Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness centers upon Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), an extremely hot couple who are members of the newest wave of the nouveau riche — sort of. They are both model/influencer types, living a life of unstable luxury. Carl models and spends the rest of his time taking and editing photos of Yaya for her different brand deals — the kind that get them onto super-luxury yachts among old money who laugh, endeared, as she pretends to take bites of pasta for Instagram. She never actually eats it, her lithe body being their only consistent meal ticket, and even then it’s tenuous — Yaya accepts that once she gets pregnant, or a little older, she’ll just have to be a trophy wife to some older man. The old money and billionaire classes with them on the yacht have so much money that they have no sense of it. Money is somehow everything and nothing.
Triangle of Sadness sits in the latest in the wave of capitalist critique, “eat the rich” films that seem to be so en vogue at the moment. It’s hardly saying anything radical about our current state; very few are going to argue that there are a few extremely rich assholes who are subjugating the poor based on a shittily-functioning system, and who would be nothing without the people who work for them. This is about as far as the film takes its class analysis. Despite this, Triangle of Sadness is an extremely fun watch, aware of what many seem to be craving — in this case, to sit in a crowded theater and laugh at an old, rich, out-of-touch dame dressed in full-body shapewear slip and slide about in her own seafood-filled puke in a luxury bathroom, to giggle at the horror of mess creeping into the arbitrary social rules of the uber-rich. Sometimes the most distinct pleasures are simple and crass.
Triangle of Sadness seems to refer to both an area of the forehead between the eyebrows — the little pinch constantly apparent in Carl’s worried brow (he seems to always be fretting) — and the choppy seas that leave the rich totally out of sorts with nothing to save them, a reminder that nature cares not what you tangibly have. And as the film takes a turn in the final of its three marked chapters, it suggests that nature would not have us functioning socially as we currently do — it’s not really survivable.
Carl worries often about the gender roles of his relationship with Yaya. He wants them to be two humans on equal footing, though this only ever really comes up when he has to pay the expensive dinner bill yet again. Everything in Triangle of Sadness ends up coming down to money — including how we place everything (our understanding of gender, race, work, pleasure, play) on a system that is ultimately worthless and counter to our collective survival. Some moments of this analysis are better than others, though. Carl and Yaya’s ever-shifting gender roles as shit hits the fan are particularly striking thanks to a balanced performance on both their parts — somewhere between endearing, sweet, and destructively out-of-touch with the world. As Carl and Yaya kiss and role-play as rich model and gruff worker one night in their luxury yacht hotel room, they represent much of Triangle of Sadness — nice to look at, fun to watch, with not all that much going on beneath the surface. Which, for this specific film, seems to work perfectly fine.