You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat service workers in a restaurant, a hotel or on a cruise ship.
Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a scathing black comedy about the people who treat those workers very, very badly – and why you don’t want to be one of them. It should be required viewing.
Triangle of Sadness is a three-act film about a bunch of ultra-rich passengers on an ultra-luxury yacht. Not surprisingly, their behavior is ultra-cringeworthy. One guest demands the crew take a break and go swimming – “Everyone is equal!” she exclaims, ironically – and another gets a shirtless worker fired so his girlfriend will stop looking at him. Of course, these actions are over-exaggerated to make a point but you may sheepishly recognize the couple who yell at a housekeeper for doing her job when they could simply have put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on their door.
When the ship runs into stormy seas one night, the over-indulged passengers, who have been feasting on oysters and other slimy delicacies at the Captain’s Dinner, are harshly reminded by Mother Nature that they are merely human beings with the same bodily functions as their less affluent counterparts. In a long, wildly over-the-top scene that is graphic, gross and impossible to look away from, these entitled guests are put in their place – the bathroom floor. All of this is likely to leave viewers heaving. (Note to self: pack wristbands for next cruise.)
Of course, as usual, it’s the invisible women crew members who are tasked with literally cleaning up everyone’s mess. It is sobering to watch them, on their hands and knees, quietly and diligently go about this thankless job.
But, as Dylan warned us, “The loser now will be later to win,” and everything turns around when a disaster leaves a group of passengers and crew shipwrecked on a deserted island. Suddenly, money means nothing, and wealth and power are redefined by Abigail (Dolly De Leon), the ship’s “toilet manager,” whose superior survival skills and street smarts put her in control.
At times hilarious, at times disturbing, Triangle of Sadness is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at class, capitalism and how a society builds a hierarchy. It’s also a not-so-subtle reminder to acknowledge and thank the people who serve your meals, clean your rooms, do the jobs that make your cruise so enjoyable. Not because they may be the ones in charge someday but … well, there should be no explanation necessary.