From time immemorial, the focal point of human discourse revolves around complex discussions about society, class, gender, and race. There has always been a dramatic rise in class-conscious films that shows the struggle between the rich and the poor or the haves and the have-nots. Such films have used creative storytelling strategies to spread the prescient message about our economic system, social inequalities, and personal prejudices. The cinema landscape has utilized the theme of class anxiety and social divide in films like Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or-winning Parasite (2019), Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (2018), and The White Lotus (2021).

Two-time Palme d’Or winner, Ruben Ostlund’s sadistic comedy Triangle of Sadness is a provocative and biting class satire of wealth and beauty privilege that plays out like a social psychology experiment. This ship-borne narrative offers a carnivalesque analysis of the ultra-rich wealth hoarders and beauty influencers and arrives at the apparent theme of the savagery of human nature. Structured into three parts, the film is held together by model couple Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean). Originally titled Sans filter, which translates to “Without Filter,” this film utilizes grotesque and scatological humor to lampoon social hierarchies and class divide induced by the capitalist society.

The film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, is a satirical black comedy set against the world of fashion and the uber-rich in which we get a glimpse of social hierarchies, gender-based power dynamics, conflicting political ideologies, financial inequality, and race power structures. Like his previous anti-capitalist films Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017), Triangle of Sadness also satirizes the cruelties of the super-rich upper classes. Ostlund’s reversal of power dynamics and social class in which the powerful become powerless in the face of mother nature is influenced by William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Eugene O’Neill’s Thirst, Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, and Bong Joon-ho Parasite.

This article discusses the plot of Triangle of Sadness in detail, closely examining prominent themes, motifs, and issues employed in the film. Proceed with caution as there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Refrain from reading the article and save it for later if you haven’t watched the movie. Happy reading!

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Triangle Of Sadness Yaya and Carl

Triangle of Sadness opens at a casting audition were a fashion reporter interviews a parade of aesthetically muscular and handsome male models backstage on their career choices. The reporter quizzes the male models who are waiting to be seen and judged – What are the essential aspects of being a male model? Are they satisfied making just one-third the income of their female counterparts? Did they receive familial support in being a male model? The roaming reporter notices Carl (Harris Dickinson) and asks him whether it is a runaway casting for a “grumpy brand,” a high-end designer brand that looks down on its consumers like Balenciaga, or a “smiley brand,” an affordable and financially egalitarian brand like H&M. Carl and his fellow shirtless models are forced to change from their Balenciaga looks characterized by a scowl and furrowed brow to their H&M faces characterized by a smile showing gleaming white teeth and dimples.

The scene culminates with the reporter yelling “Balenciaga!” and “H&M!” back and forth patronizingly as the men quickly change their facial expressions. This opening piece shows the difference between expensive brands requiring models to embody strong, sour, harsh, and unapproachable demeanors while cheap brands call for smiles and laughter. A little later, Carl appears before the unsmiling casting tribunal for the audition, who is whispering among themselves, superficially scrutinizing Carl’s portfolio. The casting director asks Carl to walk back and forth and quite peculiarly asks him, “Can you relax your triangle of sadness?” which is mildly humiliating. The title alludes to the triangle formed by excessive frowning between the brows and above the nose, which is often a target of Botox to suppress emotional reactions.


In the first act, the scene shifts to a fashion show where Carl struggles to find an extra seat as he is disposed from his heart owing to a group of important influencers needing a front-row seat. It is ironic when a giant screen flashes phrases such as “everyone’s equal now,” “act now,” and “love now,” as we just witnessed how a group of people lost their seats and certain people are privileged over the other. This apparently socially conscious fashion show is anything but hypocrisy. And the star of the show is Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who is cat-walking into the center stage while the crowd goes wild over her. Yaya is in a relationship with Carl to grow each other’s social media following. Yaya is much more successful than Carl in terms of her modeling profession as well as her fanbase on Instagram.


After the fashion show, we follow the fashion models through an awkward dinner date at a fancy restaurant, where a disinterested Yaya ignores the check and waits for Carl to pay. Carl openly wonders why he always picks up the check even though Yaya earns more money. Yaya dismissively asks whether she should whip out a calculator to split the bill. They seem privileged by their looks but argue over who will pay for dinner. Carl grasps for equality in the relationship without slipping into stereotypical gender-based roles, so his struggle will be slightly easier. Carls wants Yaya to pay for the expensive dinner since she had invited him and Yaya had promised to pay the bill the previous night. Yaya’s ego is hurt when things get out of hand, and she offers to pay the bill. She whips out her card to pay, but it seems there are insufficient funds. In the end, Carl pays for the dinner.

Carl and Yaya continue their squabble in the taxi ride back to the hotel. Money is not something Yaya worries herself with, and she states that talking about money is unsexy. Yaya maintains that she is generous, while Carl claims he feels used. Disgruntled by the violent discussion, the couple spends some time away from each other until Yaya finally returns to Carl. Yaya reveals that she is manipulative unknowingly and that she never intended to pay for the dinner. Yaya discloses that she needs to know that she can be taken care of if she ever has to stop working. She believes in the man’s ability to provide for the woman. She even lets it out that the only way forward for her is to become someone’s trophy wife when Yaya affirms that there is nothing more than a transactional relationship between them. Carl promises to make Yaya fall in absolute love with him someday.


The second act takes place on a luxury superyacht in which Carl and Yaya are invited on a free luxury cruise in exchange for promoting it on social media. It commenced with the scene of jars of Nutella being airdropped by a helicopter in the waters near the yacht. It brought aboard for the wealthy guest, Dimitry (Zlatko Burić), a Russian fertilizer magnate who made his fortune in waste management and called himself “the King of Shit.” When one of the deckhands (Timoleon Gketsos) exposes his muscular figure that catches Yaya’s eyes, Carl gets jealous, complains about the worker, and gets him fired. Ironically, Carl complains about the bare-chested worker when he is bare-chested. Carl and Yaya are seen intermingling with Dimitry, who is accompanied by his pampered wife, Vera (Sunnyi Melles), and a trophy wife, Ludmilla (Linda Anborg). Carl takes pictures of Yaya holding a massive forkful of pasta, then discards it because of her gluten intolerance. Dimitry comments about Yaya’s good looks that paid for the tickets.

The other ultra-rich guests include a British arms merchant named Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) and his wife, Clementine (Amanda Walker), whose best-selling product is the hand grenade. They lament the UN regulation that banned hand grenades and its effect on their fortune. There is also a lonely tech millionaire Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin), who flaunts his money to the women on the yacht, and an overbearing woman (Mia Benson) who insists that the ship’s sails need washing, demanding the staff clean it up so that they can have a pleasant view from the deck except for the fact that the motorized yacht has no sails. There is also a wheelchair-bound German woman named Therese (Iris Berben), who is disabled by a stroke and aphasic, able only to call her husband by name and repeats the phrase “in den Wolken,” which translates to “Up in the clouds.”

While the richest of the rich comprise Instagram influencers, oligarchs, and billionaires who showcase their prestige and privilege, the other end of the social spectrum comprises the cabin crew, cleaning workers, and porters. The social hierarchy in the luxury cruise is evident in terms of space, with the affluent guests staying right on top, the white cabin crew and hospitality staff in the middle, and the cleaning workers and porters at the very bottom. When the guests relax, the cabin crew, led by an overly polite and service-obsessed Paula (Vicki Berlin), instructs the orderlies to meet their every need and whim and obey the guests’ often absurd requests. They are encouraged to keep an air of servitude and get the work done to earn fat tips, which is characteristic of middle-class society. We see the cleaning workers (all people of color) slaving away who spend their time below deck, ignored by their above-deck coworkers, and dismissed by the passengers. They are not allowed to interact with the guests or inhabit the same space on the top decks. Meanwhile, the yacht’s world-weary captain, Thomas Smith  (Woody Harrelson), spends his time drinking in his cabin.


Triangle of Sadness Captain's Dinner Night

On the day of the captain’s dinner, the guests enjoy their time on the decks; Vera makes a spectacle of her egalitarian sympathies and states that she was born into this rich life. Vera asks a crew member Alicia (Alicia Eriksson), to reverse their roles by ordering her to abandon her duties and go for a swim. Vera even demands the entire ship crew to go swimming as a treat. Despite the ridiculous request, everybody obliges since the customer is always right. The entire crew swims from the water slide, leaving the seafood for dinner without refrigeration. Paula and Darius (Arvin Kananian) somehow manage to get Captain Smith to sober up and attend the captain’s dinner. Captain Smith and Darius welcome all the guests, and they are seated for dinner as a storm hits the yacht.

In a sudden turn of events, the grand dinner party becomes a catastrophe when the yacht runs into rough seas, and the terrible weather makes the yacht sway and bounces about terribly. The seasickness combined with spoiled seafood while the kitchen staff was forced to swim, resulting in several guests vomiting. After devouring exotic and expensive-looking food, Vera vomits in projectile motion and tries to settle herself by consuming more champagne, but fails and pukes even more. The middle-class staff pretends nothing is wrong by continuing to pour wine and handing out ginger candies saying everything is under control. A chaotic mess of bodily fluids, vomit, diarrhea, and raw sewage follows. The guests continue to vomit, and some end up defecating all over their rooms and toilets, and filth starts overflowing and floods the yacht’s floor. One of the guests even goes into cardiac arrest, sending the ship into a panic.

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Unaffected, some guests continue to dine without showing concern about what is happening around them. With a steady flow of liquor from the staff, Dimitry, a product of the Soviet Union who has embraced capitalism, and Captain Smith, a diehard American Marxist, trade quotes from Ronald Reagan, Mark Twain, Edward Abbey, Margaret Thatcher, Karl Marx, John F. Kennedy, and Vladimir Lenin. The hilarious banter of two ideologues about their Leftist versus Right-Wing views continues over the ship’s loudspeaker, where they debate their differing political and social views. Amidst the repartee, Captain Smith tells Dimitry, “While you are swimming in abundance, the rest of the world is drowning in misery. That’s not the way it’s meant to be.”

The drunken Thomas and Dimitry are detached from the actual situation on the boat and outside as they engage in a war of words mocking each other’s principles and beliefs through the ship’s intercom. When the storm rages, the power goes out, leaving the ship shrouded in darkness. When the weather gets better, and dawn starts to break, the yacht gets attacked by sea pirates. The pirates throw a hand grenade to the front of the boat, where Clementine and Winston enjoy the view from the deck. Clementine picks up the grenade made by their own company and is killed by their bestselling product. The explosion blows up the front end of the yacht and capsizes the yacht.


The third act begins with a group of survivors landing on a seemingly deserted island. The explosion survivors include Carl, Yaya, Dimitry, Jarmo, Therese, Paula, and engine room worker Nelson (Jean-Christophe Folly). Paula takes charge of the situation by asking everybody to remain calm and wait for the rescue team to appear. Dimitry is suspicious of Nelson being one of the pirates, and Nelson accuses Dimitry of being racist because he is black. Theresa, who was wheelchair-bound, now sits in the lifeboat she had washed ashore. When night falls, the group huddles together in Theresa’s lifeboat. They hear strange sounds, get afraid, fire the flares, and pray, falling down on their knees.



The following day, Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the toilet manager, who had managed to escape the yacht in an emergency lifeboat, gets washed ashore. The lifeboat has some supplies of emergency food and water, which Paula distributes to the survivors. We realize that even when stranded, the survivors act as if nothing has changed and are still keeping up with their roles. Paula believes that the safety of the guests is her responsibility now and tries to command Abigail. But soon enough,  Abigail assumes a tyrannical leadership position thanks to her practical skill, such as knowing how to catch fish and start a fire. While the guests are munching on the emergency food and water, it turns out that only Abigail can catch a fish, build a fire and cook it. Abigail sheds her lowly status and establishes herself as the captain of the survivors when she starts deciding who gets another piece of food. “Who am I?” she asks each of them. When each person says “Captain,” they get rewarded with another small piece of fish.

After dinner, Abigail allows Paula and Yaya to sleep with her in the lifeboat while the men are assigned to watch the fire and take care of Theresa. Dimitry and Jarmo even attempt to bribe Abigail with Rolex watches and money. Carl, Nelson, and Theresa share the pretzel sticks found in the backpack left by Abigail and fail to watch the fire. The following day, Vera’s body gets washed ashore, and Dimitry mourns her death but, at the same time, takes off her necklace and ring from her body. When Abigail finds that Carl and Nelson didn’t watch the fire and ate the pack of pretzel sticks, she punishes them by asking to find their food. She becomes an unquestionable dictator who provides for the survivors and punishes dissenters who challenge her.


When Carl is denied food for the previous night’s oversight, he flirts with Abigail despite her age. Abigail takes advantage of Carl sexually in exchange for special privileges and food, which he shares with Yaya. Just like Yaya’s looks granted her the opportunity for a free-of-charge cruise, Carl’s looks gave him a chance to have extra food and a comfortable place to sleep. Initially, Carl checks in with Yaya to ask what he can and cannot do, but it soon becomes a routine for Carl and Abigail to sleep together in the lifeboat. Yaya grows jealous that Carl is sleeping with Abigail right before her eyes, but she cannot turn away the extra food she gets from Carl. The men bully Carl by whistling when he passes them for offering sexual favors to Abigail.

As the days progress, the group seems comfortable with each other but lacks a purpose or vocation. At one point, Dimitry, Nelson, and Jarmo go hunting in the forest, and Jarmo kills a female donkey to prove they can be helpful and productive to the group. During the night of celebration to honor their successful hunt, Carl and Abigail sit close to each other, much to the displeasure of Yaya. She kisses Jarmo and walks off angrily. We realize soon enough that Carl and Abigail have a consensual sexual relationship, with Abigail “buying sex with the common food.” They struggle to decide whether or not they want their relationship to be public. And Carl is also confused about whether he should break up with Yaya, and Abigail doesn’t want to come between the two of them.


The next day, Yaya informs Abigail that she will take a long hike to the top of the nearby hill to see what is on the other side in hopes of finding help. Abigail decides to accompany her to reconcile any disagreements between them. During the walk, Yaya praises Abigail for her work on the island as the self-proclaimed captain and how she “managed to run a fucking matriarchy” and “domesticated all the old alpha males.” In the meantime, Theresa finds a peddler selling branded Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags and hats, indicating that they are not the only residents on the island. As Theresa cannot communicate about her stranded state, the peddler finds her strange and leaves. Theresa’s realization is confirmed when Yaya finds an elevator to a luxury resort on the island. Yaya is ecstatic with the completion that they will be rescued, and in exhilaration, they hug each other.

However, Abigail quickly realizes that her position as captain and the privileges she has procured will be lost if they are rescued. She reflects on whether she wants to return to her old life as toilet manager or maintain her role as the captain. When Yaya decides to go inside, Abigail stops and asks her to enjoy the moment. While Yaya sits at the shore, Abigail excuses herself, claiming she must pee. She moves slowly towards Yaya from behind with a massive boulder in her hand, who offers her a job as her assistant. The final scene cuts to a shot of Carl rushing through the forest, the same path taken by Yaya and Abigail, presumably searching for the two women who have still not returned. It is assumed that Abigail might have killed Yaya with the rock and returned to the other survivors as she is not ready to relinquish the power she acquired with much difficulty. Also, Abigail might have returned to the survivors and informed them about the accidental death of Yaya. And it explains why Carl was rushing through the forest to search for Yaya’s body.




Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness offers a postmodernist critique of relationships and gender roles through the interactions of two posh fashion models. In the near-perfect first act, the tense restaurant snippet exposes the asymmetrical and lopsided nature of Carl and Yaya’s relationship. Their relationship is fraught with jealousy, insecurity, and professional precarity and is dominated by conflicts over money. Carl, an archetype of a struggling male modeling industry, is unsettled about Yaya making considerably more money while often leaving him to pay for their expensive meals. The selfish and self-obsessed couple are together solely for mutually benefitting social media status and following. While Carl defies biblically rooted social norms for gender and argues for gender equality, Yaya quite surprisingly wants the antiquated chivalric practice of men providing for everything and being someone’s trophy wife, which is an antithesis to financial independence aimed by feminist tenets. The subversion of gender in wage disparity helps dissect modern masculinity and manhood and aims to erasure stereotypical gender norms. This sneaky attack into modern relationships shows the intricacies of being a man and a woman nowadays.


Triangle of Sadness is a vicious satirical attack on the excesses of beauty and wealth indulging in the case study of society’s 1% ultra-rich wealth hoarders and beauty influencers. When the self-obsessed elites go on a luxury cruise, money speaks for them, and the crew members and workers wait on hand and foot in a servile fashion to meet their demands. It puts the obscenely wealthy, obnoxiously out-of-touch high society under the microscope and unmasks their greed, hypocrisy, vanity, and thirst for power. For the sake of the idle rich, Nutella is airdropped from helicopters, their demands are always met without ever answering in the negative, workers are fired without seeking explanations, and staff is treated as slaves and entertainment. The fashion models get a free ride on the luxury cruise as beauty and sexuality is a strong currencies in the postmodern world. This parable shows the hollow superficiality and frivolous nature of the mega-rich.


Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of the carnival blurs the distinctive lines between the social hierarchies of everyday life by profaning and overturning suppressed voices and energies. Ruben Östlund attempts the same in Triangle of Sadness, where he tries to turn the dominant assumptions upside down. The luxury yacht symbolizes the hierarchy-ridden social class comprising upper, middle, and lower social classes. Parallel to that, the three-decked yacht is occupied by the uber-rich on top, the White staff in the middle, and the POC cleaning crew on the lower deck. But when the storm hits and chaos ensues, the hierarchy gets broken down, turning everyone into a vomit-spewing, defecating, seasick mess. When they get stranded on the island, the hierarchies get reversed, with the lowest rung assuming authority and dominance, commanding and ordering the highest order. In the game of the survival of the fittest, the lower rungs best the upper and the middle class, thus maintaining control over privileges such as food and water. This reversal of the economic status quo underscores the politics at play – the evils of consumption, the complexities of class and gender, and the existence of the fundamental competitive and hierarchical drive in human nature.

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Triangle of Sadness is the final piece of Östlund’s anti-capitalist trilogy that addresses the unspeakable disparities in terms of the social, political, economic, and racial order. This take-no-prisoners satire serves as a battleground for two conflicting ideologies: Capitalism and Marxism, in which it offers a scathing indictment of capitalism’s class divide. The alcoholic Captain Smith claims to be an American Marxist and is cynical and repulsed by the excesses of capitalism. In contrast, Dimitry is a fervent Russian Capitalist who uses Reagan to convey his point: “Socialism works only in heaven where they don’t need it, and in hell where they already have it.” Apart from being a political commentary, the film also discusses the racial disparities in which the uber-rich Whites are contrasted by workers belonging to marginalized communities. While serving the wealthy, the workers are neglected and exploited because of their social class and racial inequality.


Ostlund’s social satire Triangle of Sadness metaphorically manifests that power corrupts. Those who possess power and authority will always treat the “Other” as less privileged and be utilized as their servants for entertainment. In the luxury yacht, the wealth hoarders and beauty influencers held power over the lower rungs and took advantage of their privileged position. They made the crew and the workers their puppets who would play according to their whims and fancies. When the ship capsizes and the survivors get stranded, Abigail assumes the position of authority, subverting the social hierarchies. She turns into a tyrannical dictator when her newfound power corrupts her. She calls everyone her captain, controls food, water, and privileges, and even grants punishments to the dissenters. When Abigail realizes that Yaya will become privileged once again if she escapes through the resort elevator, she doesn’t hesitate to annihilate her. Irrespective of social class, human beings are savage by nature and are moved by primal urges toward selfishness, brutality, and dominance over others.

Also, Read: The Square [2017] – A Clever Commentary On The Pretentiousness Of Human Nature And Modern Society

Triangle of Sadness (2022) Official Trailer

Triangle of Sadness (2022) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Where to watch Triangle of Sadness (2022)

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