All’s Fair in Love and Class War: Triangle of Sadness (2022) - Reviewed


It’s fascinating that Ruben Östlund continues to make movies that deliberately and brutally criticize high society and debuts these films at the Cannes Film Festival. The feeling of irony while watching them must be completely overwhelming to the audience. Despite his palatable disdain for both high art and upper crust mentality he won the Palme d’Or in 2017 for his film The Square and won another one in 2022 for Triangle of Sadness

The Square was a takedown of the contemporary art world, and this time Östlund has set his sights on influencer culture. The story follows a young fashion model couple in a tumultuous relationship: Carl (Harris Dickinson) a model who is still struggling to find his place in the industry, and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) who is quite successful and well off. Carl feels inadequate and emasculated by Yaya’s accomplishments and it causes their relationship to suffer. Things seem to be turning around for them when they are offered a free stay on a luxury yacht in exchange for publicity. 

As is to be expected, the yacht is chock-full of filthy rich individuals, and they all have strange quirks and proclivity for having their every whim granted. In order to keep their wealthy clients, the ship crew has been ordered to do whatever is asked of them and never say no. The yacht becomes a microcosm of class division with the crew being treated like servants and rich like royalty. Carl and Yaya feel conflicted because they aren’t really connected to the world of the ultra-wealthy but that is ultimately their goal in life. 

Östlund has a wicked sense of humor, and Triangle of Sadness is at its heart a pitch black comedy. At first it’s more lighthearted, poking fun at how distant the rich can be from regular folks’ problems, but as the film progresses the jabs become more pointed and aggressive. Eventually this farce leads up to an ill-fated vomit-filled seafood dinner during a thunderstorm, where the savage rocking of the ship causes everyone to violently expel the contents of their stomach everywhere.

Much of the film’s advertising campaign focuses on the first half of the film, which is billed as a wacky comedy, but an abrupt tone shift in the second half of the film has proven to be divisive with audiences. A shipwreck turns the comedy into something darker and more dangerous—employing gallows style humor which is equally funny but less accessible. Half Lord of the Flies and half Frye Festival, the tables are turned and those who previously had no power discover that survival of the fittest ultimately is the law of the land when all of the safety nets are taken away. 

It is at this point where actress Dolly de Leon, who plays Abigail, a custodian who survives the shipwreck, steals the show. Due to her survival skills she takes over as the leader of the group and just as it always does absolute power corrupts absolutely. She steals every scene she is in and carries the entire second half of the film with her performance. Her descent into madness is endlessly compelling and the exploration of how power shifts sides during desperate situations is chilling. Gender dynamics are subverted as well when Carl is given an offer from Abigail that jeopardizes his relationship with Yaya. This entire part of the narrative is still presented tongue-in-cheek which might not sit well with some viewers. 

Triangle of Sadness is ultimately a cautionary tale where the moral of the story is that power corrupts, whether it’s power from having wealth or power from having access to human necessities.

—Michelle Kisner