Capsized boats, water slides, projectile vomit, and diarrhoea water — Triangle of Sadness is White Lotus on steroids, where rich people suffer, and also face the consequences of their actions.
Last Updated: 04.16 PM, May 12, 2023
It’s not a good time to be a billionaire if satirical comedies are anything to go by. Thanks to the sudden influx of ‘eat-the-rich’ films at film festivals and streaming sites, the anti-elite sentiment among the working class is at an all-time high. Most of these comedies have rich people as central characters, doing ‘rich people things’— throwing an occasional hissy fit when their demands are not met, treating their assistants and hotel staff with complete disregard, and of course, throwing a fit and breaking down when they realise they might just lose all their wealth.
Exhibit A: White Lotus season 2, which premiered on HBO last year and rightfully tore into clueless rich white Americans staying in expensive resorts. Cameron and Daphne, two guests at White Lotus, are aware of the volatility of the times we live in but they much rather be ‘apolitical’ than vote in elections. It is their privilege that saves them the trouble of worrying about the future, yet they don’t lead happy lives. Exhibit B: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, where an Elon Musk-like tech billionaire, who is considered a ‘genius’ by his peers, risks public safety by selling untested fuel, all for profits and easy money. Satirizing the rich has become a new way to combat the tyranny of billionaires who can get away with anything at this point.
The satire in Triangle of Sadness, though, might come across heavy-handed as compared to other social satires. Here we see a bunch of filthy rich people go on a cruise; climate change be damned! Among the guests is a British couple who manufacture tools to save democracy—no, not voting machines, but hand grenades. There’s a Russian oligarch, who “sells shit” and has brought both his wife and mistress on the cruise trip. There’s also a lonely tech millionaire and of course, Carl and Yaya who are on the cruise ship, solely because of Yaya’s Instagram following.
The crew members know just how ridiculous the whole thing is but in a ruthless economy, where rich people call the shots and their tips decide how much money you take home at the end of the month, there’s only so much one can do to hold them accountable. Cue projectile vomit and painful diarrhoea induced by seafood that went stale—thanks to Miss Vera’s request. For once, the rich face consequences of their actions and it is oh-so-satisfying to watch them swim in diarrhoea water. All hell breaks loose, the captain of the ship, who happens to be an American socialist, has an argument with a Russian capitalist (the irony of it all!) over the intercom as the boat capsizes.
What sets Triangle of Sadness apart from other satirical comedies is that it shows us a reversal of hierarchy where the rich white men are suddenly at the bottom of the food chain and working-class women like Abigail, who know how to cook and hunt, are at the top. In part 3 of the film, we see the establishment of matriarchy and in Yaya’s words, all the “old Alpha males are now domesticated”. Initially, Abigail comes across as a responsible captain of the ship, keeping the bunch together, but soon, we see her lose grip. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Abigail uses her power to sleep with Carl in exchange for food, despite being aware that Carl is in love with Yaya. The gender roles are reversed — Carl is forced to engage in sex work for food and sleep with a powerful woman to have his needs met. Much to Yaya’s dismay, Abigail and Carl’s relationship continues.
Östlund doesn’t limit his commentary to the rich-people-in-expensive-resort trope but turns the system upside down to examine how class, gender and social privileges interact with each other. Perhaps, in a better world, Abigail can lead a respectable life and doesn’t have to murder another woman to protect herself.
Östlund doesn’t limit his commentary to the rich-people-in-expensive-resort trope but turns the system upside down to examine how class, gender and social privileges interact with each other. Perhaps, in a better world, Abigail can lead a respectable life and doesn’t have to murder another woman to protect herself. Perhaps, in a better world, which doesn’t pit women against each other, both Abigail and Yaya can co-exist.