Triangle of Sadness

Review by Hannah Strong @thethirdhan

Directed by

Ruben Östlund


Charlbi Dean Harris Dickinson Woody Harrelson


All aboard the good ship Östlund!


Stomach-churning scenes abound.

In Retrospect.

A fun, but fairly smug, voyage.

Swedish provocateur Ruben Östlund takes us aboard the luxury cruise from hell in his latest over-the-top satire.

There’s something about the idea of floating on the open sea with a bunch of strangers that feels vaguely ominous, and given the reputation cruises have as breeding grounds for stomach bugs and potential death traps, it’s surprising we don’t see more films that take place abroad them. Good news, then, for anyone who ever read David Foster Wallace’s ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ and felt seen – Ruben Östlund shares your apprehension about ocean-based holidays.

The latest brash provocation from the director of Force Majeure and The Square concerns the passengers aboard a luxury cruise ship and charts the series of unfortunate events that throw them into disarray. The self-avowed Marxist captain, Thomas (Woody Harrelson), is drunk, a storm is closing in, and there are some unsavoury-looking characters lurking on a passing boat.

Nevertheless, jobbing model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are making the most of a free holiday. Their fellow passengers include a Russian manure entrepreneur (Zlatko Burić) and a German woman who’s recently suffered a stroke rendering her unable to say anything except the words “In den Wolken”. If Carl and Yaya feel out of place, this is superseded by a lingering argument about their relationship (which comprises the film’s short opening chapter), in which Carl calls Yaya out for never paying for dinner when they’re together. He expresses a desire to defy traditional gender roles within their relationship, though Yaya seems a little sceptical about the suggestion.

Luckily for them, circumstance leads to an immediate opportunity for some gender role reversal, as they soon find themselves shipwrecked and discover that the only competent member of their group is Abigail (Dolly De Leon), a Filipino toilet cleaner on the ship. Abigail, sick and tired of dealing with rude passengers, is heartily pleased to finally be the one in charge.

Östlund delights in juxtaposing his big political themes with toilet humour – the amount of vomit and faecal matter in this film really can’t be understated – and the three-act structure leaves the film backloaded, as it is at its most enjoyable once the crew and guests are shipwrecked and start to live out an off-kilter version of ‘Lord of the Flies’.

Even if the storyline needs work, Östlund’s visual creativity delights in a scene where the camera appears to move with the rocking of the ship on choppy waters. Dickinson is superb as the idealistic but empty-headed Carl, who decides the best way to survive is to find someone to provide for him. Dickinson offsets his indisputable handsomeness by playing up Carl’s crotchetiness – he’s an expressive performer, and in the purse of his lips or furrow of his brow he can fill in the blanks between the lines of Östlund’s broad-strokes script.

It’s certainly an enjoyable watch, though Östlund gestures towards big questions about gender and class divisions without making any truly bold statements. Instead, his characters noodle around inside increasingly outlandish scenarios, and the eventual ending feels rather abrupt after two hours of build-up.

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Published 26 Oct 2022

Tags: Ruben Östlund Triangle of Sadness


All aboard the good ship Östlund!


Stomach-churning scenes abound.

In Retrospect.

A fun, but fairly smug, voyage.

Suggested For You

The Square

By Hannah Strong

Ruben Östlund’s agreeably bizarre fifth feature is an art world satire of ambitious vision.


Force Majeure

By Neil Young

This ski-based family drama from Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund doesn’t quite reach its intended peak.


Ruben Östlund: ‘I was interested in beauty as a currency’

By Ella Kemp

The two-time Palme d'Or-winning provocateur chats idealism, misogyny and modeling as Triangle of Sadness hits cinemas.

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