Ruben Stlund refuses to “eat the rich.” He does, however, enjoy making fun of them.
The Swedish filmmaker takes wealth satire to borderline sadistic extremes in “Triangle of Sadness,” which is now in theatres, with a gross-out 15-minute sequence set on a luxury yacht. The affluent passengers gradually become ill with explosive vomiting and diarrhoea as a result of a combination of turbulent weather and bad seafood, falling down stairs and crashing into walls as they relieve themselves during the storm.
“I had a goal of pushing (the scene) to the point where the audience has to say, ‘Please save them, they’ve had enough!'” ‘Don’t punish them any longer!’ Stlund claims. “And then I take another ten steps.”
This year, “Triangle” is just one of several new films and TV shows aimed at social discontent and the ultra-wealthy. “Loot,” an Apple TV+ comedy, stars Maya Rudolph as a tone-deaf billionaire who reinvents herself as a philanthropist, while “Knives Out” sequel “Glass Onion,” which will be available on Netflix on December 23, stars Edward Norton as an Elon Musk-style tech tycoon hosting a murder mystery party on his private island.
The dark comedy “The Menu” (in theatres now) pokes fun at foodie culture at a remote island restaurant, where snooty diners become unexpectedly involved in the evening’s meal. In late October, HBO’s Emmy-winning “The White Lotus” (Sundays, 9 EST/PST) returned with more rich people behaving badly on vacation, swapping the first season’s Hawaii setting for a picturesque Sicilian resort.
“Lotus” finds vacuous vacationers looking for connection as murder looms on the horizon once more. The seven-episode Season 2 addresses issues of power and toxic masculinity, with an almost entirely new cast (save for Jennifer Coolidge and Jon Gries).
The show was created, written, and directed by Mike White (HBO’s “Enlightened”). He allows viewers to form their own opinions “about these characters and their attitudes, but then he frequently subverts that expectation,” according to Theo James, who plays finance bro Cam. “Money isn’t always black and white. These people are there, and you are initially repulsed by them, but you also recognise a part of yourself in them.”
This scathing social satire is not new: “The Exterminating Angel” (1962) and 1972’s “The Ruling Class” were both parodies of class dynamics. Jordan Peele’s “Us” and Bong Joon-“Parasite,” ho’s both of which offer mordant commentary on privilege, are more recent examples. But, according to this year’s World Inequality Report, comedy skewering the upper class will hit even harder in 2022, as the richest 10% of the world’s population now owns 76% of the wealth.
“These themes have been explored very nicely in the past, but today it’s really affecting people’s mental state,” says Dolly de Leon, a Filipina actress who plays a cleaning lady-turned-power player in “Triangle.” “The rich-poor divide is widening. (stlund) believes that in an ideal society, everyone should have equal opportunity, but this is not the case.”
“Triangle” follows two models (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) who are sent on a free cruise where they post selfies and rub elbows with arms dealers and Russian oligarchs. Stlund, whose previous satirical films include “Force Majeure” and “The Square,” was inspired to write the film after discussions with his fashion photographer partner. He was intrigued by the concept of “beauty as currency” and wanted to investigate how Instagram influencers can use their looks to advance socially.
When you “do not separate private life from business,” “everything becomes a product that you’re selling,” says Stlund. Clothing, too, becomes a form of camouflage and “is so associated with hierarchies. Fashion brands essentially sell their products based on the concept of herd behaviour: we determine which social group we belong to and then buy clothes to fit into that social group.”
“Menu” also roasts a specific subset of the ultra-rich: fine diners. The comedy follows Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman who goes to an exclusive gourmet restaurant with her foodie boyfriend (Nicholas Hoult) where actors, critics, businessmen, and baby boomers pay $1,250 per meal.
However, as the night progresses, each opulent course becomes increasingly personal, as celebrity chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) accuses his wealthy clients of financial fraud and destroying people’s lives. He also refuses to serve bread, which was once thought to be a lower-class food, instead serving them a meagre plate of dipping sauces.
“We were trying to go after the concept of entitlement,” co-writer Seth Reiss explains. “It’s almost as if people go through it so quickly that they no longer appreciate it,” with more platforms to consume content than ever before. And imagine your content is food; you put so much effort into it, and then they eat it as quickly as possible.”
Although they wrote the first draught four years ago, the film has “tangential thematic similarities” to some of the other wealth satires currently in theatres, according to co-writer Will Tracy.
“It almost feels like we’re riding a wave or responding to (that trend),” Tracy says. “We weren’t, but the overlap is interesting. There is something to be said about capitalism and cultural dissatisfaction: “Everyone is starving for something more.”