When “Triangle of Sadness” ended, I stood up and clapped — not because I enjoyed the film, but because it was finally over.
Writer/director Ruben Östlund really dropped the ball on this one. “Triangle of Sadness” is meant to be a satire on the wealthy, but utterly fails. Its two main objectives were to make clever commentary and to elicit laughs from the audience, but it accomplished neither effectively. The film just keeps beating you over the head with rich-people-bad, but never, ever, has anything remotely insightful to add to that. It’s all so preachy and poorly executed, especially its unoriginal satire: make the rich incompetent and pathetic. As someone who isn’t rich, I have no bias in favor of the upper class and no need to defend them — I just don’t like bad movies. “Triangle of Sadness” only has ONE joke, which it relentlessly repeats: rich people dumb.
To exemplify how poorly executed the One Joke is, let’s break down three examples of it:
1) Look! The rich lady doesn’t know that a motorized ship doesn’t have sails!
I don’t buy that anyone, no matter what their economic background is, goes onto a $250 million yacht and thinks there are sails on it. There are millions of pictures of yachts on the Internet for everyone to see, and I’m sure that when that rich lady bought her ticket she used a website with one such picture on it.
2) Look! Those rich people can’t make a fire!
I don’t see how the inability to make a fire signifies incompetence or privilege. There are people from all economic classes who don’t know survival techniques. Additionally, why is it so bad to not know how to make a fire? Is it really such a crime when we have modern technology that doesn’t require gathering sticks and flint? Again, knowing how to make a fire has no correlation with economic status. I’m sure there are plenty of wealthy and privileged boy/girl scouts learning such skills. Lastly, the “punchline” is that Abigail, one of the cleaning staff from the ship, is the only survivor who can make a fire. That’s fine (although I still don’t see how her profession and backstory correlate to survival skills more than the others’), but then why is she somehow able to catch and kill fish with her bare hands? You’d have to dedicate so much time, possibly even a career, to be so proficient as to do that with ease.
3) Look! Unlike the crew, those rich people are vomiting from seasickness because they’re so weak!
There are two main problems with this joke. Firstly, it’s obvious that the crew members who regularly work at sea won’t get seasick. That doesn’t mean they’re superior or inferior to the rich guests. Secondly, the guests obviously knew they were going on a yacht in the middle of the ocean — they probably wouldn’t have gone if they had the tendency for seasickness.
I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking, but the point I’m trying to get across is that not only are the iterations of the One Joke lazy, but they’re so poorly executed that they unnecessarily add lapses in logic to the film.
So we’ve established that “Triangle of Sadness” is unfunny, unoriginal, and aggressive in its messaging. Now it’s time to delve into the plot, or plots. The film is divided into three parts, each weaker than the one preceding it. I actually enjoyed Part 1, as it was much smaller scale and followed just the two leads, a male model and his Instagram influencer girlfriend. There was some decent commentary on relationships, social status, and gender roles that felt a lot more developed in comparison to the rest of the movie. The two leads, Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, were at their most confident during these quieter scenes as well.
When Part 2 starts thirty minutes into the film, problems start to arise. The commentary becomes less thoughtful and more aggravating, and the plot starts to get sloppy. The film meanders aimlessly for an hour as it introduces us to several characters, most of whom are barely fleshed out, save for a Russian capitalist and the marxist captain played by Woody Harrelson. These two were actually quite likable due to the actors’ charisma and witty banter. Other than that dynamic, there wasn’t much else to get invested in. Then this portion gets to its climax in which the ship encounters rough currents, causing the wealthy passengers to endlessly regurgitate. I have no issue with crude “potty humor,” but it only works when it’s done right. It needs to self-aware, meaning it can’t take itself seriously. “Triangle of Sadness” is so full of itself that it acts like that sort of humor is artistic and allegorical, making none of it land.
Then the film gets really, really messy in Part 3 when, out of nowhere, pirates attack the ship. We don’t ever see the attack, and while that would be fine in theory, it ends up being a detrimental choice because there’s no sense of geography or established logistics. When the surviving passengers and crew members wake up on a small island, people from completely different areas of the boat end up in the exact same place. For example, the Instagram influencer wakes up next to the computer programmer despite the characters being in separate rooms on the ship prior to the attack. Yet she doesn’t also wake up with her boyfriend, despite them being in bed next to each other right before the attack. How did they get separated? Why would the pirates let these people escape, let alone live? How far away was this island, and why didn’t we see it before the attack?
Anyway, this whole island detour takes the cake for the most obnoxious part of the movie. A strangely predictable hour of Lord of the Flies clichés and heavier-than-ever messaging ensue despite Östlund clearly believing he was subverting expectations. Sure, I didn’t expect the film to have two separate climaxes, but I was definitely able to predict what would happen while watching each of them.
Speaking of Östlund, I want to discuss his Oscar-nominated direction. Several of the plot issues I’ve discussed aren’t even due to the script; they’re due to his work behind the camera. In this film, Östlund didn’t understand restraint, where to position the camera, or how long/brief a shot should last. Part of his style is to film single-take shots exclusively of one character during scenes where multiple characters are interacting, instead of cutting back and forth or filming them all at the same time. While those shots were compelling for certain scenes (mainly for building tension), they were severely overused. For example, when the survivors first land on the shore, an entire argument between the Russian and the ship’s engineer ensues, ending in some important exposition and character meet-ups. During this scene, Östlund decided to position the camera toward one of the passengers sitting in the lifeboat away from everyone else, doing absolutely nothing. We just hear everything in the background. Again, this works for certain types of scenes in films, especially in horror where it’s often more frightening to imagine events in your mind than to actually see them on screen, but in this case, it’s important for us to actually see things. We need to see the characters meet up again so that the logistics of the scene make sense.
“Triangle of Sadness” is a poor execution of an underdeveloped screenplay. The film believes it’s a lot more profound, subversive, and original than it actually is. The fact that it won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, is extremely disheartening. Like 2021’s “Don’t Look Up,” “Triangle of Sadness” is self-aggrandizing and unaware of its own hypocrisy, as it’s an attack on the upper class made by wealthy Hollywood elitists starring an actor with a net worth of $70 million. It looks nice, has a decent cast, and contains an enjoyable first act, but those aspects don’t make up for this pseudo-intellectual sludge.