Photo by Julia Kaczmarek
And during that sunset show nobody cared about your status, nobody cared what you were wearing or who you were. Everyone came to the age of the rocks by the ocean and applauded the sun as it was disappearing behind the horizon. Everyone laughed and joyfully looked at this natural process, being just as excited and happy about it as if looking at a baby taking first steps clapping and applauding around it. It felt like a major town event, the entire community gathered around a common cause, but this time that gathering felt different, what seemed to be missing was the judgement, and the positions of everyone watching the setting sun, there was no gossip, no judgy looks and suspicions, it was just a pure connection. Each person standing by the ocean view, was free to choose where and how to stand, what to wear, what to do and all that was shared was the sight that all eyes turned to – the setting sun.
As I was part of this simple event in the middle of nowhere, far away from home, I looked around and stopped for a second. Was it only me feeling this way, was I the only one who felt this extraordinary everyday event? And then I thought that it must not be true, I looked around again and clearly could see that each member of nature’s performance was as excited about it as I was, and there was no requirement for who was allowed to see this – it was purely for everyone, no strings attached.
Observation is a beautiful, pure process of learning about the world. About making conclusions and bringing one’s focus to things that matter, things that may disappear in a hectic environment, such as the one that most of us are living in. So as I sat down by the ocean, only hearing multiple conversations in plenty of languages, most in ones that I didn’t understand. I saw the details of society’s inner workings that for a brief moment lost their value.
In the current society assumptions are strong. Not just nowadays, prejudice and certain assumptions about certain groups, types of people, nationalities, races have always been apparent and have been a long lasting companion of the development of our systems, of our society. However, in the 21th century on top of the evident stereotypes schemes repeated over and over again the social media profile and online appearance came on top of that, accelerating and shifting our attention to the persona, not the person. What is at stake here is the loss of authenticity, and more uniqueness. Naturally, it is not something that always happens, yet it can be considered a trend, even a fuel for the current process seen in society.
But where is this story leading to? As I observed different groups gathering to see the sunset by the ocean my thoughts wandered to the cinema screen to what I saw a few weeks ago, when I sat down in a comfort of cinema chairs and for two hours and a half looked at the upside down mirror of the current state of society – the motion picture Triangle of Sadness (2022).
Triangle of Sadness (2022) dir. Ruben Östlund, is a production full of black humour dialogues which carry a mirror of the changes of our society and how vanity and life values have been changing throughout the past years. Perhaps not even years, maybe decades or ages even, yet in this motion picture the lenses focus on major critiques of the society, and how superficiality and vanity becomes an intrinsic part of our communal living organism.
So imagine this scene at the beginning of the movie. A bunch of models in a group stand in front of the camera and are instructed to change their poses and face expressions depending on the key word shouted by the photographers. The group of shirtless templates change the way they look at the camera lens, even though the keywords all relate to the same thing in the end. The only thing that is different is that each of those keywords is a stereotype that the society connects it to.
But no more spoilers. The plot develops around conversations about the issues we face when discussing the structure of society, the power systems and personal relations. The movie is divided into three parts. First one “Carl & Yaya”, introduces the main characters – two influencers who decide to be together but for two different reasons, the second part – The Yacht, shows the rest of characters, and the action of the movie moves to a luxurious yacht while highlighting the structures and power relations of today’s society, third part – “The Island”, is the upside mirror of the society, and what happens if certain power assumptions and society’s structures get disrupted.
Diving into the critique of society is what I want to focus on. It’s natural that each epoque has its own characteristics and repeated behaviours’ templates as well as so called ‘lifestyles’. For some reason, recently as I seem to catch myself thinking if really this moment in history will be described as the crisis of vanity and superficiality? Or is it just a temporary observation that may lead to something bigger? While watching Triangle of Sadness, I looked at the scenes highlighting topics of gender inequality, attachment to the material things, emptiness of some online actions and, as I assume the director wanted to, I could not stop thinking about my personal experience of the current world – am I part of the sail towards the sadness of emptiness, where one does not have the ability to survive anymore?
The movie touched upon many subjects that every now and then pop up in my head or come up during conversations with friends. The superficiality is one of the majorly highlighted themes throughout the movie, together with pretending. Once one learns about it and experiences the dishonesty first-hand, it turns out that it is not hidden at all, and the only way to break out of this bubble is to acknowledge it and act against it – stay honest and respectful. Maybe this superficiality and pretending is a safety option of the digital era- it’s easy to just simply show something in a temporary reality, where one can always click “delete” or “archive”. If one is surrounded by this online space and Away From Keyboard reality, which often is based on superficial actions, does this influence the way we present ourselves in-person, or how we think about relationships, friendships, institutions, politics, governments, the list goes on. Especially in relationships, which develop in different stages, on different rules and around different events, yet is it possible that the current society and prejudices of today influence our personal relationships as well? Are we too afraid to state what we think, and pretending to be a part of something is the new standard? What if this lack of authenticity makes some members of the society pressured to put on a certain position, to put on a particular mask for pretending, because that is what has been assumed, so are we personas or people? Is that why there’s an ongoing trend of dishonesty and a role play show of life?
There is more than just one answer to all of these questions. There are many factors of how we act and present ourselves, but what should always remain constant no matter the circumstances, is staying true to who we are, and noticing and respecting the ones around us. No pretending, no prejudices.
I am still positive that the current state of our lives is not just a cheap race around hierarchies. That stereotypical beauty is not the only requirement for achieving success and power, and that there are still honest connections, but one has to step carefully around this show and look and try our best- that is how we reach the sunset audience. I do believe that if we do not want to fade away into the Triangle of Sadness we should remain respectful of one another and purely honest.
While I sat down with the sound of hitting waves, surrounded by many strangers, all waiting for the sun’s evening performance, I wondered if we will ever reach this state of mind commonly altogether and had just one more question stuck in my head.
Has our society ever worked just like the audience of the setting sun?
Written by Julia Kaczmarek