As with his previous two films, Ruben Ostlund’s latest social satire, “Triangle of Sadness,” is thoroughly entertaining and impressive, at least on the first watch. However, the effect of “Force Majeure” or the deeper subtleties of “The Square” is undoubtedly missing here, making this new black comedy rather direct and on-the-nose. Divided into three acts, preceded by a short introduction, “Triangle of Sadness” follows a model couple, Carl and Yaya, as they take a luxury trip on a super-expensive yacht, meet the ultra-rich of society, and then eventually have to live through unexpected situations. Despite having its share of arguable weak moments, “Triangle of Sadness,” which is also the Palme d’Or winner of 2022 (Ostlund’s second after “The Square” in 2017), is enjoyable with all that it tries to say.
‘Triangle Of Sadness’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
The film begins with a brief visual introduction to one of our protagonists, Carl, as he auditions for a casting with other male models. It seems like Carl is still striving to make recognition for himself in the field. On the other hand, Yaya is much more established as a model, and she even opens the fashion show of a new brand while her boyfriend Carl watches the show from a back-row seat. The couple goes out to dine at a fancy restaurant and has a rather ugly disagreement about who should pay the bill. To Carl, everything about gender roles should be equal in a relationship, and he waits for Yaya to pick up the bill, especially since she had promised to do so the previous night. Yaya, however, seems to like the fact that her man would be ready to keep her needs covered, and she is more of a believer in the transactional nature of a relationship. Disgruntled by the dinner and the following taxi ride back to the hotel, the couple initially spends some time away from each other until Yaya finally returns to Carl’s room. The lovers seem to make up, and Carl makes a half-serious promise that he will make Yaya fall in real love with him someday soon, beyond the transactional phase that they are in at present.
A few days later, Carl and Yaya take an all-expenses-paid luxury cruise trip as part of her modeling/influencer job, and the couple makes acquaintances with the rest of the super-rich guests. As the glaring class divide and privileges that come along with it get more apparent, “Triangle of Sadness’s” luxury yacht sails through matters of social hierarchy and empty ideology. Dangers await on the plot line, too, as rough weather and a pirate attack follow in quick succession, leading to the yacht crashing in the middle of the sea. Carl and Yaya are among the lucky few to have survived the accident as they wash up on a nearby island, and finally, the social class structure of the general world is toppled over completely.
What Are The Themes And Overall Meaning In The Film?
Ruben Ostlund has always been more focused on themes and symbolism in his films, with his characters existing to play out these themes, and “Triangle of Sadness” is no exception. Firstly, to get into the meaning of the title itself, the term “triangle of sadness” gets used in the introductory scene where Carl is auditioning for the modeling job. It basically refers to the part of one’s face between the eyebrows, where it is believed that a person’s stress and worry levels are apparent. This title seems to be part of the satire, probably suggesting the bizarrely strange worries that rich people have in inappropriate situations, which is something that happens throughout the film’s plot. Interestingly, the French title of the film, “Sans Filtre” (literally, “without filter”), is perhaps more direct in signifying what the film is about, as it is quite aptly a no-filter mockery of the ultra-rich. Coming back to the English title, there are an ample number of things in the film that happen in threes, the most important of which is the very three-act structure. Each of these acts can be seen to represent three different themes, which do not necessarily go away in the next ones but are given highlights in each of their own parts.
To begin with, the first act is entirely about the protagonist couple, both of whom are models, and the very base of their relationship at present is to gain Instagram followers for each other. Along with this very give-and-take sort of characteristic, there is also a heavily lopsided power division in this relationship that can be felt. Carl seems to be very focused on making their relationship one of the equals, without any attached social or gender roles whatsoever. He wants Yaya to pay for the expensive dinner since she was the one to invite him and also because she had mentioned that she would pay for it, and he is astonished at how the woman tries to avoid paying at any cost. Once the situation gets a bit out of control and hurts Yaya’s ego, she pulls out a card to pay, but there are not enough funds on it. It is ultimately Carl who pays for it and then throws a fit when they are back at their hotel elevator, even though the hotel room he has been staying in has also been paid for by his girlfriend. While it might be easy to take sides, especially in this first act, both Carl and Yaya are flawed individuals, and determining who is correct is not the film’s intention at all. It is rather to bring up conversations on gender roles and perhaps also to shape Carl and Yaya’s characters as the new up-and-coming rich class, who are new to such stature and gradually start to act out the part. Even though Carl wants to avoid gender roles, he ends up doing a number of things aboard the yacht that is perhaps best explained as social perceptions of how a man is supposed to act. Although at one point in the first act, after their fight in the hotel elevator, Carl remarks how Yaya’s feminism is partial and disappears when it comes to paying the bills, his own wish to abolish gender roles in a relationship seems to stay limited to instances when the bills need to be paid. It is also to be noted that Yaya is no pure saintly character either; beyond the superficial pretensions, she admits very clearly how she does see relationships as a very transactional agreement and that she would choose her partner in life based on this very criteria.
The second act, aboard the luxury yacht, begins with Yaya and Carl before introducing the other characters gradually and moving on to them. When one of the workers on the deck exposes his well-built figure, and Yaya seems to take a playful fancy towards him, Carl just walks up to the authorities and complains about the worker and soon gets him fired. If the first act was about gender roles and lopsided modern relationships, the second act is almost entirely themed on social class and privilege. A social hierarchy exists in the yacht very physically, with the affluent guests right on top, then the white hospitality staffs in the middle, and then the non-white staff and workers at the very bottom. These workers are quite literally seen in their quarters in the hull of the boat; they are hardly ever seen on the top decks. They are not really allowed, or at least encouraged, to talk with the guests, and the only time they inhabit the same space as these guests is to clean the place up after fancy dinners. The staff in-between, who prepare themselves at the beginning of every trip with charged-up energy to behave well with the guests in order to earn fat tips, are obviously symbolic of the middle class in society. They are the ones who communicate with the guests, always keeping an air of gentle servitude about themselves, and then get the work done by the workers, who are professionally and socially below them. Then, of course, are the rich guests, many of whom are completely detached from the real world. The Russian fertilizer mogul Dmitry and his two companions (one his wife and the other a much younger mistress) keep no pretense over the fact that they can get away with almost anything due to their wealth. In fact, the second act of the film begins with scenes of a carton of Nutella being airdropped from a helicopter into the sea and then brought aboard the yacht, only because Dmitry and his companions asked for it. An elderly English couple is revealed to have become rich by selling bombs and armaments, having earned profits from deprivation and death during wars. A German couple is also present, with the woman bound to her wheelchair after some accident; she has also lost her ability to speak since this accident. The only words or phrases that she can seem to say at present are “nein,” which is “no,” and “in den wolken,” which translates to “up in the clouds,” which is an absolutely bizarre and useless thing to be able to say for someone who cannot say anything else. But to the ultra-rich, a phrase like “up in the clouds” is perhaps more relevant than anything else. Another elderly couple complains of the sails of the yacht being dirty, demanding that the staff clean it up so that they can get nice views from the deck without having to see any dirt, except for the fact that the motorized yacht has no sails at all.
The absurdity and blindness of the rich are further highlighted in a shocking turn of events at the captain’s dinner, as this party seems to be Ostlund’s climax. With the characters and situations presented in such a manner, a disruption had always been coming their way, and it finally arrived in the shape of terrible weather. While a grand dinner party with exotic and luxurious food is being held, the yacht runs into rough seas, making everything sway and bounce about terribly. As the guests start to get seasick one after another, very visual bodily fluids and wastes get thrown around helplessly, and to top it all off, the other guests continue dining without showing any bother or concern at all. The middle-class staff also maintain the pretense that nothing is wrong by continuing to pour wine and champagne even amidst all this or by handing out ginger candies and saying that everything is in control. But there seems to have been something terribly wrong with the food too, for some of the guests soon start to have bouts of diarrhea, and such seems to be Ostlund’s rage against the modern high-class (and rightly so) that some of them have their ends literally excreting all over their rooms and toilets, as the dirt and filth also soon starts to overflow and take up most of the yacht’s floor. Amidst all of this, in the sense of relatable comedy, sit two ideologues: the boat’s captain, who happens to be an American Marxist, and Dmitri, who is a Russian capitalist, discussing their differing political and social views. Both are equally detached from the actual situation on the boat and outside, and they engage in a hilarious banter of Leftist versus Right-Wing quotes. Gradually as the weather gets better and dawn starts to break, the elderly English couple spends a loving time on the decks when approaching sea-pirates throw in a grenade just like the ones they make in their own company. Some struggle follows for a little while before the pirates blow up part of the yacht, making it sink into the sea.
The third act shows Carl, Yaya, Dmitri, and a few others washing up on the shore of a nearby island as the only survivors of the accident, and here they have to manage to survive while waiting for any help to arrive. This small group contains Jarmo, a single man with tech expertise who had been flaunting his money to the women on the yacht; Therese, the wheelchair-bound German woman; and the head of staff of the yacht, Paula. They are soon joined by one of the mechanics of the boat, Nelson, and then, on the next morning, by one of the cleaners, Abigail, who had managed to escape the yacht in an emergency lifeboat. It is, therefore, Abigail who now has all the supplies of emergency food and water, and although she initially hands them over to Paula, she soon has a change of heart. For the entire first day of their survival, up until this point, all the survivors kept acting as if nothing much had changed and were still keeping up with their roles. It is especially Paula who seems strangest at this point, as she seems to still believe that the guests are her responsibility even now, and she still tries to command Abigail. However, as it turns out, Abigail is the only one who can build a fire or catch and cook a fish, which is the only food source, and this is where the third theme of the film comes in. While the previous act established the division of class and privilege, this third act lays out how it is the power that corrupts and brings into play the division of privilege. Abigail now establishes herself as the captain of the survivors, and it is she who rations every food and water item, always keeping more for herself and punishing any dissenters who question her role. To make matters even more apparent, she makes use of Carl sexually in exchange for food, which the man shares with his model girlfriend as well. Interestingly, Carl seems to enter another transactional relationship in order to keep his own relationship with Yaya intact, which was itself heavily based on exchanges.
‘Triangle Of Sadness’ Ending Explained: Are The Survivors Rescued At The End? What Happens To Yaya?
Yaya is heavily put off by the fact that her boyfriend is sleeping with someone else right before her eyes, but she also cannot turn away the extra food that she gets from Carl. Perhaps disgruntled by the whole situation, she decides to take a long hike to the top of the nearby hill in order to see what is there on the other side and in hopes of finding any help. As she informs Abigail and Carl about this, Abigail decides to accompany her, and the two women together climb up the hill. Despite being angry at the self-proclaimed captain for the matter with Carl, Yaya praises Abigail for being able to run a matriarchy so successfully and so soon. Whether Yaya genuinely believes what she says or just says it to ensure that her relationship with Abigail is maintained is anybody’s guess. Finally, when the two women climb down the hill from the other side, Yaya seems to spot something and be exhilarated by it. Once Abigail reaches the spot, the two women see a modern elevator built on the side of the rock, meaning that the island actually has a luxury resort on one side of it and is not an isolated island.
Yaya is ecstatic with the realization that they will be rescued, and she wants to return to the survivors’ camp to inform everyone else. However, Abigail quickly realizes that if such were to happen, her whole identity as the captain and the privileges she was getting by being on top of the social class would be lost. She excuses herself, gets hold of a big rock, and then approaches Yaya from behind. At that very moment, the newly formed social structure seems to fade away immediately, as Yaya suggested that she wanted to help Abigail by making the woman her assistant after they went back to their lives. Although it is not directly shown, Abigail most probably kills Yaya with the rock and returns to the other survivors. “Triangle of Sadness” ends with a shot of Carl rushing through the forest on the island, and this might suggest that he has gone in search of the two women who have still not returned. This might further suggest that Abigail enters the resort posing as the sole survivor and tries to get away from the situation in some other way. Else, another possibility can be that Abigail returns to camp and tells Carl of the accidental death of Yaya, and the man rushes through the forest in search of his girlfriend’s body.
The fate of the other survivors is also not directly mentioned, although a scene does show that they, too, would realize that there are others on the island. A local seller of wares walks through the empty beach with all his stuff when Therese calls out to him and tries to explain her and the others’ situation to him. However, since she cannot say anything other than “in den wolken,” it seems that there would still be some time before the locals and the survivors manage to establish communication with each other.
“Triangle of Sadness” is a 2022 Drama Comedy film directed by Ruben Östlund.