Director: Ruben Östlund
Writer: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Thobias Thorwid, Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean
Synopsis: A cruise for the super-rich sinks thus leaving survivors, including a fashion model celebrity couple, trapped on an island.
A young modeling couple has an interesting dynamic together: she makes a lot more than he. At the start, we are introduced to Carl (Harris Dickinson), who has to be part of the meat parade of shirtless men for gigs, and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who is an influencer with a ton of Instagram followers. It bothers Carl that his success isn’t up to her level, and, he struggles to grasp that he should be pleased with a beautiful woman. They get a free getaway on an exclusive cruise for the ultra-rich – which was shot on the former Jackie O yacht owned by the Onassis family – and it’s a simple trip that should cover these cracks easily, right? Nope. It gets worse in many ways.
Writer/director Ruben Östlund follows up his Palme d’Or-winning The Square with another Palme d’Or-winning effort. Like his previous film, it’s a dark satire, a knee to the groin against the wealthy and the gap between them and the boat’s blue-collar workers. The top 1% are arrogant with ridiculous requests such as a French woman’s demand that the whole crew goes out for a swim, causing unintended consequences. A Russian industrialist who makes manure (“I sell shit”), a British couple who made their millions selling top-grade military weapons, and a German couple in which the wife has recovered from a stroke but can only say one sentence (“In the clouds,” is the German translation) are among the passengers who seem to boast about their wealth.
Then, there are the crew members which include the drunken captain Thomas (Woody Harrelson), head of staff Paula (Vicki Berlin) who tells the others to follow every request from the guests, and toilet cleaner Abigail, played by Dolly de Leon, whose performance is the MVP of the ensemble. Keep an eye on her, particularly in the film’s third part because it’s such a revelation to those who have never seen her before, which probably included Östlund because de Leon had no agent when she submitted her audition tape for the role. She steals the movie and controls the narrative which would make Marxists proud, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or, to use Captain Phillips as a reference, “I’m the captain now.”
The lengthy sequence of seasickness, food poisoning, drunkenness, and ideological warfare is both stomach-curling and constantly hilarious as you would probably take pleasure in seeing ignorant wealthy people s***ing themselves and unable to walk in a straight line. If it weren’t any crazier, what happens next makes their trip from hell even more hellish where now they must survive, except no one really has those such talented skills except Abigail. Her turn as an Alpha of a group of wealthy lazies and getting them in line is a fantasy in itself, but what a twist it would be if that could happen in real life.
The movie drags off a bit too much in each of the three parts as it tries to expand more about the characters’ hypocrisies, but the power of Östlund’s dressing down of the affluent remains. He gives us the meaning of the film’s title in the first five minutes, which is perfect for our young, Millennial couple. Dickinson and Dean are not overpowering in their performances, but Östlund wonderfully makes them both central and side characters as the story progresses, especially because of the age gap between themselves and the others. However, the meaning of it can certainly be applied to all the characters. The comparison many people have made to Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie is right on the money. These people are far from reality, living in a la-la land where they think they can control everything. Not just on the cruise, but in the social hierarchy. Östlund drags them down to earth cruelly, and no champagne can clean this new stench.