Triangle of Sadness – Insulting, Disgusting and Cheap (1.5*)

Triangle of Sadness starts as an interesting riff on money and sexual politics, turns into a disgusting display of sophomore humor, and ends as an insult to the audience. How did this become an Oscar nominee? (1.5*)
Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness – Snapshot

Triangle of Sadness is an insult to the viewer and a demonstration of lazy filmmaking.  Supposedly about sexual and class politics, it is really just an attempt to provoke outrage and take people’s money.  College sophomores will love this film, but I can’t believe it was nominated for Best Picture.

Where to Watch:

Stream: Hulu

Rent: Redbox/Apple/Vudu/Prime ($4) or wherever you get your disks

Triangle of Sadness – The Oscar Buzz

Oscar Nominations:

Best Picture

Director (Ruben Ostlund)

Original Screenplay (Ruben Ostlund)

Triangle of Sadness received a Best Picture nomination and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  Conceivably the academy feels compelled to always put up one “left-wing” picture in this category – last year it was Don’t Look Up.  (And then they often attempt to counterbalance that with one from the right-wing – this year that would probably be Top Gun: Maverick.)  But I have a hard time believing this was the best they could find.  They also nominated Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund in both the directing and Original Screenplay categories.  Part of that is to give the Oscars a bit more of an International flavor by bringing in a non-English born nominee.  It didn’t win anything, though – and for good reason.

Nevertheless, receiving 3 major nominations elevated it to 9th place in my Oscar Quality Index ranking of this year’s 25 general interest films. It was tied with the Black Panther and Avatar spectacles, and the more introspective Women Talking. I haven’t yet seen the two special effect/action films, but Women Talking (which won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar) was a far better film than this one.  So this is a case where number and type of Oscar nominations is NOT an indicator of movie quality.

Triangle of Sadness – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One 

(and if you like these films, you might like this one):

The Square (17) :  Director/Writer (Ostlund); Cinematography (Wenzel); Production Design (Asberg); Costumes (Krunegard)

Force Majeur (14) :  Director/Writer (Ostlund); Cinematography (Wenzel); Production Design (Asberg); 

People vs. Larry Flynt (96) : Acting (Woody Harrelson)

Ruben Ostlund, like many directors, has his own production team and they collaborated on at least two previous films, although I have only seen The Square.  Both this film and The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  At a press conference at Cannes last year he said “We want to create like a rollercoaster for adults, and something that is entertaining and challenging and funny…and when you leave the cinema you should be like, “What has happened?”. And you have something to talk about.”  How Triangle of Sadness ends up being entertaining, challenging, and funny is beyond me – I found it boring, simplistic, and decidedly not-funny.  Although there was one scene in The Square that I thought was well done, I wrote in my review that the story line “remains rather obscure” and “if there is a deeper message beyond how cruel humans can be to each other, then I’m not sure what it might be.”  I don’t see that much has changed with Ostlund in five years.  (My wife Joan, got up and went to bed in the middle of The Square, she liked it so much…)

You may have something to talk about after viewing this movie, but I’m not sure it will be a positive conversation.  As for the “rollercoaster”, let’s just say it is  indeed stomach-challenging!

Woody Harrelson is the only big name actor in this movie and, although he is pretty good, he plays the drunken, irresponsible, socialist captain of the yacht and only appears in the middle hour.  It is an important role, but goes on and on until it becomes boring.  But I list him here because his performance reminded me of his Larry Flynt role.  The other actors are all unknowns to me, although Dolly De Leon (Abigail) gives a delightful performance in the third act, and Charlbi Dean (Yaya) is definite eye candy.

Triangle of Sadness – What Others Think

I’m not the only one that wasn’t impressed with this movie.  Out of this year’s 25 general interest films, both critics and viewers rated this film in the bottom four or five.  

Some critical comments are illuminating:

Ben Kenigsberg (RogerEbert) “The filmmaker’s targets are fairly standard, maybe even fish in a barrel, and (it is) wildly overlong”. 

Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert) “Ostlund has a habit of getting distracted by a similar idea without doing the work to tie it back to the previous one in a satisfying way.”

Godfrey Cheshire (RogerEbert) “plays like the Eurotrash version of Gilligan’s Island.”

Robert Daniels (RogerEbert) “…it’s a shame it’s so damn hollow.”

Triangle of Sadness – Special Mention

Farce – Triangle of Sadness has been described as a comedy/drama and as a farce.  A “farce” is understood as entertainment that is “highly exaggerated, extravagant, ridiculous, absurd, and improbable.”  It usually involves physical humor, satire or parody, and absurdity and employs ludicrous characters. (Definition modified a bit from Wikipedia). You notice that subtlety isn’t a defining attribute of farce.

I realized after reading that definition exactly why I don’t like movies with a “farcical” label- basically, I don’t like being slapped in the face with a dead and smelly fish.  And yet, that is exactly what a farce purposely does.  It is, for the most part, deliberately insulting and leads to mental laziness on the part of both the movie-makers and the audience.  (More on this below!)

Body Fluids – Yes, our bodies are about 50% (women) and 67% (men) water.  And that water is mixed with lots of other items to form various fluids that contribute to our functionality, like blood, cerebral and spinal fluids, digestive fluids, perspiration, and waste fluids.  In normal circumstances, these fluids are expelled in relatively boring or private ways and aren’t something we usually pay a lot of attention to.  Nor are they the subjects of much dramatic interest.

In a farce, however, it seems that bodily fluids become one of the main ingredients.  Exaggerated amounts of vomit or shit can easily be used to take the audiences attention away from the artists true lack of dramatic expertise – they can’t figure out how to engage the audience with a meaningful statement so they resort to a sophomoric expression and hope to generate uncomfortable laughs.  (One of the problems with this approach is that once someone goes to one level the shock value wears off, so the next attempt must be even bigger with more volumes of bodily fluids.)

There is a place for body fluids in a good movie.  I think of Kubrick’s use of blood coming from an elevator in The Shining, or the experiment with a new kind of hair gel in There’s Something About Mary. But in both of those examples the filmmakers had something else to say and so didn’t need to overwhelm the viewer with continuous, copious amounts of fluids.

Triangle of Sadness – Michael’s Moments

Triangle of Sadness is, as the movie suggests divided into three parts – Carl and Yaya, The Yacht, and The Island.  Each part could have been a movie entirely on its own, but, alas… Ostlund had a vision much grander than his filmmaking abilities could realize.

There is, first, an 8-minute introduction which introduces Carl, a male model, interviewing in a cattle-call casting session, for what is apparently a commercial and shows off his classic, Scandinavian good-looks naked from the waist up.  It is during this intro that the director makes sure we are aware of the title of the movie by using it to describe the patch of skin between his eyebrows. (What?). 

Part one takes us fairly quickly to what I thought was probably the most interesting part of the movie – a dinner conversation between Carl and his date, Yaya.  It turns out that she is also a model and, in fact, one who is much more successful than Carl.  There is a fascinating conversation at their restaurant dinner table about which of them should pay the bill – a scene that richly explores sexual politics and the effects that money has on gender roles.  The fight spills over into their cab ride back to the hotel and their subsequent romance.  I would have been intrigued by a movie that had kept this theme, and its tone.

But, Ostlund is known, apparently, for getting bored of his own good ideas.  And so, instead of using his imagination to keep this line of thought moving, he switches to Part II, which takes place entirely on a luxury yacht cruise, starting around the 26 minute mark.  For the next hour, Ostlund changes his theme from one involving sexual politics to that of class warfare.  For the next thirty minutes we are treated to various scenes involving the rich and how they behave badly, while believing they are worth so much more than they are.  That theme, too, could have framed an entirely separate film.

At exactly the one hour mark, however, the scene switches to the Captain’s dinner on board the yacht, timed to begin exactly when the ship encounters a major storm. The dinner involves multiple courses of seafood, richly displayed and all quite slimy.  So, inevitably, the rich guests get sick – the first vomit scene occurs at the 65 minute mark.  

Ostlund could have made his point with one or two people getting sick.  But he couldn’t contain himself and, instead, filled the next half hour with not just buckets of vomit, but, in the end, toilets overflowing and corridors awash with vomit and diarrhea.  This is the part of the film that is, I think, supposed to be a “farce”, but I couldn’t help thinking it was really just a stupid high-school prank.  (As further evidence of how amateurish and lazy Ostlund becomes, pay attention to the unmoving liquid in the glasses on the table, as the ship is tossed in the high seas!)

At 72 minutes the Captain (Woody Harrelson) and Dimitry (Zlatko Buric) – a rich Russian “shit salesman” – begin trading quotes back and forth, arguing capitalism versus socialism.  At the beginning, this conversation shows promise, but, as they both consume copious quantities of alcohol, the conversation degrades, showing as much respect for political philosophy as the ongoing scenes of guests absorbed in all manner of bodily fluids show for the viewer – degradingly little.  The political debate, and viewer insult continues until it is all disrupted in a totally unrelated event that ends the yacht and Part II.

Part III begins at the 87 minute mark where some of the crew and guests that were on the yacht end up on The Island.  Somehow this “Gilligan’s Island” redo is intended to represent the closing of the triangle, turning the tables on the class structure and inverting the sexual dynamics that were presented in the first segment.  Again, there are some interesting dynamics in this segment, but they are either beaten to death, or left unexplored.  And, just to prove how simple-minded Ostlund’s insult to the audience is, just wait for the final moments of the movie – regardless of which way you think it goes, the after-movie conversation won’t last long.  And neither will your memory of this film.

Why this film made it to Best Picture consideration remains more of a mystery than why producer’s put money into this bucket of vomit.  Only because there are a few, good but unexplored, ideas: (1.5*)

Triangle of Sadness

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