To be completely honest with everyone, “Saltburn” was not as shocking as the internet made it out to be. It could possibly be because of the intensive unrated animes, cartoons and movies I’ve watched, but everything that happened in “Saltburn” was meant to happen.
Moving forward, there will be spoilers of the movie so read at your discretion.
One of the well-known scenes in the movies included the “bathtub scene” where Barry Keoghan’s Oliver did a show of licking the rim of the drain after Jacob Elordi’s Felix finished pleasuring himself.
Before we even get into the scene, we have to go all the way to the beginning where Oliver is giving his dialogue about how much he didn’t love Felix. The yearning instrumental strings, the use of past tense and the romanticizing fleeting footage of Felix from Oliver’s point of view should have given the hint that Oliver was an unreliable narrator.
Even the tone in which Oliver is narrating his words has twinges of degradation and superiority.
Right off the bat, the audience should have known that it would be a “weird” movie. What makes it weird for many people, in my opinion, is the slowness in which everything starts unraveling.
Once Oliver reaches Saltburn, he meets Felix’s family in a room with Pamela who is the poor little woman that Rosamund Pike’s Elspeth decided to take in. It’s meant to make the Catton family look caring and accommodating for taking Pamela in but, the audience soon finds it to be a faux concern when Elspeth starts talking down on Pamela once she leaves.
This faux concern increases once she starts asking about Oliver’s family life without regard to how he might feel approaching such a sensitive subject publicly. The way Elspeth has a morbid curiosity about the “poor” and “unfortunate” puts an interesting question at the forefront.
When you’re so far up the social hierarchy, how long will it take for struggle and despair to become something you can sparingly dip your feet into?
Because of this, the Catton family feels inhuman for their disconnect from a common human experience. This, in my opinion, is what draws the viewers into the family. They are so far out of reach from normative human predicaments that people feel enamored and charmed by their indifference.
To add on, Saltburn’s director Emerald Fennell mentions a lot in her interviews that the movie was supposed to emulate tension: the push and pull of the things you want but are not allowed to have.
In this case, Oliver wants Felix. No, he wants the things that belong to Felix. He wants the friendship he offers, his time, a place at his table, his sister, his cousin, his parents, his estate and ultimately, he wants to be the one to take his life.
That is why scenes like the bathtub or the one where Oliver tries having sex with Felix’s grave were not as shocking to me. It was gross, yes, but it only pulled me closer to the film. It highlighted how absolutely troubled and obsessive Oliver was. If those things did not happen, the movie would have felt incomplete.
The most unhinged part of the movie for me was at the end where Oliver was parading naked at Saltburn. It was a mirror of the tour that Felix gave him in the beginning of the movie but it also showed Oliver’s true colors. His nakedness was a jab at the continuous weird little quips he did throughout the movie but this time, he’s free to do as many weird things as he wants.
There’s no one there to stop him unless you want to count the unseeing eyes of the workers of Saltburn who silently made sure things were in order when Oliver broke the mirror or when Felix died.
The cinematography of the film also contributes to its oddness. It’s set in the 2000s but the imagery and colors make it seem like it was something out of the 1800s.
Fennell was inspired by gothic and vampire-like aesthetics despite there not being any actual vampires. The classy, extravagant architecture and the dreamlike scenery make it seem like the story will have an even more lavish ending, but it doesn’t.
The night scenes of the movie seem even more intimate with the looming shadows, allowing the viewers to use their own imaginations to complete the scene. This director’s choice is intentional. By leaving some things out, the audience is given no choice but to fill in the dots, therefore, making them feel uncomfortable for the things their brain comes up with.
“Saltburn” is one hell of a movie and I feel like there are endless interpretations someone can take with it. To belittle it down to a “weird” and “gross” movie is a disservice to its dynamic characters and incredible cinematography. “Saltburn” has a lot to offer.
You just have to move past the uncomfortableness and let it sit with you even after the movie has finished.