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Triangle of Sadness


I think I preferred this when it was The Admirable Crichton. Less vomiting, prostitution and generally crude commentary on human nature passing itself off as satire. Obviously, I knew what I was letting myself in for, as I’d previously subjected myself to Ruben Östlund’s similarly misanthropic (and similarly overrated) Force Majeure. And dim views of human nature being what they are – celebrated by critics – Triangle of Sadness won the Palme d’Or and now finds itself a – relatively surprising, as most weren’t anticipating it in the final ten – a contender for Best Picture Oscar.

Östlund’s social commentary is about as blunt as the dirty great rock Abigail (Dolly de Leon) raises above her head in the penultimate scene. The one she is considering using to stove in the skull of Yaya (Charlbi Dean, recently deceased, not coof related, if Crazy Days and Nights is any kind of source). This is a facile film from the first, but one that is consistently faithful to a belief it is revealing stark truths on our essential malaise. Ostlund wades into the gender politics of the shallowest of people (models) as they discuss social engineering in a shallow, mystified way. Carl (Harris Dickinson) is struggling with ideas of parity – why won’t Yaya pay for the meal when she earns more? – while she is simply working on the practical assumption that, her profession and accustomed lifestyle being what it is, she’ll eventually marry someone else, someone very rich who wants a trophy wife. 

People are arid, artificial, godless, and Östlund revels in humanity’s essential emptiness. This is true across all strata, the range of the economic and class spectrum, from the scullions to the billionaires. Insight, decency and depth of understanding? Forget about it. Spirituality’s conspicuously absent, its void filled by trite humanism, so we have a guilty Marxist sea captain of a $250m yacht (Woody Harrelson), and a Russian oligarch (Zlatko Buríc) who sells shit – of course he does, it’s satire, right? – duelling oh-so-mirthfully over counterpointed positions as bedlam breaks loose on a storm-tossed sea. 

Östlund’s is as happy as a clam, surfing through geysers of shit and torrents of puke on his way to a desert island. With the yacht attacked by pirates, an English couple are blown up by the very model of grenade they’ve manufactured – what a wheeze! Lapsed Marxism brings the (capitalist) ship down, but a return to the (matriarchal) feudal barter system fails to stick, so one way or another, we’re pared back to our raw, violent, basest natures.

The inimitable Armond White was on point with his review; he called the Abigail subplot, “turning the tables on the rich, feckless whites, yet emulating their decadence” insulting, and it is, to the audience, as Östlund hammers home his message that no one, including himself – and his “Euro-Marxism”, per Armond – is immune to the essential erosion of any innate worth, value, decency or dignity. We’re all shallow husks, sloshing about in our own effluent. To some extent, Östlund at least has the courage of his crass convictions, and there’s no punch-pulling of the like seen in The Menu. Conversely, that film never scaled the ladder of art-house appreciation that is Triangle of Sadness’ dubious designation, so it emerges less shamelessly. 

As a piece of filmmaking, this is fine. The performances are all solid, and Dickinson is much more convincing as a superficial mannequin than he was as Sir Dickie in See How They Run. As a honed piece of plotting, it stinks, but then I guess that doesn’t matter, since Triangle’s a comedy, I mean, satire; I was expecting the survivors to be about ten minutes away from civilisation as soon as it was clear no one was leaving the beach, and lo and behold. 

More than Östlund having very little to say – in a laborious, over-extended and voluble fashion – this is a comedy – I mean, satire – in parts, for goodness sake, and clocks in at just shy of two-and-a-half hours. How is emulating Judd Apatow good for anyone? Rather than Apatow, though, there is a nihilistic disdain for the species running through Triangle of Sadness one associates with the likes of Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke. 

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