Blu-ray Review: Triangle of Sadness

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund | CAST: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly De Leon, Zlatko Burić, Woody Harrelson, Sunnyi Melles, Vicky Berlin, Alicia Eriksson
RELEASE DATE: 4/25/23 | PRICE: DVD $20.99, Blu-ray $27.99, 4K UHD $34.99
BONUSES: New interview with Östlund and filmmaker-actor Johan Jonason; featurettes about the film’s special effects and the day a producer played the role of an extra; and outtakes.
SPECS: NR | 147 min. | Comedy | 2.39:1 | 5.1 surround 

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

The golden rule in comedy filmmaking has been to keep all funny movies shorter than 90 minutes. This rule has been broken most successfully by three writer-directors who often incorporated drama into their comedies — namely, Billy Wilder, Blake Edwards, and Woody Allen. But, for the most part, it’s always been a wise director who keeps their humorous flicks to an hour and a half.

Triangle of Sadness violates this rule quite well, primarily because it is divided into three “acts,” each of which has its own pacing and tone. Thus, while it lost out at the Oscars to Everything Everywhere…, it uses its two-and-a-half-hour length creatively and leaves the viewer with more to think about. For, while Everything… winds up with a simplistic message (in any universe, love your family!), Triangle’s writer-director  Ruben Östlund (The Square) take a multi-pronged swipe at the rich and influential, showing just how absurd social structures really are.

The film’s three-act structure is indeed its most striking aspect. The first segment concerns the relationship between a very good-looking but immensely shallow couple — an influencer (Charlbi Dean, who died at 32 shortly before Triangle was released) and a male model (Harris Dickinson) who argue about money, since she makes more of it than he does, and he is unable to treat her to dinner.

This modest reflection on dating norms gives way to the centerpiece of the film, the second act in which our shallow antihero and antiheroine board a luxury cruise and experience its sinking due to various factors. The broadly farcical second act functions as a variation on Terry Southern’s The Magic Christian (minus a lead provocateur character) with numerous disasters occurring on the boat at the same time.

The tone moves from subtle social satire to wild and raucous farce, including a prolonged scene of the dignified guests vomiting. It’s the segment of the films that has the broadest appeal, since it goes straight for the throat. Sure, it contains a drunken political debate between the ship’s American Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and a very wealthy Russian capitalist (Zlatko Burić), but the emphasis on puking gags moves the film to a more familiar place for multiplex viewers.

Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson are looking good in Triangle of Sadness

The third and final act of the film finds the survivors of the cruise shipwrecked on a deserted (or is it?) island. In this part, Östlund returns to social satire, as Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the ship employee who served as “toilet manager” becomes queen bee of the survivors’ encampment, as she is the only one with any real life skills. The “beautiful people” and moguls who were passengers on the ship must depend on her to keep them alive. Thus, she becomes the bedmate of the male model, who will do anything to deal with his new circumstances.

Östlund’s supreme achievement in Triangle is to keep viewers engaged during the quiet and subtle third act, especially as it follows the over-the-top cruise ship segment. While the very transparent message about the differences between the classes is in the forefront from the beginning of the second act, the shift in tone is bold and is delivered so well that it ultimately pays off.

This is due in no small part to the cast, most of whom were charged with bringing to life characters that are essentially cartoons. The young lovers in the first segment are entertaining to watch but are not sympathetic; neither are the initially jolly wealthy travelers. Only the “servant class” on the ship register as people one can relate to.

The young lovers are impassioned in their arguments, so Dean and Dickinson are able to invest their characters with some emotion. Sunnyi Melles and Burić impress as the amiable super-rich Russian capitalist couple, while Amanda Walker and Oliver Ford Davies provide a pleasant surprise as an even friendlier old British couple who have made their fortune off of arms sales. Guest star Harrelson does a fine job as the always drunk communist captain who clearly has no nautical skills at all.

The only character who has a full “arc” is Abigail, who moves from compliant servant on the ship to rambunctious survivalist leader on the island. de Leon surely deserved at the very least an Oscar nomination, but the scales were very clearly tilted toward Everything… getting the “sweep effect” at this year’s awards.

A selection of deleted scenes contains extra footage of the encounter between Harrelson and Burić, as well as the older armament couple giving the central couple marital advice. There is also a short featurette that shows the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that visual fx were added to the film’s action.

An interview with Östlund finds him saying that he wanted to “mess” with the preconceived notions of viewers and not criticize capitalism. He looked to “break free of arthouse cinema” and hopes viewers can identify with the situations and the characters’ reactions to them. (The first part of that is odd, since most of us will never be shipwrecked from a pleasure cruise, but the second part works very well.) Most interestingly, he says he made the film “for the cinema” creating a widescreen feature that loses something on a home screen.

The silliest supplement is one in which we see one of the film’s producers serving as an extra during the long vomit scene. It takes many minutes but by the end of the video we do see the producer being  covered in the fake vomit (which is not vomit, but it’s also not an element in a special effects shot).

Buy or Rent Triangle of Sadness

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”