half hours, Östlund does all he can to deliver on as much cringe humor as he can muscle in when putting on displays of the way the absurdly rich can act. At the same time, plenty’s done to take direct shots at this sort of behavior by emphasizing everything from ridiculous requests for the staff to basic stupidity (one guest seems obsessed with the dirty sails she believes she’s seen…on a motorized yacht). This can be seen as satire, but there’s rarely much that seems out of place from actual reality, for these events could have occurred.
At the same time, Östlund does not back away from broad humor. At one point, a series of events manage to pile up in such a way that creates a disaster of a dinner sequence, given the reactions of many involved. This is where I note that anyone not a fan of scatological humor may not be the most inclined to enjoy what the filmmakers have put together when dealing with seasickness, seafood, and excess. With that said, for all the choices made to deliver on one big sequence, there are so many other moments that prove to be very funny, thanks to the dialogue exchanges, silly reactions, and choices made to add a real twist in how these characters relate to each other.
There’s an argument to be made that Triangle of Sadness isn’t exactly finding many new angles to explore. Relying on the yacht for most of the film’s running time means locking the audience in with its specific hook into which Östlund wants to ram his opinions. However blunt that may make the messaging of the movie, I can’t deny what’s funny. An ensemble cast here is game to make themselves look awful in various instances. And, given the film’s target is narcissistic, uber-rich people, I don’t know if I need more of an edge to enjoy the lengths this film goes to see them pushed to limits they did not expect to have to contend with.
So many of the actors really shine too. Dickinson and Dean seem awful for each other, yet they work well in their scenes together, as each finds ways to upset the other. Harrelson is a delight, as one would expect, given his setup and delivery. Without digging too far into the role she plays, Dolly de Leon is particularly great as one of the staff members who finds herself in a position of power over the course of the film. However, plenty of credit needs to go to Zlatko Burić, a Russian oligarch who happily explains that he “sells shit” (manure) to all who will listen and finds plenty of other ways to inject hilarity into his performance and the proceedings around him.
What aids this all further is the effective level of filmmaking on display. For all the work done to set up the elaborate nature of Östlund’s films, whether it’s a ski resort with an avalanche incident, an art gallery with bizarre exhibits, or now this superyacht featuring some of the worst people, it all looks great. There’s steady work done to set up what needs to be seen regarding the lavish nature of the cruise these people are on. And then the film goes out of its way to demolish all of this, whether it has to do with rough seas, sour stomachs, or even more extreme circumstances (I’ve named this Östlund’s darkest film for good reason).
Given where the characters end up, there is a sense that Triangle of Sadness eventually runs a bit out of steam. Some revelations add a thrill to the film’s final moments. However, I’m still a bit on the fence about what an extension of the epilogue could have meant, as opposed to what’s delivered here. Regardless, even if the attempt to provide edgy commentary still equates to what many disgustingly rich people probably act like anyway, this is a movie that earns plenty of great laughs thanks to its big moments and other nicely observed smaller ones. Plus, literally aiming to be disgusting manages to pay off, which earns its own sort of praise.