A polarizing Palme-winning polemic from Ruben Östlund splits sides on 4K UHD
An auteur who’s fashioned himself as Cannes’ latest Palme-winning provocateur, Ruben Östlund’s recent films have taken hilarious sledgehammers to the absurdities of class and human behavior. Force Majeure is an uncomfortable examination of familial roles and patriarchal expectations; The Square rivetingly lampoons the values we place on art and human life, and the accompanying actions we take to preserve and champion those values. In both films, class and power are arbitrary, awkward, and absurd concepts–all of which are ripe for equally bizarre and gut-churning satire.
In Triangle of Sadness, Östlund’s latest target is squarely aimed at the leisure life of the rich and powerful, which is more often than not built on the backs of those in the caste of serving or enriching the elite. Across a triptych structure, Influencer/Models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) revel in the free pleasures that society bestows upon them as beautiful people, including comp tickets on an exclusive luxury yacht filled to the brim with industry magnates and tastemakers. When gruesome disaster strikes–blending stormy seas, weak stomachs, and pirates (of course)–those left must fend for themselves on a remote island, clinging to the arbitrary notions of power that previously granted them idle safety.
Hot off the heels of other award-winning “eat the rich” skewers like fellow Palme-winner Parasite and The Menu, Triangle of Sadness is a timely and hilarious takedown of capitalist culture at each of its echelons. Östlund’s film is off to the races in its opening moments, as a peppy TV program profiles one of Carl’s modeling auditions with all the bourgeois superficiality such events inherently possess. A following scene at a runway show is delightfully bizarre as apocalyptic issues are turned into meaningless buzzwords wallpapering a flashy yet unremarkable fashion show, with a somber cello ceding to pulse-pounding poppy noise. It’s a world rich with hollow, of-the-moment moralism, where earnest causes are turned into mere status badges or viral hashtags. The subsequent act extends this further, with the central Yacht as an effective bubble free from the ills and failures plaguing everyone else; it serves as an environment where the cluelessness of the elite is able to metastasize to absurdly comedic proportions.
It’s also within this bubble that Östlund demonstrates how any sense of morality or empathy evaporates the further one ascends the social strata. Here, weapons manufacturers bemoan how a percentage of their business (land mines) is under investigation for human rights violations; Carl and Yaya role-play forbidden trysts between yacht crew and rich passengers; an heiress commands the yacht crew to abandon their posts to swim in the ocean and enjoy as much frivolity as her. The passengers believe little separates them from the crew, that their positions in society can be swapped like winning positions in a game. The crew, however, know the bitter truth of the toll their employers’ whims take on them–and it won’t be long before the passengers learn how precarious their lofty positions truly are.
The yacht’s American communist captain (Woody Harrelson) and Russian agri-capitalist Dmitry (Zlatko Buric) are the two souls on the ship who seem to possess anything resembling a strong moral position–yet a memorable sequence where the pair trade quippy jabs to take each other down reveals how hollow their ideologies truly are. Each resorts to looking up quotes by their respective idols (Marx, Reagan, Twain) to make their points, reducing the complex ideas behind the quotes to mere debating points or bludgeons against each other. Much like their usage of these quotes, both men’s actual practice of their ideologies is humorously impotent. The pair both champion revolutionary ideals, yet refuse to use their powerful positions to enact any true change in the world; actually doing anything meaningful would compromise the comfort their status affords them.
Like any real change, the lives of those on the ship are upended without warning and through immensely absurd catastrophe. In a maelstrom of vomit, sewage, and eventually bloodshed, storms both external and within render the refined passengers of the yacht immobile with food poisoning before a band of pirates blows up the ship. In a loose trilogy that revels in tearing down the comfortable lives of the lead characters, Östlund’s third iteration of social disaster is his most gut-churning as much as it is his most gut-busting. A focal point of much of the film’s marketing–barf bags were present at its US premiere at Fantastic Fest last September–one could be forgiven for thinking Triangle of Sadness reaches its climax here. While this sequence may be the film’s most memorable (for better and for worse), Triangle of Sadness tackles its most interesting ideas beyond this set piece. Reduced to humiliated, baser versions of themselves, Triangle of Sadness enters its unhinged third act by placing each of its remaining characters on an even keel. Here, our survivors’ ability to thrive directly depends on what they can contribute to the barebones society they find themselves in.
Dolly De Leon’s Abigail is a blunt and brilliant character who rightly seizes control in this last third. Under such sparse and arid conditions, pretzel sticks have as much value as Balenciaga heels, while Rolex watches are worth as much as the other detritus washing ashore. Once the yacht’s lead cleaning manager, her natural survival instincts allow Abigail to pivot into the island’s matriarch–placing everyone else into deliciously subjugated roles where they must prove themselves to her…or worse, curry her favor. Here, Carl and Yaya’s reckoning of gender roles in the film’s opening act takes on a pointed bent: where Yaya commanded more financial and social currency in the male-gaze-driven world of fashion, now Carl “sells” his body to Abigail in ways Yaya can’t in order to maintain some level of comfortability. Throughout the finale of Triangle of Sadness, Östlund mirrors the “real” world of his characters while tearing it down completely. It’s a precarious house of cards that provides the structure for the easygoing lives of those in power; yet when those dynamics are inverted, Östlund also shows how anyone from any strata of society will fight tooth and nail for the privilege of being in power a la mode.
With its blunt and puerile mockery of power structures, is Triangle of Sadness less challenging and more on the nose than Östlund’s previous films? Possibly. With the viral rise of influencer culture, as well as atrocities committed by various aspects of international socioeconomic systems, it’s also possible that society as a whole has regressed even more between The Square and Östlund’s latest. For all of its hilarious transgressions, at least Triangle of Sadness is as entertaining and incisive of a social bludgeon as we could ask for–or deserve–from this wry Swedish satirist.
Criterion presents Triangle of Sadness in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio in 4K SDR on the UHD disc and in a 1080p transfer on the accompanying Blu-ray. While transfer information hasn’t been supplied in the included insert, Criterion’s packaging notes the transfer and 5.1-Surround DTS-HD master audio track are sourced from a 4K digital master approved by Östlund. English subtitles for non-English sequences as well as subtitles for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing are provided for the main feature. Non-English-language segments are subtitled in the film’s special features.
While an HDR pass was not created for the film, the film’s UHD transfer provides crisp and vivid detail for the film’s diverse textures, from the sleek wood paneling of the yacht, to cool ocean blues, to the queasy oranges and browns of…other elements. Shadows and shading are elegantly handled, particularly in low-light and campfire-driven sequences. The island-based third act allows the expansive color palette to really go on display, with lush sun-dappled greens clashing with the harsh reds of life preservers and lifeboats.
The 5.1-channel DTS-HD master audio track is as tightly-controlled and nuanced as the film’s visuals, with a focus on the film’s dialogue in the center tracks as ambient audio either lingers in the background or comes to the fore at key moments. The cacophony of the film’s Captain’s Dinner sequence is particularly impressive, as individual vignettes of chaos are sonically featured during their moments onscreen yet play out in rear and side channels as Östlund’s vision finds a new victim to turn its attention towards.
Akin to Criterion’s other 4K UHD releases, the film’s Special Features can be found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc.
- Ruben Östlund and Johan Jonason: In this new interview produced by the Criterion Collection, writer-director Östlund discusses his creative process for the film, from the cacophony of thematic interests that birthed Triangle of Sadness, to the process of crafting a film’s aesthetics in a world of viewing films on airplanes and iPhones in order to draw the audience into watching the film.
- Erik, The Extra: A brief behind-the-scenes look at a moment on the climactic final day of filming Triangle of Sadness, in which producer Erik Hemmendorf is asked to be an extra engulfed in a wave of excrement during the film’s most notorious sequence.
- Visual Effects Demonstration: A 6-minute excerpt detailing both the obvious and hidden visual effects throughout Triangle of Sadness. The featurette reveals the surprising statistic that of the 562 images that make up the film, 83% of them have some sort of visual effect in them. Effects range from background adjustments and color grading to eye direction replacement and visible crew removal. The most impressive sequences morph multiple different takes into the same take or shot.
- Deleted Scenes: 12 minutes of excised scenes from the film, presented with unfinished VFX. There is an extended conversation between Carl and Yaya on financial traditions regarding engagement rings; Yaya discussing with Clementine what to look for in a marriage; extended reactions from the castaways to the islands’ noises in the dark; Dmitry and Nelson further discuss Nelson’s past; Yaya and Carl discussing gives and takes after Carl’s first island encounter with Abigail; and an extended prelude to Dmitry and the Captain’s banter on the yacht.
- Trailer: Theatrical trailer for NEON’s US release of the film.
- Booklet featuring an essay by film critic and essayist A.S. Hamrah on Triangle of Sadness’ satire of the upper class, including comparisons to similar themes in films like Film Socialisme and The Great Beauty, to the usage of reality TV tropes found in Survivor and Below Deck, to the interesting history of the yacht used in the film, previously owned by the Onassis family.
Triangle of Sadness is now available on 4K UHD + Blu-ray Combo, Blu-ray, and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.