In the pandemic’s early days, a moment existed when we were all in it together. That sense of unity made an awful situation more bearable, but we weren’t all experiencing the same crisis. Income inequality grew, as the ultra-rich benefited from disaster.
In 2019, ahead of COVID-19 shutting the world down, Mashable’s Angie Han saw a trend of class warfare with the release of Knives Out, Hustlers, and Parasite. The cinematic stakes have only risen over the last three years as the gap has continued to widen between the rich and everyone else.
Now, audiences derive even greater enjoyment from watching outsiders unseat the so-called elites. In a trio of 2022 films — Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, The Menu, and Triangle of Sadness — the pain of the ultra-rich feels even more like justice for moviegoers. We’ve earned the right to revel in their misfortune, making comedy the perfect vehicle for this celebration of schadenfreude.
Throughout each movie, the filmmakers create feelings of disgust at these archetypes of privilege and power. We don’t feel jealousy of their success; it’s righteous anger at the unfairness in how they achieved it and delight at their fall from grace. The consequences they suffer in these films feel like the world is beginning to right itself — a triumph seemingly impossible off screen.
The ultra-rich of Glass Onion, The Menu, and Triangle of Sadness squander their privilege.
These movies display disdain for those who find success without providing value. While on an ultra-luxurious superyacht cruise in Triangle of Sadness, Dimitry (Zlatko Burić) proudly reveals the source of his riches: selling shit. The Russian billionaire makes money — and tons of it — peddling literal waste. Fellow passengers Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are models who didn’t even pay for the cruise. Instead, her influencer status has gotten them a free ride, albeit one that lands them marooned on a seemingly deserted island.
Mark Mylod’s The Menu features a similarly exorbitant experience. In this horror satire set at a high-end restaurant situated on a remote island, customers pay $1,250 a head for a single dinner. Meanwhile in the real world, groceries cost 11% more than they did a year ago. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) feels disgusted by his privileged customers who cannot recognize the work that goes into his team’s preparation of their meal, despite his de rigueur open kitchen. He blames them for his creative burnout, as well as for the exploitation of service workers whose lives have been wasted waiting on these affluent assholes. As justice, he plots the deaths of his guests, turning them into human s’mores as their own just desserts.
Within the intimate dining room, there are plenty of people to hate, but especially egregious is a trio of finance bros (played by Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr) who flaunt their expense accounts and proximity to power. These men don’t produce anything; all they cook is the books, breaking the law to make money while brandishing their connections. These posh patrons relish the status of this exclusive dining experience, but not the work or craft put into it. Thus, they have earned every bit of the misery served to them on a silver platter.
Similarly, Glass Onion‘s characters actively make the world worse, including Twitch-famous misogynist Duke (Dave Bautista) and ex-model-turned-sweatshop-sweats-purveyor Birdie (Kate Hudson). Tech entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton) is the film’s prime example of the rich providing nothing of value. He calls his friends “disruptors,” though they have made little impact. When he invites them to his private Grecian island for a murder mystery party, each receives a treatment that removes the threat of COVID while the rest of the world is staying at home and anxiously awaiting a vaccine. Miles co-opted the work of his co-founder Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe) to create their successful company, while he speaks exclusively in malapropisms (“infraction point”) and offers terrible ideas (“Uber for biospheres”). All he really, really earns are eye rolls.
Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc sees this truth of this Elon Musk-like man: The emperor has no brains. His only real invention is a device that disables the protective barriers of the Mona Lisa, inadvertently enabling both its and his own destruction. Andi’s twin sister Helen (Monáe) exacts her revenge using Miles’s latest ego-driven venture — highly flammable hydrogen-based fuel Klear — to destroy his brand, his island home, and the masterpiece he borrowed from the Louvre. The slack-jawed mouth-breather can only stand there and watch as everything burns, while Rian Johnson invites viewers to cackle and cheer.
The lesson? Hypocrites and sellouts won’t be spared.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
It isn’t only the useless rich who incite the filmmakers’ wrath and the audiences laughs in these movies. Though Glass Onion‘s Claire (Kathryn Hahn) and Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.) appear less odious than their friends, their willingness to sell out confirms they’re no heroes. Politician Claire has built her entire platform on fighting climate change, publicly pledging her support to Miles and Klear as a viable fossil fuel alternative. Similarly, scientist Lionel has voiced his concern about Klear’s dangers privately. Both refuse to speak out against Miles, on whom they feel financially dependent. Each puts their career ahead of the consequences until it literally blows up in their faces.
All those ‘Glass Onion’ cameos, ranked
Likewise in The Menu, George (John Leguizamo) may not initially seem as vile as his fellow diners. Sure, he’s a narcissistic actor desperate to turn his fading fame into a reality show about food, despite having no ability to charm off-script or speak intelligently about the subject. But Chef Slowik reveals his true sin: selling out, thereby wasting both others’ time and his own when he makes a terrible movie. Slowik spent a rare moment off work seeing a bad film George made for the money, and he’ll never get that precious time back. We can all sympathize, though we hopefully have a less murderous response to losing two hours in the theater.
Slowik isn’t immune to his own criticisms, refusing to avoid the punishment meted out for his customers. He recognizes that he and his team are as complicit in the system he decries and is resigned to die along with everyone else.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
Ruben Östlund’s sun-drenched satire Triangle of Sadness targets the relationship between money, power, and beauty, getting quite ugly in the process. It’s never subtle, but its most direct condemnations of greed are voiced by the superyacht’s American captain (Woody Harrelson). As passengers gorge on truffles, sea urchin, and heaping spoonfuls of caviar, he has a hamburger. His position becomes clearer after he goes drink-for-drink with capitalist shit merchant Dimitry. They gleefully trade philosophical quotes, and he recognizes the irony of being a Marxist earning his living as a $250 million yacht’s captain.
His avoidance of the spoiled seafood means he misses the food poisoning afflicting his fellow diners in a stomach-churning, giggle-inducing sequence. However, he doesn’t escape the passengers’ fate when pirates attack. Since he isn’t among the survivors in the third act, we assume he goes down with the ship, paying the ultimate price for his hypocrisy. “While you’re swimming in abundance, the rest of the world is drowning in misery,” he tells Dimitry, just before likely suffering that very fate.
Whether intentional or ignorant, cruelty is punished in 2022’s eat-the-rich comedies.
Even more than their laziness and hypocrisy, the cruelty and callousness of the reigning class are targets in these three films.
In The Menu, clout-chasing, Instagram-obsessed Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is among the worst of the customers, but we only truly understand the depths of his depravity when we learn he knew everyone at the restaurant was going to die — and he still brought escort Erin (Anya Taylor-Joy) along as his unwitting date. His cruelty in consigning a stranger to death makes him as much of a murderer as Slowik, and with far less justification. Unlike his idol Slowik, Tyler isn’t motivated by righteous indignation or the concept of food as art that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of status. Tyler only wants to be seen in proximity to gustatory greatness, rather than doing the work to achieve it himself, as evidenced by his failure, humiliation, and subsequent suicide when he attempts to cook for the master chef.
Meanwhile, Glass Onion’s Birdie ignorantly tweets ethnic slurs and unironically compares herself to Harriet Tubman. She doesn’t see the damage done with her words, but her choice to use inhumane labor is measurably worse. Does Glass Onion get a bigger laugh than when we realize Birdie mistook a sweatshop for a place that makes sweatpants, and we learn that misunderstanding will be her downfall? She doesn’t have bad intentions, but neither does she seem bothered by the harm her ignorance causes. There’s a dark thrill in imagining the wealthy may be better off but not better than the rest of us.
Each passenger on Triangle of Sadness‘s superyacht typifies the callous indifference of the rich. However, the final outrage comes from model Yaya. After being shipwrecked and swollen with fly bites, Yaya loses her only currency: beauty. Meanwhile, Abigail (Dolly De Leon), who was relegated to toilet manager on the ship, is now elevated to captain, all thanks to her survival skills. The swap in status exposes how power corrupts, as Abigail isn’t eager to lose what she’s gained when they realize rescue from the island is imminent.
Eat-the-rich comedies leave no one unscathed.
In these films’ respective climaxes, the victor is a working-class woman who manages to outwit those of higher socio-economic status, wealth, and privilege… But at what cost?
Glass Onion finishes with the Mona Lisa in ashes, but Helen — notably, a schoolteacher — has gotten her revenge against Miles and his “shithead” cronies. As his island mansion burns behind her, the audience echoes her satisfaction at the stupid billionaire finally getting what he deserves. Police boats are en route, bringing the promise of repercussions for what Miles has done. The audience knows justice can be bought both on and off screen, but there’s the hope that Miles’s reputation and fortune are too damaged to give him that privilege. We can take a moment to feel the triumph of this underappreciated teacher outmaneuvering a man who wormed his way into success.
The Menu features a similar final shot, with the restaurant in flames as Taylor-Joy’s Erin escapes toward the mainland while munching on lowbrow fast-food fare. If this mass murder happened in the real world, we’d be scarred by the thought of humans burning alive, covered in melted chocolate and marshmallow goo, but this well-prepared satire delivers a moment of black comedy to an audience hungry for class inequity comeuppance.
Credit: Searchlight Pictures
In a pivotal moment, Slowik asked Erin directly, “Are you with us, or with them?” Her status as a sex worker aligns her with his team. She provides a service rather than being a privileged consumer. She refuses to bow to the self-slaughtering fate Slowik orchestrated because she isn’t one of his acolytes, either in the kitchen or the dining room. Instead, by ordering a simple hamburger, she shows Slowik that she understands what he missed — creating delicious food that makes people happy, all for less than $10 — and giving him the opportunity to do it one final time.
Triangle of Sadness is more ambiguous in its ending, offering a darker conclusion about power and wealth than its peers. For much of its third act, Abigail’s skills earn her place as the survivors’ queen, contrasting her with Helen and Erin, who masquerade as upper class and fool those around them. However, even when she’s in power, Abigail still works, a foreign concept to the once-posh passengers as they laze about in their own filth.
While The Menu and Glass Onion let Erin and Helen (and the audience) have their triumph, Triangle of Sadness is more cynical about proximity to power. In the final sequence, Yaya and Abigail discover they are on a resort island, their roles about to be reversed back by a return to so-called polite society. Recognizing this, Yaya offers Abigail a job as her assistant. It’s an insult to her savior. So, a crying Abigail creeps toward an oblivious Yaya with a rock in hand — the same weapon used to murder a donkey earlier in the film. Triangle of Sadness ends before we see Abigail kill Yaya, yet the implication is that she — like so many others before her — has been corrupted by her position, and she’ll do anything to avoid being dethroned. Her tears indicate that she hasn’t yet turned as cold as the passengers she served, but raising the rock beats the paper-thin regret displayed.
With death and destruction at their centers, these finales should be purely grim fare. However, these filmmakers created such reprehensible characters that we laugh at what ultimately befalls them, instead of feeling any empathy which might detract from the thrill of their comeuppance. And with each of the ultra-rich experiences devolving into murder, these films also expose that wealth might not be as enjoyable as it appears.
However, Triangle of Sadness leaves us with a tinge of its titular emotion. Abigail may have worked her way to the top, but she still succumbs to the same problems of hoarding and exploitation that she previously despised. Östlund makes the audience question if there can ever be worthy people in powerful positions, and it’s a far sharper critique of our systems of hierarchy and wealth than either Glass Onion or The Menu make. These two lighter films give us the triumph of David over Goliath that we so desire in the real world (and only occasionally get), while Triangle of Sadness hints that in his victory, David is doomed to become Goliath.