The widespread interpretation of Ruben Ostlund’s film’s extrinsic elements may be the more perceivable rejection of capitalism. But the two Palme d’Or-winning director’s “Triangle of Sadness” doesn’t confine itself within the realms of “the rich are bad, and the poor are good,” like several other cinematic attempts of 2022. What the film indulges in instead is an extensive experiment that evenhandedly observes human nature when the system is overthrown, and the peak of the hierarchy is open for anyone to seize. Sadistically grinning at the hysterical frenzy on screen, the narrative plays around with the rigid understanding of currency, class division, and unfair privilege in the midst of a pandemonium. What comes out of the other end is the long-overdue fatalism that we usually steer clear of to be able to somewhat function as a cog in the dysfunctional machine. Now if I haven’t depressed you too much already, let’s dive into the chaos that would’ve been a harder pill to swallow if it weren’t for the film’s hilarity.
‘Triangle Of Sadness’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
A sarcastic fashion journalist’s suggestive banter introduces us to Carl, auditioning for a fashion shoot and someone whose forehead needs a little botox according to the coach. Other than his modest modeling career, Carl lives off of his Instagram-famous relationship with model and influencer Yaya, who, from the looks of it, likes a more bill-paying, breadwinning, conventionally masculine man. And that is something Carl clearly is not. He struggles with and whines about Yaya not picking up the check at the restaurant, despite being the one who earns more in the relationship. It’s outdated gender roles that apparently bother Carl, who, mind you, can only afford the lavish lifestyle because of his influential girlfriend. Nonetheless, Yaya accepts the reality of her manipulation skills and admits to the truth that once her fleeting career is over, she will need a man who can provide for his trophy wife. It isn’t all that comforting for Carl to hear. All he wants is to make her fall in love with him.
Thanks to all the free stuff that influencers get, Yaya and Carl get to board the luxury yacht managed by a desperately service-obsessed Paula, who raves up the service crew with claps and songs that celebrate the magic that is a fat tip–making it the most honest moment in the entire film. It’s funny how Carl’s progressive understanding of gender falls apart at the sight of a burly, shirtless crew member that Yaya finds hot. After swiftly complaining about the “immodesty” of the man and getting him fired, Carl goes back to the lavish lunch table to take pictures of Yaya with the pasta she is not going to eat. Sitting at their table are Nutella-obsessed Russian fertilizer mogul Dimitri, his wife Vera, and mistress Ludmilla. The Russian capitalist is positively amused to learn how Yaya can use her beauty as currency. While their table is all talkative, sitting right by them is wheelchair-bound Therese, who, according to her husband, lost most of her speech in a stroke and can only say “in den Wolken,” which translates to “up in the clouds.” While the rich guests rejoice and the poor workers toil, the captain of the yacht, Thomas, decides that he wants no part of it and spends his days drinking in his cabin.
How Does The Yacht Stand As A Metaphor For Class Division?
Even before the guests stepped in, the yacht existed as a seabound specimen for how the world divides people according to their finances, race, and social class. The sunny upper part was carefully set aside for the rich, while the middle-class service crew remained in the middle. The gloomy, hardly visited base of the yacht was the place the world saw fit for the engineers, the repairmen, and the cleaning crew which invariably consisted of people of color. They are rarely heard from, as no one bothers speaking to them. They do their work in silence and only in the comfort of the familiarity they share with their crewmates. All they know is “work, work, work” in the defective and exploitative capitalism dream they are reaching for. And keeping with the bourgeois sentiments of the middle class, the service crew finds genuine motivation in Paula’s speech. They are to do everything the guests ask, no matter how unreasonable. It all comes together to make complete, sad sense when the guests treat the service crew as dolls to play with and puppets to control as they please. Their absolute disregard for human autonomy and faulty understanding of democracy is embarrassingly evident when Vera, after offering an obnoxious apology for her privileges, compels Alicia to stop working and take a dip in the jacuzzi against her wishes. The entire crew is then forced to stop their work in the middle of the day and go down the waterslide to cater to the guest’s botched sense of equality. They hardly care that the workers will evidently have to go back to finish their duties, only with significantly more pressure to make up for the lost time.
What Causes The Captain’s Dinner To Go Horribly Wrong?
Bringing the inebriated Captain out of his cabin for dinner was hard enough for the crew. But now they have to put on their best smile to serve some very questionable food that was going bad in the kitchen when the chefs were swimming for the guests’ amusement. To top it off, the yacht dances to the rhythm of the rough weather. That doesn’t stop a guest from complaining about an imaginary dirty sail on a diesel-operated yacht. Carl and Yaya are now dining with the proud manufacturers of the hand grenade. While Winston and Clementine mourn the UN regulation that cut their profits by 25% by legislating against landmines, the rest of the guests are getting violently seasick. A chaotic montage of projectile vomiting takes pause to focus on Vera, who believes that gulping down champagne will make her feel better but this ends up having the opposite effect and the whole mess ends with a guest’s cardiac arrest. The ginger candies distributed by Paula can’t possibly stop the flood of excrement that follows. While the cleaning crew mops up the vomit and the wrath of the clogged toilets, drunken Thomas and Dimitri proclaim their respective loves for Marxism and capitalism. The American Marxist Thomas remembers the words of Marx and Lenin, and the Russian capitalist justifies his way of life with quotes from Reagan, Thatcher, and Kennedy. The Captain’s dinner isn’t particularly aimed at serving as a divine punishment for the filthy rich guests. Granted, they are covered in filth and sewage, but it is the service crew that is forced to remain calm and jolly in the overwhelming commotion, and it is the cleaning crew that has to clean up the mess.
‘Triangle Of Sadness’ Ending Explained: Is Abigail’s Dictatorship Socialism’s Disillusionment?
Leaving the soiled day behind, the guests begin recovering from the traumatizing experience. Winston and Clementine’s appreciation of the new day’s glorious sun soon ends when a pirate throws a hand grenade at them. While Clementine is awestruck at the sight of their own grenade, they are killed in the blast, and the yacht is wrecked. The ones that survive the pirate attack end up stranded on an island nearby. Even in the doom and gloom, Paula tries to calm the group. Ending their inevitable starvation, Abigail, a member of the boat’s cleaning crew, comes ashore in a lifeboat. Paula quickly takes charge of distributing the water and snacks from the lifeboat and doesn’t really bother checking up on Abigail.
In the wake of the tragedy, the guests are only now realizing that they are completely devoid of any survival skills. They can’t catch fish, they can’t light a fire, and they definitely can not cook. So when Abigail catches an octopus with her bare hands, makes a fire, and cooks the food, Paula and the rest of the group try assuming and reestablishing the usual hierarchical order. But Abigail is done being stepped on. Now in a position of power, as she is the only one with any life skills, she emerges as the new Captain of the group that everyone else has to bend their knees to. Even in the daunting circumstance of facing starvation or even death, Paula finds it hard to let go of the role she has gotten used to. But this isn’t the case with Abigail. Being invisible and having her labor exploited all her life by the people that are now at her mercy gives Abigail even more determination to walk all over them.
Being in control gives Abigail the power to provide pretzel sticks to Yaya in exchange for spending the night with Carl. The shift in the power dynamic on the island finds its most stark expression through the changes in gender roles. Now Carl gets to use his beauty as currency instead of Yaya. And he does so without complaining. A notable character observation can be made here about Carl. Abigail is not someone he would ordinarily have been attracted to. But it’s her position of power that draws him to her and ironically places him in the position of a “trophy wife”, something that he judged Yaya for wanting. It might have been the same reason why he was into Yaya, considering she was infinitely more successful in the career that they shared. His pattern of wanting more from a relationship than just the transactional attributes of it comes back even with Abigail, who simply sees it as a give and take, while Carl has dreamt of breaking up with Yaya and making it official with Abigail.
It’s not that Yaya isn’t jealous of Carl and Abigail’s closeness. She even goes as far as to kiss Jorma to make Carl jealous. But she genuinely admires Abigail’s expertise in completely turning the power structures of gender, race, and currency in her favor. However bitter she may be about how things with Carl turned out, Yaya can’t help but applaud the impressive matriarchy that Abigail has designed. On their expedition to find some form of help, Yaya and Abigail discover a luxury retreat on the island they thought was deserted. While Yaya can’t wait to go in and resume the life that she left behind on the yacht, Abigail isn’t too happy to let it all go. She fools Yaya by pretending to go and relieve herself and comes back with a rock to kill her with. She takes a moment of pause to reconsider her action and breaks down in tears. Yaya wants Abigail to work for her as her assistant when things go back to normal. Abigail truly loves Yaya. It was Yaya who first accepted and enforced Abigail’s coronation as the Captain. We don’t get to see what Abigail decides to do with the rock. But from what Yaya says to her, it will be fair to conclude that she does in fact kill her.
The thought of working for Yaya reminds her of just how terrible life was at the bottom of the hierarchy. She can’t possibly leave behind all that she has built for herself on the island. Now that she has had a taste of the same power that once dominated her, she can’t go back to the way it was. Currency comes and goes at the whim of changing circumstances. A victim of capitalism will choose to preserve the circumstance that aided their rise to the position of power and, therefore, will repeat the cycle of abuse all over again. And if mankind has been bruised and beaten up long enough for it to consistently choose to dominate over being dominated, how are we ever going to establish flawless socialism? If it is “eat or be eaten” in a world where egalitarianism is a pipe dream, capitalism is here to stay. The only thing alterable is the one sitting on the throne of power.
“Triangle Of Sadness” is a 2022 comedy drama film directed by Ruben Östlund.