Triangle of Sadness

18/12/22

Amazon Prime Video

Writer/director Ruben Östlund clearly has an axe to grind with the rich and privileged. This film amounts to a pretty effective take-down of such people, skewering their pretensions and their innate sense of ownership. Most of the characters depicted are repellent in their own individual ways, so it’s very much to Östlund’s credit that he actually manages to make me care so much about what happens to them.

Carl (Harris Dickinson) is a male model, already suffering the indignities of casting agents muttering that he ‘may need some botox’ just three years after hitting it big in a series of fragrance ads. His ultra-manipulative girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean), is an influencer, unable to eat a meal without taking thirty shots of herself supposedly enjoying the food. The two maintain a prickly relationship.

Yaya has recently wangled an invitation for her and Carl to go on an ultra-luxurious ocean cruise, along with a collection of super-rich guests, including oligarch, Dimitri (Zlatko Buric),  who’s made his fortune from selling manure, and charming old couple, Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) and Clementine (Amanda Walker), who have become filthy rich from selling military grade weapons. ‘Our hand grenades are very popular,’ they tell Carl, proudly.

Urged on by head of staff, Paula (Vicki Berlin), the ship’s crew do everything they can to fulfil their guests’ every whim, no matter how demeaning, how utterly facile it might be. Meanwhile, Captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson) skulks alone in his cabin, drinking too much alcohol and attempting to keep his distance from the passengers he clearly despises… 

But a storm is coming and, when it coincides with the Captain’s Dinner, it soon becomes apparent that this trip is going to be anything but plain sailing…

Like an Admirable Crichton for our time, Triangle of Sadness is full of delights, by turns excoriating, hilarious and insightful. At times it’s also unpleasant – scenes where an ocean storm induces an outbreak of mass vomiting amongst the passengers are really not for the faint hearted. While the film admittedly loses a little momentum in its final third, when the action transfers to a desert island, it nonetheless still has plenty to say about the human condition, when former toilet cleaner, Abigail (Dolly Le Leon), spots an opportunity to take on the role of leader, by simple virtue of the fact that she’s the only one capable of doing anything practical. Östlund seems to be pointing out that no matter how much we might hate the privileged, when offered the chance to step into their shoes, few of us are willing to pass it up. And to what lengths are we prepared to go to in order to cling onto it?

A late revelation leaves Abigail with a difficult decision on her hands and brings the film to a breathless conclusion. I’ve always hated the idea of going on an ocean cruise and Triangle of Sadness hasn’t made me change my mind. But this film is well worth embarking on.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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