The Quick Explanation
Triangle of Sadness is about economic systems and the roles people have within those systems. Whether it’s on a yacht, or in a sudden, makeshift community that’s not reliant on money as we know it. The overall thematics align Triangle with Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 jaw-dropper. Even though the who, what, when, and where are incredibly different, the two films share a bitter and distinct why. Both Triangle of Sadness and Parasite express outrage and desire to raise the awareness of audiences. What economic system are you in? What privilege do you have? How do you overcome it? Or the lack thereof? Is it even something you can overcome?
If you haven’t done it already, subscribe to our podcast on Apple or Spotify.
- Carl – Harris Dickinson
- Yaya – Charlbi Dean
- Abigail – Dolly de Leon
- Captain Thomas Smith – Woody Harrelson
- Paul – Vicky Berlin
- Dimitry – Zlatko Burić
- Vera – Sunnyi Melles
- Therese – Iris Berben
- Jamo – Henrik Dorsin
- Nelson – Jean-Christopher Folly
- Writer, Director – Ruben Ōstlund
Why is it called Triangle of Sadness?
We hear the title defined in the opening scene. Carl’s at a casting call for a modeling opportunity. As he presents to the casting directors, showing them all of his modeling skills, one tells him to relax his “triangle of sadness”. They then explain it’s the point between the eyebrows, above the ridge of the nose, below the forehead.
An unrelaxed triangle of sadness means someone is tensing their face rather than feeling carefree. That can be as simple and neutral as they’re thinking about something with a degree of concentration. Or the sun’s in their eyes so they’re squinting. Or it might be a sign of feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
To understand this, remember that the movie begins and ends with Carl. And most of the time Carl’s worried about something. He’s pretty much a walking, breathing, talking triangle of sadness. Tense all the time, even on a luxury yacht with his model girlfriend. Situation after situation causes him to both literally and figuratively furrow his brow.
And Carl’s not alone. As more characters enter the picture, there’s an increasing sense that everyone on the yacht is caught in a larger, existential triangle of sadness. They’re wealthy but are they happy? Or are they all neurotic and crazy and inflicting stress on others because of it? That culminates with the captain’s dinner where everyone on the yacht has one of the worst nights of their lives. It’s beautiful because we’ve had a sense of the individual stress and pain some characters have. But the captain’s dinner unites everyone on the boat in a shared pain.
As so much of the thematic purpose of Triangle of Sadness is about economic systems that define societies, both macro and micro, I think it’s safe to say the movie’s making a statement that it’s not just the characters in the movie living in a “triangle of sadness” but all of us caught up in these economic systems that look to exploit and elevate few over the many. From this point of view, modern civilization is a triangle of sadness that’s putting stress on everyone. You. Me. Our families, friends, and loved ones. Our neighbors and coworkers. Everyone.
Lastly, the word “triangle” summons up thoughts of the Bermuda Triangle, especially when used in relation to anything involving a ship at sea. The Bermuda Triangle being a famous area where boats are said to mysteriously disappear. With our main character ending up shipwrecked on a random island, it feels like they’ve arrived in this Bermuda Triangle like place. I don’t have some big thematic revelation based on this. Just seemed like something worth pointing out in case anyone wants to think about it more.
The themes and meaning of Triangle of Sadness
First and foremost, Triangle of Sadness is about economic structures and the roles and power dynamics within those structures. Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 film, Parasite, explored a similar topic by focusing on just two families—the Kims and the Parks, one being lower-income and the other being wealthy. Joon-ho initially contrasts the families then slowly merges them through the Parks unwittingly employing each of the Kims. The son tutors. The father chauffeurs. The daughter pretends to be an art therapist. And the mother is a housekeeper. Each family is emblematic of their class level and the drama between them plays out as a much larger statement on wealth and life in the 21st century.
Triangle takes a different approach than Parasite. Rather than contrast two families from different financial situations, it drops Carl into a variety of environments, with each environment representing a unique, economic-based power structure. I’ll list the overall situation then explain in more detail.
List of situations:
- Casting call
- Fashion show
- Dinner with Yaya
- The Island
At the casting call, we see a group of models at the mercy of an interviewer. The interviewer has a camera, is credentialed, and feels free to playfully toy with models who are all eager to please since they’re in the process of a job interview. When the models enter the room for the formal audition, they’re at the total command of the casting directors. It’s intimidating. Being under the scrutiny of a room full of people who are judging your every physical characteristic. It doesn’t matter who Carl is. The casting directors don’t care about him as a person, they care about what he looks like. Ultimately, they reject him.
Which then leads to the fashion show. We see more power imbalances come into play when the people running the show kick some audience members from seats to make room for VIP guests. It doesn’t matter if the other people already had those seats; they pale in comparison to whoever has just arrived. So they’re moved. When another spot is needed, the people running the show have everyone move one seat to the right. Carl happened to be in the very last chair at the end of the row. He’s left without a place to sit. When he tells someone what happened, the person is dismissive, suggesting vague availability somewhere in the back then leaving Carl to figure it out on his own. Meanwhile, Yaya is a model in the show.
Thus we arrive at the dinner with Yaya. We’ve just had two scenarios where Carl was less than others. First it was the casting directors, then it was the other audience members at the fashion show. Now he’s out with his successful, model girlfriend. She was just in a high-profile show, while Carl got rejected from a job. So Triangle has already shown us the difference in power and success between Carl and Yaya. But it explores it further when the check arrives. The traditional gender stereotype is that the man pays for dinner. But we already have a feeling Carl doesn’t have a lot of money and Yaya does. So when he hesitates, it makes sense. Then it devolves into a huge fight. Yaya wants to indulge in the stereotype. It doesn’t matter that she makes more money. While Carl fights against falling into that role given the economic differences between him and Yaya. Later in the night, they finally agree to be in less of a romantic relationship and more of an affectionate business partnership. By redefining what they are, they redefine the roles, breaking through the previous stereotypes.
Money is at the heart of all three of those scenarios, whether it’s evident or not. The casting call is an opportunity for money. Seating at the fashion show comes down to someone’s net worth. And the dinner leads to conflict over who pays. Keep that in mind as we talk about the yacht.
The yacht is interesting because it’s a microcosm. What we saw in the first few scenes was Carl and Yaya in the wider world. But now they’re in the mini-world of the yacht. Everyone there is wealthy. Everyone there is a “guest” of vital importance to the crew. The crew wants to make sure everyone on board is happy, which is why we get the “we say yes” scene. There’s an important sequence there. Ōstlund shows the stewards and stewardesses and how cheery and bubbly they are. Then cuts to lower in the ship where we see other crew members in a far less jovial atmosphere. While the stewards/stewardesses are in bright colors and happy, the people below deck look more tired and beaten down. A similar dichotomy happens during the captain’s dinner. The beginning of the scene shows the serving staff and how prim, proper, and energetic they are. The end of the scenes shows the cleaning crew coming through and having to deal with all the vomit and spilled food.
So we have this power structure where it’s the guests, the public presenting crew, then the rest of the crew. Triangle then shows how these various entities interact with one another. How the guests treat the staff and crew. How the staff treats the guests and crew. How the crew treats the staff and guests. One great example is at the very beginning when Carl sees a crew member standing shirtless and smoking. Both he and Yaya are kind of blown away by the guy’s masculinity and carefree attitude. Carl, being jealous and insecure, goes to Paula, the head of staff, and complains about the guy. A few minutes later, Carl witnesses the guy being sent home, fired due to Carl’s complaint.
It’s a stunning moment because Carl went from having absolutely zero power in the previous situations to suddenly getting someone fired. It just shows how the yacht is a very different world. One guest is as important as another guest, regardless of their net worth. But the whole system gets thrown into disarray when a guest makes the absurd demand to have the entire crew swim in the ocean. The fallout of that demand leads to the cooks leaving food out, the food spoils, but it’s still served to the guests, and the guests all get furiously ill. Combine that with the captain shirking his responsibilities and selecting the captain’s dinner on a night of a storm, against Paula’s advisement, and we have the huge, climactic scene where all the guests are vomiting and defecating, the crew is hiding because the storm is throwing the ship to and fro, while Captain Thomas and Dimitry drink and debate over the intercom system. And the result is the complete collapse of the yacht’s microcosm.
The reason why the dialogue between Captain Thomas and Dimitry focuses so much on economics and governance is because Triangle of Sadness is exploring those very topics. Just in a more symbolic and metaphoric way via its three chapters (Carl and Yaya; The Yacht; The Island). When pirates attack the yacht and blow it up with a hand grenade, sinking it, it’s such an allegorical moment because the yacht really is money sitting out on the water. This object of wealth and indulgence. The pirates will probably never have the earnings to qualify to be a guest on the yacht. But they can intrude on that world and send it into the ocean’s lightless depths. It feels very symbolic for the kind of revolutions we’ve seen throughout human history. Where those with less rise up and overthrow the rich.
It should be pointed out that the one older couple, Winston and Clementine, were weapon dealers. Their fortune was made from manufacturing and selling weapons that others use in armed conflict. It’s blood money. And yet they seem so quaint and kind. They’re arguably monsters. And it’s a grenade they made that the pirates throw onto the yacht. It explodes in Clementine’s hands. I think that’s a nod to the cyclical nature of these things. Winston and Clementine represent the wealthy class who exploit others. While the pirates represent the masses who eventually seize control of the system and turn it against those in power.
You could probably argue that the yacht is metaphoric for current economic systems in modern first world countries. And that Ōstlund’s essentially speculating that the yacht that is, say, America, won’t be able to sail forever. Eventually the right series of events will combine to leave the ship wide open for “pirates” to come in and sink the whole thing.
That brings us to the island. Now we’re even further from civilization. The yacht was already a degree removed from the opening scenes with Carl and Yaya. A pseudo world that was similar to the real world but with a unique enough hierarchy that someone like Carl found himself, albeit temporarily, with far more power than ever before. But on the island, it’s completely unanchored from civilization. It doesn’t matter who anyone is back in the real world. Their bank accounts don’t matter. All that matters is what they can offer that group on the beach in terms of survival.
Of the eight survivors, all but one are useless. Carl and Yaya can’t model their way to food. Dimitry runs a company. Jarmo’s a coder. Therese is limited due to her stroke complications. Nelson is a mechanic (or pirate). And Paula’s staff management means absolutely nothing. Only Abigail, one of the ship’s cleaners, can build a fire, fish, and cook. She’s the only one with skills suited for survival. And we quickly see her redefine the hierarchy. Paula tries to still be in control, but Abigail puts everyone in their place, refusing to feed them unless they acknowledge her leadership. Abigail has established a matriarchy. She controls everything.
So that becomes the next economic microcosm. When the economy isn’t based on money but on practical abilities, the least likely person can be in charge. And not only does Abigail run everything, she takes Carl from Yaya. Yaya is a runway model. This person valued for her beauty. Abigail is not. She’s in her early 50s, almost 30 years older than Carl. But she takes Carl as her lover and has him to the point where he’s ready to break up with Yaya for Abigail. It’s a relationship that would never happen in the real world. But it’s possibly on the island because of the entirely different economic system and the resulting power structure. Carl’s only value in this matriarchy is his beauty. And so he ends up getting far better treatment than Yaya, a complete reversal of the beginning of the film. Yaya’s the one benefitting from Carl’s newfound “wealth” in the form of pretzel packets.
Notice that Carl starts the movie wanting to not be in traditional gender roles with Yaya. He doesn’t want to have to be the stereotypical man. On the island, he isn’t. On the island, the gender roles have reversed. Instead of a male leader, it’s a female leader. And instead of a female consort, it’s the male consort. He’s become more of a traditional feminine figure than a male one.
It shows how someone’s role in a society can change depending on the power structure of that society (based on the economy of that society).
I’m sure there are other themes worth discussing. But this is absolutely the primary one. If there are other thematic elements you want to talk about, leave a comment and we can talk about it. Otherwise, let’s get to the ending.
The end of Triangle of Sadness explained
Yaya and Abigail go for a hike. There’s massive tension between them as Abigail has used her power as matriarch to steal Carl from Yaya. Yaya’s jealousy has increased. So as the two hike up ridges and along treacherous, elevated trails where a fall could prove fatal, there’s a sense of danger in the air. You’re not sure if either of them is truly ready to commit such an act, but you get the sense that each of them suspects the other might do something so is wondering if they should do something. Their conversation is friendly but full of subtext.
Meanwhile, Therese sees a random merchant and calls out to him. This is shocking because the group had imagined themselves alone on some small, forgotten, uninhabited island. The merchant seems oblivious to all the details that suggest Therese is the victim of a shipwreck. Instead, he merely tries to sell her some wares. Unfortunately, she’s the only one in the group unable to explain the situation. All she can say is “In Den Wolken”, German for “in the clouds”. After she grabs at him, the guy says he has a wife and leaves.
Then Yaya and Abigail find the empty private beach of a resort. Except the resort isn’t on the beach. It’s above it, on some cliff. An elevator is all that separates them from a return to civilization. Yaya is eager to go. Abigail refrains, claiming to need a moment to use the bathroom. As Yaya waits, Abigail picks up a giant rock and slowly closes in, unbeknownst to the model who stares out at the water and fantasizes about being back in the real world. Yaya offers Abigail a job as Yaya’s assistant.
We then cut to Carl. He sprints through the jungle. Desperate. Without abandon. Whipped and cut by branches. We have no idea why he’s running, or where to. Then the movie ends.
What’s it mean?
We established that Triangle of Sadness is about economic structures and the power dynamics of those structures. And how we moved from the regular world in chapter 1 to the pseudo world of the yacht in chapter 2 to the make believe world of the island in chapter 3. To understand the ending, just keep that economic stuff in mind.
So for Therese, what stands out about the encounter? The island society was a matriarchy because Abigail had the survival skills no one else did. In fact, the one time someone else tried to hunt was Jarmo, and he struggled to defeat a donkey that couldn’t fight back. It’s played for laughs but it showed how inept the others were at this kind of thing. And was pretty sad, in more ways than one. But the society was unique in that money didn’t matter. Net worth didn’t matter. Being a guest didn’t matter. So when this merchant appears, it’s a sudden intrusion of the previous world.
The merchant is an entrepreneur, with wares, looking to exchange goods for money. The most basic of modern day economic interactions. He’s the embodiment of economics as a whole. While Therese is the complete opposite. She’s someone in dire need of aid. Her face is dirty. Her clothes are dirty. She’s sitting in an emergency raft and surrounded by rations and debris. It’s the kind of thing that should cause someone to stop what they’re doing and say, “What happened here? Do you need help?” But the merchant ignores all of that. He doesn’t see Therese as a fellow human. He sees her as a potential customer. So he focuses only on the sale. Who she is. What her situation is. None of that matters. All that matters is if she’ll buy. Of course, she has no money. And can’t speak. So he leaves her there. This is a reminder of how dehumanizing these capitalistic structures can be.
(Another way to look at it: Therese is part of a shipwrecked matriarchal society that has nothing to offer in terms of money. Even though she and the salesman are just two people, they represent two very different concepts. And their inability to communicate is tragic but also embodies the failure of different cultures and countries to engage with one another. There are fundamental differences in Country A that keep it and Country B at odds. There are fundamental differences between Religion X and Religion Y that keep them at odds. The earlier interactions between Dimitry and Captain Thomas had a similar dynamic. Those two even defined themselves by their economic beliefs before their drunken conversation led to a whole bunch of chaos.)
Yaya and Abigail
This is, once again, two worlds colliding. Abigail likes the island society because she has all the power. When she’s presented with the opportunity to leave the island, she refuses. She’d rather kill Yaya than give up her kingdom. Meanwhile, Yaya’s already daydreaming about a return to her former place of prestige. Because she relaxes, because she forgets where she is, she leaves herself open to Abigail’s attack.
What’s weird about the moment is that it doesn’t let Yaya be a completely innocent victim. The reason why she’s relaxed is because being at the resort reverts Yaya to a previous state. She’s no longer an island survivor, politicking with the matriarch. She’s a young, pretty model, who people and brands cater to and covet. She’s already dismissed Abigail as a leader, much less a threat. To her, Abigail’s back to being a housekeeper on a yacht. Someone who serves. Just a few minutes before, Yaya was praising Abigail for creating a matriarchy. Now, she offers Abigail a job as an assistant. It’s an incredibly demeaning thing that Yaya thinks is some grand kindness. I am 100% certain that Abigail uses the rock and slays Yaya.
This gets at the shifting dynamics of economic systems, and the things people will do to maintain their position. Abigail on the yacht would probably never hurt anyone. It’s not worth it. But when she’s the matriarch and someone could potentially ruin the whole thing and cause Abigail to go from leader back to grunt worker? No way. When people feel their power threatened, they will do wild things to hang onto it. History is full of examples of this very behavior. Heck, every single day you can find a news headline that’s emblematic of a politician or company or country doing something to keep power or seize power.
I think we’d all believe that if we were in Abigail’s situation, we’d do the right thing. But the scary thing is that we don’t know. And it’s probably equally concerning how many of us are like Yaya. Entitled. Privileged. Unaware of how we demean the people around us by casually embracing hierarchy. Instead of looking at them for who they are, you unthinkingly judge them by what they do for a living and pigeon hole them.
So there’s a really amazing tension because it’s like…Abigail is evil but also relatable. Her rage at the superiority of Yaya is something most of us understand. And Yaya isn’t just the victim. She’s both gross and relatable. We’ve spent the movie with her being mostly likable. And when she’s reminiscing at the end, there’s something innocent and hopeful about her. Even her offer, as outrageous as it is, wasn’t from a bad place. Yet, she’s the epitome of privilege. So you want to cheer on Abigail as representing the rising up of the working class. While also mourning Yaya as a person.
Oh, Carl. Poor Carl. So much happens throughout Triangle of Sadness that it’s easy to overlook Carl’s character arc. But when you step back and look at him, you see how much he’s used. As a model, fashion labels use his looks and body. Yaya uses him for clout and as a production assistant. No one on the yacht is really interested in him. And on the island, he contributes nothing other than being Abigail’s mistress.
Don’t get me wrong, Carl isn’t necessarily a great person. He’s defensive, jealous, temperamental, a thief, a liar, a cheater. It’s not like he’s the one redeemable person in a movie full of lost causes. But he’s weirdly the moral center of the film. And that’s because he’s the only character we meet who is always kind of at a loss. In the regular world, he’s in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love him and doesn’t really provide for him and takes from him. While also struggling to find work. On the yacht, even though he’s a guest, he’s the poorest one there. The only reason he’s there is because of Yaya. He has more in common with the crew than he does the other guests. And on the island, Abigail uses him for his body.
That’s kind of the thing: everyone uses Carl. Constantly. The entire movie. He has his moment of being powerful when he gets the shirtless crew member fired. But that’s the extent of it. And even when the shirtless crew member’s leaving, there’s such a dramatic contrast between that guy’s confidence, the way the other crew members send him off with hugs and genuine compassion, and Carl’s whole vibe. And that’s kind of the point. Carl isn’t confident. He isn’t carefree. He’s scared and stressed. That’s why the shirtless crew member bothered Carl so much. Because the guy exuded a sense of self-assurance that Carl completely lacks.
Before we see him running, he’s in Abigail’s makeshift palace, in bed with her. They’re fooling around but he’s stressed about still being in a relationship with Yaya. He and Abigail talk about making their relationship official. Carl talks about breaking up with Yaya. Then Yaya is there. It’s awkward as Yaya clearly knows what Abigail and Carl are doing. When the two women leave on their hike, Carl’s left all alone.
Now, I could see someone looking for a practical answer here. Like, Carl saw the merchant who talked to Therese, so he’s running off after Yaya and Abigail to let them know the good news. Or Carl heard Yaya scream (hit in the head with a rock) and is running to find her. But Triangle of Sadness isn’t a practical movie. It’s a thematic one, driven by the exploration of economic structures and people within those structures. So I think the answer has to reside there.
At the casting call, Carl’s dehumanized by the casting directors. At the fashion show, it’s the event staff. At dinner, it’s Yaya. On the yacht, he’s there not because he has the money to be but because the yacht’s using Yaya and him for promotion. And on the island, he’s incapable of making a meaningful contribution and emasculated by Abigail. Over and over again, Carl lacks power. He lacks authority.
He’s weirdly similar to the Captain. Vibe wise, they’re different. As Captain Thomas has confidence and has authority over others. Despite that, he’s still very much a prisoner of expectation. The yacht company, the crew, the guests, all expect him to behave in a certain way befitting a captain. But he spends most of the voyage refusing to do anything. He shows up to one dinner. Then gets hammered and becomes the voice of the ship’s existential crisis. As he rants and raves, a storm rages, the guests suffer from seasickness and food poisoning, the crew is overwhelmed, the ship itself backflows its sewer system. It’s madness in the midst of something that’s supposed to be organized.
What unites Captain Thomas and Carl is that both desire to flee the system.
And I think that’s something we can all relate to. Even if your life is stable right now. Even if it’s the best that it’s ever been. All of us can relate to the feeling of social pressure. Whether it’s pressure from your parents. Or the pressure to be great at school. Or have a high paying job in your 20s. Or be married by 30 and have a kid. Or maybe it’s just trying to pay rent each month. I remember a few years where I was legitimately afraid to buy something as simple as a bottle of water at a gas station because my budget was that thin. You’re stuck working a job you hate. Living in a place you hate. Surrounded by people you don’t want to be around. I know, I know, that’s a dramatic, extreme scenario. But I bet you can relate to it in some way. We’ve all had that urge to run away. To be free from the pressure that comes with being part of a society that’s demanding so much from us every single day.
Remember, Carl was the one tensing his “triangle of sadness” at the beginning of the movie. Early on, that moment doesn’t mean much. But by the end you can see how it embodies Carl’s entire existence. He’s stressed. He’s sad. He represents everyone who has felt overwhelmed. Everyone who feels the weight of the world on their shoulders. So even though Carl isn’t a hero in any sense of the word. When he decides to run, there’s something terrifying and exciting about it. Even if you don’t comprehend why he’s running, you get it. You maybe kind of envy it.
It’s a really bittersweet way to end the movie. Because ending mid-run kind of conveys a sense of hope. Maybe he’ll escape? Maybe he’ll find something better? Maybe his next chapter will be the best one? But we never see him get anywhere. Our last image of him is in the middle of the action. Ending like that makes his flight feel infinite. Like as the credits are rolling, he’s still running. The next day, when you think about the movie, Carl’s still running. A month later, a year later—still running. Whenever you think about Triangle of Sadness, Carl will still be running.
And that’s what the ending captures for me. That desperate sense to be free from these systems and pressures and the ways they exploit us. I feel like I can hear Ruben Ōstlund telling me to run while I can. But there really isn’t an out. We don’t have anywhere to go. We’re all trapped, brows furrowed, in our own personal triangle.
I definitely thought Carl was running *from Abigail* implying that she came back to the group and started killing all of them after she killed Yaya…
But I like your read better.
Fantastic film. I kind of like that idea, it just seems to go against her motivations for offing Yaya. If she gets rid of Yaya, she keeps her kingdom. But if she gets rid of everyone, she has no kingdom. It’s possible she came back, told Carl what she did, and he’s running away or running to find Yaya. But I think that brings us back to the same symbolism/meaning. Thanks for the comment!
I think Carl was running because he sensed the danger of Yaya’s trip with Abigail. Maybe this was a moment of his wisdom or intuition – just think for a second about it-why would any man allow his “wife” and his lover who know about each other to go for a walk into the jungle together? This is a recipe for a crime based on passion… Abigail’s passion as she sees the end of all the universe she created and she clings to power believing in her ability to maintain it. I think Carl was running to stop the power and jealousy struggle between the two memen…
Hey Ana! In regard to Carl’s willingness to let Yaya and Abigail to go off together. He was pretty submissive to Yaya while on the cruise. And then submissive to Abigail while on the island. I don’t think you’re supposed to really look at him as a man at that point. Which goes back to the first chapter where Carl himself says he doesn’t want to be in traditional gender roles. Carl could have been running to prevent whatever would happen, but that would be a moment of assertiveness that his character hasn’t really shown much of. But it’s definitely a reading that I think a lot of people would get on board with.
I just thought of something because of this comment. Since Carl has essentially been submissive to both Yaya and Abigail throughout the whole movie, perhaps the scene of him running suggests him fleeing from both of them, taking the opportunity then, since both are finally absent at that moment. Then again, he would probably be running towards his death since he seems to need both Yaya and Abigail to maintain his own status/life, but perhaps that’s the essence of the whole message as well. There’s no escape, except his inevitable downfall. Maybe he’s running for some kind of release from all those feelings, even if in the end he might or might not return to the group for survival.
I dont think we are trapped, we just need to believe that the systeme is hindering us so that we wont make an effort and risk going out of our confort zone and try to build something real with others. i think the solution is to scale down our individuality and try to build a community based on basic human morality where no one have to be left behind, if our will and motives are the same nothing can stop us from cutting out inegalities and selfishness.
I agree! In reality, we aren’t trapped! There are options. Just that the movie has a more pessimistic view on things.
Thanks for the analysis. What a great movie! But you definitely won’t enjoy it if you don’t scratch it’s surface.
As for Carl’s running at the end, it is as ambiguous as it gets. It would, I agree, be a mistake to look at it literally. After all, based on Abigail and Yaya’s hike, the island is anything but flat, but there’s Carl, running through the dead flat jungle like an Olympic sprinter.
So if we go with the thematic meaning, I would say he’s running away from the two people who used him on the island, because the others really didn’t. Abigail and Yaya used him, just as he is always being used in the real world. I think this was Carl’s chance to escape.
But here’s a question. Carl the knuckle-dragger is reading Ulysses on the yacht while Yaya is preening beside him. This is when the crew member exposes his chest. Is that just a gag, or is there something to it?
Hey, David! Yeah, I agree. Running away from what Yaya and Abigail represent.
I could imagine a couple explanations for Ulysses. It being satirical is definitely one. Like it could be something he wants to be seen reading rather than something he’s actually enjoying. Or, it could show Carl actually does have a more thoughtful part of him. Ulysses is a modern retelling of The Odyssey. Which does have Odysseus stranded on an island for a bit? And involves a lot of ship stuff. There is also the relationship between Bloom and Molly and how the final chapter is from Molly’s perspective and very full-on. Maybe there’s something there? But nothing immediately jumps out that I think would cause me to reorient my thinking on the movie? Good catch, though!
Just gonna throw this out here, I thought of this as having another layer here on top of the great points you have made. Like to know what you think or really anyone who reads this. I haven’t found this take anywhere – but to me it makes almost too much sense once you really start thinking about it.
The Ship = Current state of the World
The Island = State of the World after the next main event (or after Covid maybe)
Yaya = United States
Carl = Canada
The Captian = old Soviet Bloc
Dimitry = Russia/Ukraine Capitalism
Paula = Northern Europe
Jarmo + Great Britan and colonialism
Darius = Not sure, maybe Enablers of Big Pharma?
Alicia = the inability to stand up to GroupThink (human condition)
Abigal = European Union and other organizations that dictate Europe/US WHO, WEF IMF etc
Therese = Germany
Nelson = African Nations
Shipmate that got kicked off for being shirtless: Cuba
Abigal = China
Hey Max! I honestly would need like multiple re-watches to work through those comparisons and see if I agree or not haha. But I do think the movie lends itself to making assignments. Like “If the ship is the current world, then…” or “If the ship is the US, then…” So even if the filmmakers didn’t have specific embodiments in mind, the movie works as an exercise to explore such assignments.
Enjoying the repartee! Couple of thoughts.
Another meaning of Triangle of Sadness is the love triangle that arises in the island. It’s not as literal as the facial explanation, but it’s a better alternate meaning than the Bermuda Triangle, which I certainly considered as soon as I saw the cruise ship.
Also, Carl is running with abandon, not without abandon. Don’t know if that’s a typo or not.
Thanks for the essay!
Yeah, same! Definitely a typo haha. Writing some of these essays kind of erodes my brain because they’re usually done in 1-2 sittings. Will fix at some point. And the love triangle is definitely something to consider. And could probably be extrapolated to economic systems in a way that’s meaningful.
Love triangle was the first thing I thought of!
I think the ending of Carl running is tied to the scene where the donkey was killed with a rock. The donkey was crying loudly as it was hit repeatedly, and took much longer to kill than they expected. Carl likely heard the same screams from Yaya when Abigail was killing her, and caused him to run towards their location.
Just to say: Thank you, loved the film, loved the analysis.
Seen it two months ago in France , called “Sans Filter” . Great name as well.
Hi Irina! Thank you for the nice comment! Haha that is a great alternative name. Is it common for French films to have different tiles like that?
Hi Chris, thank you for your analysis!
Just to ping one detail that I noticed while watching. When Carl and Yaya were having dinner with the old couple and Carl asked what their product was to which the old man replied ‘hand grenade’, where later on when the pirates threw a hand grenade where the old man’s wife picked it up and exploded.
This kind of brings the message that anything that you put/make in this world will later on come back to you, not sure if it’s the idea of karma, but it makes so much sense to me.
Let me know what you think.
Hey Vitalie! Yeah, there’s definitely a karmic aspect to that. He even says, “I think that’s one of ours” or something thereabouts. There’s also something to the idea of paying the piper. The older couple profited off of pain. They were completely removed from the damaged they caused. But the system by which someone benefits is often the system by which they fall. Similar to what you said about what you put out in the world comes back.
In the comment above by Max it is already touched upon, but there is indeed another geopolitical layer. As Östlund also mentioned in interview(s), he and his wife have planned many, many details. My geopolitical reading – based on comments by others:
The ship represents the current state of the world (also read it with the definitions of the characters).
The Island = state of the World after the crash of the current world order
Yaya = (Greek) woman (yaya is (old) Greek for woman)
Carl = (Germanic) man (also research this name, very interesting find)
Both of them together represent the current (post)modern gender roles and the struggle throughout the movie about their place is wonderful.
British couple: Winston and Clementine (Churchill) represent UK: 1st world order. Sidenote: Winston Churchill was minister of ammunition.
Uli and Therese represent the rich West-Germany and silenced East-Germany
Oligarch Russian obviously not to be missed
New tech inspired wealth in Scandinavian/Nordic: Jarmo
Captain represents USA: intoxicated on its own and internally struggling;
Darius represents Middle East (looks + name). He runs the show while captain/USA is absent, just like oil is running the current Western world.
Abigail is a Biblical name that in English has the connotation “maid”: SE Asia, or more specific China.
I would frame Paula as the UN, WEH or any other organization that makes the current economic world order stay in place (or the countries right under the big players that profit from the current status quo. E.g. NL, Canada, etc.)
Nelson could definitely be African Nations
Shipmate that got kicked off for being shirtless. I would claim this one as Greece during the financial crisis. Also they speak Greek in that scene.
Still a bit lost on the Donkey: Democracy perhaps?
Workers/Crew are the countries that provide raw materials/workers aka 3rd world countries.
Staff: The countries right under the rich countries that profit from the spoils of the rich
With these definitions it is possible to interpret the scenes again:
It begins calmly, with a clear division – the money above decks, the worker below the sea line. The trouble starts when the wife of the Russian oligarch forces all the boat’s staff to take a break to swim, because she wants “everyone to be equal” (read: the Russian revolution). That shakes the boat’s system slightly, but it’s nothing compared to the ensuing storm. Due to the wild swell, the captain’s dinner gets bogged down in a parade of seasick, the lot among puking passengers (read: First and Second World War). While those passengers are still panting, Marxist Captain Thomas and capitalist oligarch Dimitri get drunk together and shout half-baked ideological quotes through the public address system (read: Cold War). Just when peace seems to return, the ship is suddenly attacked by terrorists (read: 9/11, initially created by UK).
When the survivors end up on a deserted island, they must redefine their society. Cleaning lady Abigail turns out to be the only one who masters practical skills such as fishing and making fire and takes the reins (read: how Southeast Asia, and especially China, took over world trade). Suddenly people of all backgrounds have to rely on themselves and each other to make it (as in the successive economic crises of the recent past).
Also possible to see the ending hence that the new world power, does not want to return to the old one. With Carl running as an analogy to escape the gender role (also referring what the cab driver said).
Cheers, hope it makes sense!
Hey, Maarten! Really interesting comment. I’m torn. I’m always a little hesitant to assign such specific and detailed meaning to things. Though I haven’t listened or read any interviews so would be curious, if you have a link to one or two in particular. With that said, even with my hesitance, what you said about the Russian Revolution up through modern day…actually makes sense? It still feels like a house of cards kind of interpretation. To the point where I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what the movie is doing or what Ostlund intended. But. The details are there to start making the interpretation, disregarding whether it’s intentional or not. So that’s pretty cool. Appreciate the thoughts!
Chris, did you notice that Yaya had no shoes when first shipwrecked but later on she had sandals and a robe and then shoes
Also the Russian was sitting a chair while being shaved by the Pirate with
soap and they had sort of shade sail type things attached to the life boat
It seems more and more stuff was appearing
Where did these things come from. Was it a trick in the movie?
I believe that more things eventually washed up on shore. The boat had a lot of people and a lot of luggage. So if even 5 suitcases of the 1000 come ashore, that would explain shoes/robe/etc.
One point about the ending that hasn’t been discussed above is how Carl is getting cut up and bloody as he runs. This could signify the difficulty of breaking societal systems and pressures (ie, non-conformity involves judgment/derision/pain). Thoughts?
PS Chris, I love how you reply to everyone’s comments. Nicely done!
Hey Matthew! Yeah, I think that tracks. There’s some sense of danger and abandon. Where if you he was just running, he’s running away. But that it hurts him…that’s another layer.
Hi Matthew! Watched TOP yesterday and was perplexed until I read your brilliant analysis. I feel compelled to rewatch the film as I now have the advantage of your analysis and the sharp comments here. I’m convinced Abigail kills Yaya, securing her status with the group. As a result of this interpretation, I think Carl, running, getting injured from the branches, damaging his looks which is his only collateral in the real world, is running in a panic AWAY from Abigail. Regardless, your analysis and the comments from others have allowed me a greater understanding of what I initially found a depressing and confusing film. Thanks so much!
Hey! Were you talking to me (author of the article)? There was a Matthew who left a comment but this doesn’t seem to be a direct response to them. Either way, great point about Carl damaging his only real collateral. That’s an awesome catch.
THIS is the break down I was looking for. Well done! Amazingly well written! Thank you for your insight!
Asides from your interpretation of the film as a commentary on societies and economies, which I agree with, I would venture that the title “Triangle of Sadness” also alludes to the love triangle between Yaya, Carl and Abigail.
It’s a very thoughtful movie!
Definitely! It’s nice additional layer to everything.
I think it’s possible that Abigail came back to camp and told Carl how Yaya fell and hit her head and now is dead. He’s running towards that
That’s a good point; it would seem conseivable. I can see how Abagail would come back, and tell them all, that Yaha fell and is in fact dead. Maybe Carl has made a decision about both women. One scenario is, he realizes actually loves Abagail and is runnining to stop her from getting hurt by Yaya, who he thinks must be furious with Abagail relationship with Carl. But then I think no of course, but that he’s actually running to save Yaya. But what if both things were true, maybe his thoughts about both ladies are running back and forth in his mind and he does’nt know what he’s running to do. What if both ladies are still alive when he get’s there and after he explains all the cuts on his body, and say he desn’t know he wants as he has become to care for Abagail. Because society is diverse and fluid, young men are actually dateing and sleeping with older women, some much older…it’s just a fact. For some guys, it’s the womens strength/power that’s a turn on to them, plus the fact that these independent women don’t really them; well, that just excites him more. A women in her 40’s and 50’s is perfectly aligned with a young man in his early 20’s. That alone mught be anough to hold a man like Carl. But even if Yaya was murdered and then they were all rescued, Carl and Yaya relationship would be over, so why not stay with Abagail, he knows she’ll take care of him. Yaya admired the way Abagail took matters into her hand and had those big men follow orders…I loved it. So, I think Yaha got over all of it a while ago; by the way, does anyone know how long the were on the Island for? I counted him going in the lifeboat with her five times, who know how many times they; you know what and for how many days or weeks, don’t forget the old Russian guy had a really big thick beard. Abagail and Carl had sheer curtains up and I mean, you could really see that there was a genuine connection between one another. The situation is pregant with possiblities both good or both bad.
Yeah, if we’re talking about literal reasons he would be running, that’s definitely up there as a potential answer.
I really appreciate this analysis, as it helps me make sense of the movie, and enjoy it far more!
I wanted to note a couple things with the scene involving hunting the donkey—1) the donkey was the first sign that this island was not deserted, since donkeys—as far as I know—don’t just simply exist on islands. They are relatively defenseless and would not likely survive without care. So when Jorma kills the poor thing and it takes a long time, he (and the rest of the group when they eat it) destroy evidence that the island is inhabited. 2) This also demonstrates what an incompetent hunter Jorma is, compared to Abigail (gender roles questioned). He even sobs afterwards, while Nelson and Dimitry sensitively comfort him.
I enjoyed the chat between Nelson and Dimitry, while Nelson literally held a blade to Dimitry’s throat (shaving him). Dimitry is, once again, insisting that Nelson is a pirate (a largely racist assumption), but at this point, the two men are genuine friends and laugh about it. Nelson finally asks Dimitry what he would like to ask him if he WERE a pirate, and Dimitry, ever the capitalist, asks immediately, “How much money do you make?” The two men laugh, and then Dimitry starts giving Nelson business advice on how to make more money being a pirate. In a sense, Dimitry is the pirate, not Nelson, but Nelson has the blade to Dimitry’s throat. However, the two men like and respect one another now (out of circumstance), so there is no threat while they’re on this island. Also interesting that it’s possible (though doubtful) Nelson IS one of the pirates who attacked the yacht. After all, Paula never says she knows him as one of the mechanics on the yacht.
Lastly, I like the idea that “Triangle of Sadness” has multiple meanings. The initial one, explained to Carl by the judges. The Bermuda Triangle. The three social classes represented on the yacht (the incredibly wealthy 1%, the upper class, and the lower class). The love triangle between Carl, Yaya, and Abigail. And lastly, the three opportunities to reveal to the group that they are NOT on a deserted island: 1) the donkey they brutally kill and eat, 2) the vendor with whom Therese is unable to communicate their shipwreck situation, and 3) the hauntingly empty elevator tucked inside the side of a cliff, leading to a resort that would likely lead to their rescue—information that Abigail will keep from the rest of the group after murdering Yaya and maintaining her matriarchy.
I have to say, this is some great stuff, the ideas and theories are as colorful and visceral as the movie it’s self. I too, loved the interaction between Nelson and Dimitry, I don’t beleive Nelson assumed Dimitry was a pirate because he was black…and I’m a black women. I feel the Nelson is just a brilliant man, I mean, the man made a fortune out selling manure and I know you don’t get be a great poker player without being able to read people. I wish they would have shown more interaction between Yaya and the others on the Island; did they offer her sympethy and support, I mean her boyfriend is having repeated sex with an older women in a lifeboat, that they all should be able to use, just about 20 yards away, from where everyone sleeps. Do you think anybody jump on top of the lifeboat and take a peek; knowing human nature, I’d say yes, and I bet the men were first in line. If I were Yaha, I don’t know how I’d feel
First of all, I think your explanation of the movie is brilliant and gave in-depth understanding.
The movie is open for interpretation and this is what I think in some details and scenes.
1.) DONKEY – The sound it made during their first night made the group afraid of it forcing them to run away. After sometime they decided to look for it (hunt it) only to found out that it was just an helpless dying animal. This is the same with our fear and some people in our lives that make our life miserable. We have to confront (kill) the ASS (donkey) sooner than later and it is not easy to kill the donkey but once confronted the ass will wail out to get sympathy from others. Notice the change of tone that the donkey made from the 1st night to the moment it was hit by a rock.
Jorma is the one that killed it because he faces his fears. Just like what he did at the yacht when he first talked to the ladies. Also I think that Jorma just got rich recently because of his tech/coding skills. That is why, he seems to like the Captain’s fries and burger more than the exquisite food that was served to him during the dinner.
2.) ELEVATOR – The elavator going UP is the only thing that separates them from civilization. This is like a WAY TO SALVATION. It was always there but they did not know since they were too busy surviving and too afraid to die. It was not easy finding it since they have to trek dangerous mountains.
3.) Yaya and Abigail are the two opposite side of the same coin. One side being Young, well-off but naive while the other side old, poor but cunning. Yaya is from luxury and comfort that can influence people while Abigail is from poverty and despair that is taking orders from other people. Their commonality is their gender and they used Carl in their relationship with him.
4.) Carl Running – It is not established if Carl is running away from or running to something. But it is clear that he don’t have a destination thus it was cut mid scene. This can be compared to life. If we kept on running without a clear path or destination, we end up being hurt all over. So are we running from or running to?
Hey D! Thank you.
The donkey is definitely one of those things that’s open to interpretation. I agree with the general idea that there’s something to that difference between “not knowing” and “knowing”. When it’s just a sound in the night, it could be anything. When you confront it, you see it for what it is. But after that, there’s a lot of ways to take what happens. Was the donkey actually dying? Was it actually a problem? Was what Jorma did a kindness or an ugly, unnecessary thing? Isn’t the masculine rush he gets a bit empty and hollow since it was just this poor donkey that didn’t even fight back? There are ways to take it that empower what they did, as you’re saying, and ways to take it where they’re actually the bad ones.
And the idea of salvation is interesting. That same duality with the donkey comes back here. Because Yaya definitely sees the elevator as salvation. But Abigail does not. To her, the island is salvation. She seems to think the situation she has there is better than returning to the regular world. Otherwise she wouldn’t do what she did to Yaya.
Abigail and Yaya: duality.
And Carl running: yes, exactly.
Watched the movie again. There were so many great scenes and stimulating situations; not to mention the complete out-of-left-field romantic ciff hanger…who knew. And they actually had a connection, Carl as absolutely going to break up with Lala for abigail. During an interview with the actor, Harris Dickinson, he was quoted as saying, “I also think that relationship is genuine to some extent, I don’t think it’s just a transactional thing”. He says’s that the charater,Carl, wants to explore what it means to be a man nowadays, in a modern relationship. There is a are some scenes that were edited out of the movie, you can see it on uputube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikq_syWslSA.
In one scene where, after Carl and Abigail are together in the lifeboat, Carl is out talking to Yaha it’s dark and their fighting. She’s upset when she caught him with his hand up Abigails; you know what, Yaha says, “how could you do that in front of every on, get away from me, just get away from me”. He leaves he comes back with a plan. Basically he wants to be with Abigail at night and they’d pretend to be a couple during the day. Yah asks, ” what do I get get” he offers her pretzel stick she the says “well I want to sleep on the life boat”. It heats up from there. They should have left that scene in the film. It looked like they were all on that Island for a long while; many nights for two people to become very close; yep. he wanted her, without a doubt and it happened that very first night. Something about the way his voice sounded when he turned and said, “see you in a bit!”, just as Yaya past by, “good morning” she says, then he turns surprised and changes his deneanor. While he and yaya are eating those pretzels, he looks as though he can’t wait to get back, which is the very next shot of him going into the lifeboat.
Yeah, I think he does kind of genuinely, in that setting, fall for Abigail. Thanks for the YouTube video and detailed comment!