Triangle of Sadness: Woody Harrelson’s Captain Uniform
Woody Harrelson as Thomas Smith, cynical
Communist Marxist luxury yacht captain
Mediterranean Sea, Summer 2020
Film: Triangle of Sadness
Release Date: September 28, 2022
Director: Ruben Östlund
Costume Designer: Sofie Krunegård
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As we near the 95th Academy Awards ceremony in a couple weeks, I wanted to look at one of the more offbeat nominees. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, Triangle of Sadness joins the current trends of productions like The Menu, Parasite, Succession, and The White Lotus that satirize—often darkly—the entitlement and excess of the wealthy ruling class.
The commentary is clear in Triangle of Sadness, with its middle act set aboard a luxury yacht where the staff—itself split by the tip-earning stewards and below-decks crew—are at the whim of their ultra-privileged passengers that range from social media influencers to arms dealers and oligarchs like the gregarious Dimitry (Zlatko Burić).
At the helm, or at least supposed to be, is the ship’s American captain Thomas Smith (whose surname is never mentioned on screen, I believe, though it certainly recalls the similarly named captain of the Titanic, a disaster which also has become allegorical for class disparities in the decades since it sank in 1912.) An outspoken Marxist, Thomas doesn’t fit neatly into any of the passenger and crew categories, though he’s the first to admit—once he stumbles through the challenges of drunken alliteration—that he’s “a shit socialist because I have too much! I have too much abundance in my life, I’m not even—I’m not a worthy socialist… a shit socialist.”
After not emerging from his cabin for days on end, Thomas stubbornly insists on hosting his captain’s dinner on a Thursday night, the one night he had been advised to avoid due to the threat of storms. As sober as he’s ever been, Thomas stands in the tilting dining room to greet the insufferable guests as they parade up to him and his responsible first officer Darius (Arvin Kananian).
“I’m not a fan of fine dining,” Thomas admits as he’s served a simple hamburger and fries while the envious guests around him are presented with more opulent plates of fish roe, sea urchin, oysters, and octopus. Unfortunately, the heaving sea and the poorly prepared fish—the result of Dimitry’s wife Vera (Sunnyi Melles) insisting on sending the crew for a mid-afternoon swim—results in an orgy of vomit and diarrhea… leaving only Thomas and the hardy Dimitry unaffected, growing increasingly drunk as they trade quotations to support their radically different political theories, like Edward Abbey’s maxim that “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell” or Karl Marx’s statement that “the last capitalist we hang will be the one who sold us the rope.”
Dimitry: A Russian capitalist and an American communist…
Thomas: …on a $250 million luxury yacht.
The night devolves into nightmarish parody as the drunk Thomas and Dimitry commandeer the ship’s sound system while the incapacitated passengers roll around in their own shomit. Unfortunately for our captain, few are safe from the next calamity to befall the yacht: a pirate attack that sinks it in seconds, leaving only a handful alive.
What’d He Wear?
We meet the ragged captain when he opens his cabin door clad only in a bathrobe and underwear, but he dresses ceremoniously for the Thursday night dinner in his resplendent white uniform, primped to perfection by head stewardess Paula (Vicki Berlin).
Thomas wears a white uniform tunic that echoes the classic U.S. Navy “dress whites” with its gilt buttons and standing “mandarin collar”. The jacket has two straight jetted hip pockets and two rounded patch pockets over the chest. The chest pockets each have a pointed flap that closes through a single gold-toned button echoing the five half-dome shank buttons up the front from the waist to the neck. Finished with four similar buttons on each cuff, the set-in sleeves have more pronounced shoulder roping than Navy uniform tunics.
The shoulders are detailed with epaulets, on which Thomas wears soft black loops each embroidered with a gold fouled anchor and four gold-braided stripes signifying his position, similar to the OF-5 insignia for the Captain rank in the U.S. Navy, Royal Navy, and many other navies around the world.
The pin that Thomas wears over his left breast offers a visual hint into his political beliefs. Set against a gold base, the design consists of a ruby red textured five-pointed star, with a round white enamel-filled center hosting a gold relief depicting Vladimir Lenin as a child. These pins were issued in Soviet Russia to children between 7 and 9 years of age who belonged to the Little Octobrists (Oktyabryonok) organization before they would graduate to be Young Pioneers. The group dates back to the early 1920s, in the years following the Russian Civil War as the Soviet Union recognized the children born in 1917, the same year as the October Revolution. As Soviet youth organizations evolved through the century, the Little Octobrists adopted this “Young Lenin” red star pin as a badge by the late 1950s, and it went through several design iterations until the group was disbanded with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Thomas’ wristwatch more subtly calls out his philosophical differences with most of his passengers like the Rolex-wearing Dimitry and the Patek Philippe-wearing Jarmo, wearing a simple black-finished quartz watch with a plain round white dial on a black resin bracelet, like the inexpensive plastic 35mm Casio MQ24.
Thomas completes the uniform with a pair of matching white double-pleated trousers, styled with slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs). He holds them up with a white woven leather-looking belt that closes through a curved silver single-prong buckle. (The belt is probably a synthetic material, as Woody Harrelson’s strict veganism prevents him from wearing animal hides like leather—even in costumes like Tallahassee’s snakeskin jacket in Zombieland.)
Rather than anything ceremonial or dressier to complement his handsome uniform, Thomas wears a pair of simple white synthetic sneakers with a rubber cap-toe and five sets of derby-laced eyelets, likely preferable for their comfort, traction on wet decks, and the fact that he likely wouldn’t be bothered to care to wear anything dressier. He wears thin white cotton lisle socks.
Thomas wears a white cotton sleeveless undershirt under his tunic. Known as an “A-shirt” (athletic shirt) upon its development by Jockey in the 1930s but soon denigrated with the “wife-beater” nickname after an unfortunately publicized mugshot the following decade, this undershirt style would be an unlikely choice for a professional captain to wear under his tunic, as at least a short-sleeved T-shirt (like the U.S. Navy designates for wear under their dress white tunics) would prevent more armpit sweat and body oil from directly touching the tunic material… but note that I said it would only be an unlikely choice for a professional captain. Spending most of the voyage drunk in his cabin, Thomas has given up most pretenses of professionalism and looks all the more indelicate as he kicks back in his cabin with too much to drink.
Featured on some of Triangle of Sadness‘ promotional material, Thomas naturally has the expected peaked cap with white cover, gold braiding, and black patent leather visor, though he never wears it on screen, instead reserving the honor for Dimitry as the latter drunkenly pontificates from the captain’s cabin.
What to Imbibe
The crew tries to prevent the captain from falling back on his usual self-destructive boozing habits by serving him a champagne substitute as he greets the guests, but he scowls and discards it in favor of some true bubbly.
Once the literal shit hits the fan (and floor and ceiling and…), Thomas sits down with Dimitry and opens a bottle of red wine, specifically Becker Family Pinot Noir from the Weingut Friedrich Becker estate in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of western Germany. The label suggests a 2013 vintage, which Anna Lee C. Iljima described for Wine Enthusiast as “Integrated notes of bramble, toast and spice recollect two years of oak maturation in this bold, concentrated Spätburgunder. While at first voluptuous on the palate in bold red-cherry and plum flavors, lip-smacking cranberry acidity and elegant tones of granite and violet freshen the mid-palate. Persistent, mouth-coating tannins carry a long finish.”
Once the wine is gone (or considered insufficient for their desired level of drunkenness), Thomas switches to the hard stuff, though I can’t see enough of the label on the squat bottle he pours from to determine if it’s whiskey, brandy, or possibly even something else.
As Thomas and Dimitry’s evening continues to devolve into drunken rambling, they return to the captain’s cabin and his significant stash of booze, which also includes that very recognizable, Belle Époque-inspired bottle of St.-Germain elderflower liqueur.
How to Get the Look
Consistent with his philosophical self-conflict, Thomas balances the expected appearance of a luxury yacht captain in his handsome white uniform while also incorporating his own sartorial touches of rebellion, like a drug store watch, sneakers, and a Soviet-era propaganda pin.
- White single-breasted uniform tunic with standing mandarin collar, five gilt half-dome buttons, rounded patch chest pockets (with button-down pointed flaps), straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and shoulder straps/epaulets (for four-stripe Captain rank insignia)
- “Young Lenin” red star pin over left breast
- White double-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White woven leather belt with curved silver single-prong buckle
- White synthetic-upper sneakers with rubberized cap-toe and five-eyelet derby-style lacing
- White cotton lisle socks
- White cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Black plastic quartz wristwatch with round white dial on black resin bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
And don’t forget the ginger candy! It’s good for seasickness.
You can’t be rich and expect the rest of the world to be poor. And while you’re swimming in abundance, the rest of the world is drowning in misery. That’s not the way it’s meant to be.