Not every cruise is a pleasure.
Told in three chapters, Triangle of Sadness follows model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and social influencer Yaya (Charlbi Dean) as they embark on a luxury cruise which caters to the ultra-wealthy. Led by an inebriated and bitter captain (Woody Harrelson), this is a trip that celebrates excessive living, even if it exemplifies inequality. However, when irresponsibility leads to destruction at the high seas, the guests and crew find themselves forced to re-evaluate their positions in life and stature.
Directed by Ruben Ostland, Triangle of Sadness is fueled by an inner fury more than it is deep-seeded sorrow. Set primarily on an elegant cruise ship off the coast of France, this is a space for the cultural elite to have their every desires met. To them, this will be a journey of ‘yes’. Staff and crew are instructed to adhere to the whims of their clients, whether it’s acknowledging sails that don’t exist or getting in the hot tub in uniform. (After all, the potential of a massive tip at the end of the journey is a massive motivator.) Although the film primarily follows Yaya and Carl, all of the ship’s guests have earned their finances through controversial or disgusting means. From a Russian fertilizer salesman (“I sell [crap]”, he says proudly), war profiteers or social media influencers, every guest is meant to feel as though they are kings and queens of the world.
Though, to be fair, they already do in their everyday life.
However, Ostland follows their journey with a winking eye. Through his extended use of long takes and political discourse, he wants the viewer to feel uncomfortable. Admittedly, there are moments when the film feels long. (Clocking in at almost 2 ½ hours, one cannot help but feel that some of these conversations could be cut down.) Nevertheless, there is no question that the decision is intentional. With long conversations arguing the benefits of both Marxism and capitalism, Sadness understands the complexities of social agreement. Through money and power, separations are created and people are oppressed. As the discussions about gender roles and cultural views on financial inequity continue, one cannot help but ask how these conversations never lead to action in a world of disparity. For these financial titans, equality is constantly said to be the goal… yet it is only a perceived equality.
On this ship, everyone believes in equality. But whether or not they’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it are up for debate.
After all, for true equality to exist, these financiers would have to give up some of what they already have. This is a world of division, enforced by financial barriers. (Incidentally, these distinctions even exist amongst the crew as those who deal with the guests directly hope for massive tips yet those who work below deck are ignored.)
However, when these divisions are up ended, the balance of power shifts dramatically. Suddenly, everyone must learn how to deal with their new roles as those who have lived lives of service now find themselves in power over those who are used to living the high life. In these moments, rather than simply satirizing the rich, Sadness also cuts deeply in the recognition of what happens when power is at play. Regardless of race, gender or wealth, there is a toxicity to power they can corrupt even the most innocent of souls when authority is given [or taken away].
Sharply written, Triangle of Sadness is a savage satire that delves deeply into the brutality of financial inequity and its effect on those in poverty. Ostlund pulls no punches in his arguments yet does so with such humour that the film feels more clever than heavy-handed. As such, Sadness may be the tale of a sinking ship but, more importantly, it’s conversations hold water.
Triangle of Sadness is available in theatres on Friday, November 7th, 2022.