The Weight of a Winner

Before I’d seen it for myself, Decision to Leave was my horse in the race for the Palme d’Or. Last year’s Cannes Film Festival was only another opportunity to proclaim my love for Park Chan-wook, a love that hasn’t abated even after a less-than-stellar entry in his catalogue. But I remember reading the list of award winners, and noting that while he won Best Director — and that is one of the best directed films of 2022, for sure — the grand prize went to something called Triangle of Sadness?! Not the best introduction of movie to prospective moviegoer.

Now having seen Triangle of Sadness, I’m still not sure how it stacks up to Decision. While destined to revisit Park’s film in the future, I didn’t get a sense for hidden depths within Triangle. However, the highs were higher, and while the first two-thirds aren’t fantastic (the film is split into three chapters), the final third does something important.

Triangle of Sadness is the movie easily pitched as “the one where rich people throw up on a yacht.” Indeed, there’s an extended sequence where the worst/best episode of Below Deck plays out, and while it’s amusing and even sometimes shocking, the film threatens to reduce its satire to poop jokes. It’s no doubt that critics compared it unfavorably to the director Ruben Östlund’s previous, more subtle film, The Square.

There’s a yacht full of rich people, and it falls victim to bad seafood before being boarded by pirates. The subsequent explosion leaves a small group of survivors to wash up on a desert island, which is where things get proverbial indeed.

The movie made a bad first impression on me by starting its story as far from the actual starting point as possible. It’s almost two hours before we even see the island. Instead, we spend a lot of time with a young couple, two models whose modeling world is preaching about having achieved gender equality. In retrospect, I’m not sure what the story actually is, so perhaps it was an unfair criticism.

By the time we’re on the boat, a telling scene in which a yacht patron pressures a crewmember to dip into the Jacuzzi (with sexual overtones) reiterates this theme of achieved equality. “Everyone’s equal,” the patron says, wine glass aloft. Therefore, what’s your problem with joining me in the water? It’s a weaponization; an idea important to the marginalized has become an empty buzzword.

Upon the island, we see that the only character with survival skills is Abigail, a Hispanic custodial worker whose specific job is “cleaning toilets.” And we saw how bad those toilets were. She can catch fish (octopus, in this case) and cook, as well as build a fire and create a shelter. Everyone relies on her for survival. Like with Parasite, what’s important isn’t the point itself, but how the point is made. When Paula asks why Abigail is taking half the octopus she caught and cooked if we’re all equal now, you feel it. “That’s such bullshit” is the only logical response.

And that’s the kind of response you need for when real-world inequalities are sold as normal. Yesterday, The Washington Post published an opinion piece entitled, “On student loans, conservatives turn ‘fairness’ upside down,” written by Paul Waldman. Reading it, I was immediately reminded of the 1%’s post-equality world in Triangle of Sadness.

While the legal questions concerned standing, legislative language and limits on executive power, the conservative justices repeatedly redirected the discussion toward fairness — namely, whether by helping millions of student loan borrowers the administration had been unfair to somebody else.

These same justices, and the party they come from, seem to rouse themselves to fret about fairness only when those who don’t ordinarily get a lot of breaks — people struggling with debt or who need help feeding their families — are given a government benefit. When that happens, the fairness police of the right turn on their sirens, usually with the argument that someone else’s gain must be your loss — even if you didn’t actually lose anything.

Paul Waldman, The Washington Post

It’s my sincere hope that people who saw Triangle of Sadness are looking at this now and saying, “That’s such bullshit.”

And that’s what I’m always looking for in satire. A movie like Don’t Look Up only points out that Republicans are dumb, as if it were a novel discovery, prompting my concern that it doesn’t instead equip us with something. Well, I finally have my knight in shining armor in Triangle of Sadness — but is that enough? For the weight of everything the film has won?

Something to chew on. With The Woman King left out of the Oscar race, and RRR never even submitted, I suppose Triangle of Sadness is my horse for Best Picture? I still have to see Women Talking and All Quiet on the Western Front (Elvis, Top Gun, Avatar, I’m calling those a wash). And honestly, I’d be happiest to see it go to Everything Everywhere All at Once, just because it’s such a good underdog story.


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