‘The Triangle of Sadness’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and ‘The Admirable Crichton’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s black comedy, “Triangle of Sadness,” won a Palme d’Or and took on the subject of race, class and classless social media influencers. The catalyst for a sudden upending of the class system in Östlund’s film is similar to that of an old play and film, “The Admirable Crichton,” a shipwreck. Moreover, there are common thematic issues in both films.

The title “Triangle of Sadness” references the area between the eyebrows and the top of the nose bridge. In this area is the most visible indication of sadness or anxiety and, in the world of models where beauty is only skin deep, this is an important way models can express feelings without getting to ugly anxious. If you want to sell beauty, you can’t afford to even cry ugly, can one?

In Part 1, we are introduced first to Carl (Harris Dickinson) who is at a cattle call for male models. He later joins a model and influence, Yaya (Charlbi Dean in her last role), who is is dating. At this point, Yaya is earning more than he does as an influencer, including a stay at the luxury hotel. Yet Yaya still expects Carl to pay for meals. While they bicker and Yaya contends that she doesn’t believe in gender roles, she doesn’t put her words into action. Her goal in life seems to be finding someone to take her as a trophy wife.

By Part 2 (“The Yacht”), Carl and Yaya are still together and, in exchange for social media promotion, they are invited on a luxury cruise. Other guests, are real rich people such as Russian Oligarch Dimitry (Zlatko Burić) and wife Vera (Sunnyi Melles), weapon manufacturing moguls Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) and Clementine (Amanda Walker), German stroke survivor Therese (Iris Berben) who is wheelchair-bound and tech millionaire Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin). If these are the top 1 percent, plus wanna-be Carl and Yaya, there are two tiers of service staff: the crew that regularly interact with the guests under head of staff Paula and the unseen staff (maids, maintenance and kitchen crew). The staff under Paula are all white and can expect tips. The staff doing the dirty work can only expect a lack of respect. The captain, Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson), is drunk and it’s Paula’s responsibility to sober him up and have him make a token appearance at a meal.   The top tier of the service staff are all White. The lower ranks are people of color.

The captain is too drunk to be of use during a storm. The guests get sick either due to the storm or to a problem with the food caused by a silly request by a guest.  After the storm, pirates attack and the yacht is capsized.

Now in survival mode (“Part 3: The Island”), Carl, Yaya, Dimitry, Therese, Paula, Jarmo, a Black man named Nelson who may or may not be a mechanic or a pirate (Jean-Christophe Folly) and head maid Abigail (Dolly de Leon).

At first, Paula attempts to maintain order, but it quickly becomes clear that no one except Abigail has survival skills or the inclination to work.  Abigail recognizes that she is the actual leader under these circumstances and begins making demands, withholding the fresh food from the others. Carl makes matter worse by teaming up with Nelson to eat some of the supplies from the lifeboat without the others. However, Carl is able to leverage his attractiveness by exchanging sex with Abigail for food. Yaya suddenly has little value although Carl proclaims he still loves her.

Östlund leaves the ending ambiguous, but the message about class and race and White privilege is clear. This isn’t the only time class and shipwrecks have been the topic of a film.

You’ve probably heard of J.M. Barrie, the Scottish novelist who created the 1904 play “Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” and the subsequent 1911 novel “Peter and Wendy.” But Barrie also wrote “The Admirable Crichton” in 1902 and that was made into a 1957 comedy known as “The Admirable Crichton” in the UK, but as “Paradise Lagoon” in the US.

“The Admirable Crichton” begins in 1905 at the London residence of the Earl of Loam and his family. William Crichton (Kenneth More)  is the butler. The Earl (Cecil Parker) believes he is progressive and has his daughters to treat the staff as guests during an uncomfortable afternoon tea which Lady Brocklehurst (Martita Hunt) attends.  She (and Crichton) disapprove of the arrangement.

Crichton comes to the rescue when one of the Earl’s three daughters, Lady Catherine (Mercy Haystead), is arrested at a suffragette protest. The butler recommends the family take the yacht to the South Seas until the scandal is forgotten, but the yacht’s motors explode during a storm.

Crichton, the maid Eliza, the Earl, and the Earl’s three daughters (Mary, Catherine and Agatha), the clergyman John Treherne and Ernest Woolley end up on the same lifeboat and land on a deserted island. Woolley’s courting Lady Agatha. Treherne is courting Lady Catherine.

Crichton begins a fire and finds food, but while the Earl insists on keep the social order, Crichton refuses and is sacked by the Earl. Crichton and Eliza leave, but the aristocrats soon realize they can’t survive without Crichton.

Two years later, Crichton is “the Guv,” and runs their little community and is being forced to choose between Mary and Eliza.

In both cases, Crichton and Abigail are faced with the choice of returning to civilization and their lower social status. We don’t see what Abigail decides, but the film and the play, show Crichton to be a decent fellow although he believes one can’t fight civilization.

It’s worth knowing because it’s references in the science fiction comedy, “Red Dwarf” (1988-1999; revival in 2009 to present)–Kryten, and the play was revived on the London stage in 1989 with Edward Fox (“A Bridge Too Far”) as Crichton and Rex Harrison as Lord Loam.

“The Admirable Crichton” doesn’t show race as a point of privilege as “Triangle of Sadness” does,  but class is the determining factor. This is, of course, a simplification of the UK situation where there are different shades of White, with prejudice against the Irish, particularly the Irish Catholics as well as distinctions between the English, Scottish and the Welsh. Sociolinguists identify Glaswegian as the low prestige accent and the recent “The Quiet Girl”makes clear that Irish isn’t really English.

In the “Triangle of Sadness” the way to rise is through social media and marriage. In “The Admirable Crichton,” class determines marriage although several years of “Downton Abbey” have shown this to be otherwise. As cast in the film “The Admirable Crichton,” the two women that Crichton has to choose from are virtually popped from the same mold–both White, attractive, blonde women. The woman Crichton chooses is dependent upon the restrictions of civilization. “Triangle of Sadness” also places an emphasis on skin-deep superficiality and goes beyond one culture to be more inclusive. None of the characters are truly likable and that contrasts “The Admirable Crichton” where all of the characters are likable before the shipwreck, although some are pompous. It in the return to civilization that two characters shelter themselves with deceitful testimony of their island life. In “Triangle of Sadness,” instead of two women, a White man, Carl,  is the object of desire in “Triangle of Sadness.” The male model is the object of desire and the triangle of sadness pull between Carl and Yaya and Abigail. Yet the problem in both films seems to be the same: civilization. Can we fight it?

While “The Admirable Crichton” is a comedy about class and has only the shadow of shame upon a deceptive aristocrats, “Triangle of Sadness” is much darker with death and destruction and the sacrifice of an innocent donkey to bring out its points. That bitterness makes Östlund’s message harder to swallow but also harder for forget. Moreover, many countries, like the US do not have an aristocratic class, so “Triangle of Sadness” has a wider application. There’s also a sad note that the film is the last appearance for Charlbi Dean who died 29 August 2022 (of bacterial sepsis) in NYC.

“The Admirable Crichton” is currently available to stream of Amazon Prime Video. “Triangle of Sadness” is currently streaming on Hulu.

For her performance in “Triangle of Sadness,” Filipina actress Dolly de Leon a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and the film has three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. De Leon was unfortunately not nominated for an Oscar. “Triangle of Sadness is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay Academy Awards.

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