triangle of sadness

Fernand Léger, The City, 1919


Commentary on Ruben Östlund's film

In early 2023 I became aware of the term “triangle of sadness” in a peculiar way. Based on the eponymous film written and directed by the Swedish Ruben Östlund. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Just reading its synopsis makes you want to not watch it: “celebrity model couple Carl and Yaya are invited on a luxury cruise for the superstars. -rich. What seemed photo-worthy for social media ends catastrophically when a brutal storm hits the ship leaving the survivors stranded on a desert island and fighting for survival.”

The criticism also does not go much further than the alienated synopsis, with vague and superficial statements such as: “Ruben Östlund makes his modern social criticism without much originality and with too much eschatology”; “luxury and garbage hand in hand”; “triangle of sadness it is too long and too familiar a reflection.”

It seems that criticism really needs a critique of Critical Criticism. As Marx and Engels would say in the work The Holy Family: “[…] Criticism, which is self-sufficient, complete and self-contained, naturally cannot recognize history as it actually happened, because that would mean recognizing the bad mass in all its massive massification , when it is precisely a question of freeing the mass from massification” (p. 31).

However, the film is one of those few cinematographic works that manages to capture the spirit of an era, based on a unique aesthetic composition. If we had to risk a synopsis we would write the following:

‒ A social critique of social interactions in all their dimensions, of a couple, family, work and society. The film is divided into three acts. In the first, a couple discusses gender equality from a more economic than romantic perspective. The second act, set on a cruise, reveals how the crew, the social division of their work, as well as their relationship with the passengers can represent a very appropriate metaphor for postmodern capitalist society. Including the revolt of the portion of the crew who are intensely exploited and humiliated. The third act is represented by the sinking of the ship, which, although not the result of the action of the rebels, turns into a revolution. But on the island such a revolution will not end in a harmonious society of equality, freedom and justice among the survivors.

Who knows if the synopsis was a little along these lines, the viewer could appreciate the work a little more in its not so subtle subtleties. For example, he could perceive, as Nietzsche would say in his work Human, all too human, that vanity “is the skin of the soul”, and before it: “[…] The individual's single desire for self-enjoyment (together with the fear of losing it) is satisfied in all circumstances, the human being acts as can, that is, how he has to act: in acts of vanity, revenge, pleasure, utility, malice, cunning, or in acts of sacrifice, compassion, knowledge” (p.50).

Vanity elevated to the condition of the “skin” of individuals also acts, according to Nietzsche, as a driver of their actions for the collective good: “As long as a man does not become an instrument of general human interest, ambition can torment him; but this object being achieved, he necessarily working like a machine for the good of all, vanity may then arise; it will humanize him in small things, make him more sociable, more indulgent, more bearable, when ambition has completed the grossest work in him (making him useful)” (p. 169).

We can see, by analogy, that vanity, in Nietzsche, is presented as a corollary of Adam Smith's principle of the invisible hand, in which self-interest constitutes the bridge between individual selfishness and the collective good. Now we can link vanity, self-interest and economic freedom and understand, from this combination, the result of neoliberal action in its mad desire: (1) to make each one individually responsible for their destiny (despite the fact that we only exist as a collectivity); (2) to deregulate all economic activities (regardless of their social character); (3) appropriating the state for the purposes of capital (the minimal state ideology); (4) the weakening of democracy (from the promotion of right-wing movements that seek to preserve intersecting inequalities for the benefit of the economic elite); (5) to produce profit from the policy of dead water and land, and the expulsion of the workforce from economic activity and civility (made unnecessary by replacement by robots); (6) of, based on the previous items, promoting a totally contradictory and self-destructive postmodern civility (asocial, antisocial, environmentally unsustainable and belligerently self-destructive).

That said, the first and only reference to the term appears right at the beginning of the film, when at a male model selection stand, one of the members asks a model (the protagonist), if he, while parading, could not relax his countenance a little to undo the triangle of sadness: the one between your eyes, that area you frown when you're nervous or worried.

This part of the film constitutes its prelude. As previously mentioned, in the first act, the director presents us with a modern discussion on the issue of gender equality, based on the life of a couple, at the end of a dinner in a fancy restaurant, divided by the following dilemma: which one of us, again, will it foot the bill for this expensive “social media romanticism”?

The not-so-subtle subtlety of the secret life of the rich and the nature of social interactions, in all their forms, dimensions and contents, is presented in the second act. In it, we learn how the industry of destruction (weapons) represents an increasingly important part of the production of goods and services worldwide, including with a noble function: to maintain and preserve democracies around the world. How the argument between bourgeois and petty bourgeois (an American communist and a Russian capitalist), about the best system, communist or capitalist, turns into a form of social distraction and intellectual snobbery.

How the rich can behave snobs and humiliating towards the salaried working class, when, for example, in a fit of “kindness” a rich lady orders the crew to take a bath in the pool, with the consent of their immediate boss. Finally, how the civility of postmodern capitalism is contradictorily antisocial and asocial.

We can also understand the triangle of sadness as an idea that describes the negative interaction between three psychological factors in postmodern society, which can lead to feelings of sadness and depression: (1) negative thoughts about oneself, which include individual beliefs about being incapable, not being good enough or not being worthy of love and happiness in the face of the material difficulties of life and the demonstration effect of the lives of the very rich; (2) negative thoughts about the world (may include feeling that the world is unfair, cruel, or that bad things always happen); and (3) negative thoughts about the future (the feeling that the future is bleak and hopeless, with little or no potential for change or improvement).

The causes of negative thinking are directly related to postmodern capitalism which, through the economy and new technologies, promote loneliness or social isolation (when an individual feels lonely or isolated, he has less emotional and social support, which can affect your mental health), frequent negative thoughts that can reinforce the belief that life is meaningless (self-depreciation, insecurity, pessimism and hopelessness, which lead to feelings of sadness and discouragement), and sedentary lifestyle, due to overwork or lack of of it, which negatively affects the mood and mental and physical health of individuals.

Therefore, the significant impact of capitalism on the triangle of sadness only confirms the postmodern type of civility: antisocial, asocial and self-destructive. Capitalism encourages a culture of individualism and competition, which leads to a sense of social isolation and loneliness. As individuals focus on achieving financial and professional success (they work long hours and are overly dedicated to their career), they neglect their social and family relationships, leading to increased loneliness and isolation and a lack of emotional connection.

Capitalism also leads to excessive pressure to achieve financial and professional success, which contributes to anxiety, insecurity and self-loathing, generating feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. The emphasis on competition leads to a climate of hostility and mistrust between individuals, contributing to a negative attitude towards others and oneself.

Furthermore, as capitalism inevitably results in significant economic inequalities, those who struggle to survive in an unequal economic system feel undervalued and demotivated, leading to negative thoughts and a lack of energy and/or time to engage in physical activity or social. In the same direction, capitalism also promotes a sedentary lifestyle, with long hours of work sitting in front of a computer and encouraging the consumption of products that require little or no physical exercise.

There seems to be enough evidence to link the capitalist economic system, in its postmodern face, with mental and physical health problems of the world's population. Problems that present intersectionality characteristics, that is, for which social and economic inequalities overlap, interact and reverberate again in the mental and physical health of individuals. Marginalized groups such as people of color, indigenous peoples and LGBTQI+ face additional barriers to accessing mental health resources and treatments, which further exacerbates the effects of the triangle of sadness in their lives.

Finally, intersectionality is an important concept and needs to be included in all fields of social science, as it recognizes that people have multiple identities and that oppression and discrimination occur in an interconnected way, that is, at different levels and at different levels. areas of life. For example, a person may face discrimination due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, disability, religion, among other identities that may be relevant in a given socioeconomic context. This concept is important because it recognizes the complexity of the human experience and helps to understand how different forms of oppression and discrimination can accumulate and interconnect to create inequalities and injustices.

By all this we mean the movie triangle of sadness as a unique work on the (not at all) secret life of the rich, the nature of postmodern capitalist civility, and on the certainty of its inevitable destruction, as in Chronicle of a foretold death, by the brilliant Gabriel García Márquez.

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA. Author, among other books, of Capitalism and the revolution of value: apogee and annihilation.


triangle of sadness (Triangle of Sadness)

Germany, France, UK, Sweden, 2022, 150 minutes.

Direction and script: Ruben Östlund.

Cast: Charlbi Dean Kriek, Harris Dickinson, Woody Harrelson.

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