‘Triangle of Sadness,’ and the “Eat the rich” dilemma


Still from “Triangle of Sadness”. Photo courtesy of NEON

Isaac Hinson, Columnist

The term “Eat the rich” originates from a quote by Genevan Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, reading: “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” Rousseau said this during the height of the French revolution, and could not possibly predict that it would become a modern day hot-phrase when discussing class affairs, capitalism and in a more niche realm, media. 

Shows like “The White Lotus,” “Succession,” and “Chernobyl” (notably all HBO programs) have been praised for their commentary on class struggle and division, while still being enjoyable television. “Lotus” and “Succession” fall into the ‘eat the rich’ subgenre. 

Recently, the Oscars seem to have been making it a point to award films that tackle class commentary. Two of the last three Best Picture winners, “Parasite” and “Nomadland” have heavy themes of class consciousness, and last year’s winner “CODA” tackles the struggles living in America as a person with impaired senses, which can be heavily linked to lackluster healthcare and accessibility options, which are both products of capitalism. 

That trend continues this year with the film “Triangle of Sadness,” (and to a much lesser extent, “Everything Everywhere All At Once”). “Sadness” is a black-comedy from Sweden, and is directed by Ruben Östlund. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and comes into this year’s Best Picture race as a hopeful underdog. 

“Sadness” follows two influencers and a cast of ‘in-their-own-world’ rich people as they journey together on a luxury cruise, and as the passengers on the cruise find themselves in turmoil, their loose grip on reality and life as an average person in America begins to show face. 

Recently, as a part of the film’s campaign, a promotional image reading “3 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture” on the top and “Wealthy people of privilege, this film is about you” on the bottom was released. 

While on the surface appearing as an attempt to draw in interest with an aggressive statement and poster, it’s raised an interesting question: How effective have these ‘eat the rich’ films been, if they are continuously awarded by the very people they critique? 

If a predominantly rich, white and male organization, like the Academy, continues to award these films and say “We recognize this film and what it’s saying, but will only make marginal efforts to truly listen to it,” then how effective was the movie in reality? 

However, the more compelling and mildly disappointing part of this to me is the blatant hypocrisy of the poster. Having a charged statement/call-out on the bottom of the poster, while listing all of the nominations and praise you’ve received from the very same people you’re trying to call out on the top, feels incredibly disingenuous. 

How much can the filmmakers and crew behind these movies truly care about what they’re raising a conversation about, when they’re using the recognition they landscape that they’re putting into question for their own benefit, and will surely be at all the Vanity Fair and Vogue afterparties after the ceremony is over? 

Just some food for thought.