If you love drawn-out discussions on capitalism and power structures, you’ll love “Triangle of Sadness.” If you don’t, the film’s humor and style will give you something to stay for, if not something to enjoy.
“Triangle of Sadness” follows fashion models Carl (Harris Dickinson, “The King’s Man”) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean Kriek, “Black Lightning”), who are in a relationship to advance their careers. To start, there is an extended argument between Carl and Yaya, before they are invited on a luxury cruise. They are joined by a host of wealthy guests, including capitalist Russian oligarch Dimitry (Zlatko Buric, “2012”), tech billionaire Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin, “My Future Love”) and Therese (Iris Berben, “How About Adolf?”), a stroke victim only capable of saying a single sentence. The ship captain, Thomas (Woody Harrelson, “Zombieland”), is a drunk Marxist dissatisfied with life. After a storm and spoiled food cause sickness and injuries among the guests, the ship’s power intermittently goes out, and pirates attack and capsize the yacht. Among the survivors is Abigail (Dolly De Leon, “Verdict”), a cleaner who uses her survival skills to take charge on the island where the cast is now stranded.
The movie is, at points, ridiculous and unpalatable to a general audience. There is an extended sequence that intercuts the wealthy cruise guests vomiting and defecating on themselves, with Thomas and Dimitry quoting Reagan and Marx while debating our society’s economic structures. This sequence could be seen as needlessly grotesque and condescendingly preachy, but if you are willing to let the film’s ideas marinate, you will see a biting satire that is fully confident in its critique of capitalism. The film isn’t trying to be subtle with its message. It begins with a talent scout saying the movie’s title directly to Carl. The film wants you to finish with a clear notion of its distaste for greed and the ultra-wealthy.
The film has a lot to say about power dynamics in our society and isn’t afraid to be blunt. It is rife with metaphors about abuse and exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. It wants to eliminate their illusion of dominance by inverting power structures when the characters are stranded on the island, where any former wealth means nothing and survival skills are the most valuable asset. The film’s humor is at the expense of the affluent characters, laughing at the absurdity of their personalities and their contradictory worldviews. The film puts its rich characters on a stage for everyone to heckle and laugh at.
Where the film’s discussion of societal hierarchies falls shortest is in its discussion of gender roles. The first act gives a lot of screen time to Carl and Yaya’s relationship and how traditional gender stereotypes create conflict between them, but it completely abandons this theme for an hour while on the yacht. The discussion of gender roles returns with Abigail’s introduction on the island, where she creates a matriarchal society, but the lack of a consistent through line blunts the theme’s impact. The film is certain of its message at every other point of the story, so when it forgets about this major theme, it detracts from the film’s core.
“Triangle of Sadness” is not a film everyone will enjoy. It is full of bullheaded discussions of capitalism — a satirical black comedy with obvious intentions and themes. It’s happy to sling insults and critique at the ultra-wealthy while pulling awkward laughs from the audience throughout.
Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.