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“Saltburn”: just weird enough

Claire+Schuppel+writes+about+Emerald+Fennells+latest+film%2C+Saltburn.
Amazon Studios
Claire Schuppel writes about Emerald Fennell’s latest film, “Saltburn.”

Following the success of the raunchy “Promising Young Woman,” Academy Award winning writer and director Emerald Fennell has simultaneously amazed and disturbed audiences with “Saltburn.” The Carroll News had the opportunity to join a college round table with Fennell on Nov. 15.

“Saltburn” follows Oliver (Barry Keoghan), a young outcast at Oxford University in 2006, who develops an infatuation with the popular, well-loved Felix (Jacob Elordi). Felix invites Oliver to his family’s estate, Saltburn, for a summer and they become fast friends while Olivers suffers from the loss of his father. In the city of Saltburn, we meet Felix’s wealthy parents (Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant) and his sister (Alison Oliver), all within the confines of their extravagant manor.

The actors all deliver strong performances which is enhanced by Fennell’s own experience as an actor-turned-director. With such vulnerability in the film’s subject matter, Fennell said, “You all trust each other because to make something that is a bit sticky, that is complicated, that has…moments of transgression to some degree, you need everyone to be as enthusiastic about it….” 

As an actor, she recognized the importance of comfortability on a set, especially if the end goal is a great performance. “Saltburn” is a film where you would be able to tell if the cast didn’t get along, but they work with ease together and make the performances of the ensemble memorable.

As previously mentioned, the manor Felix’s family resides in is lavish and could be a character in and of itself. The 700 year old home is filled with historic touches like first-edition Shakespeare texts and Sistine Chapel-esque artwork; these touches make it feel well lived in. There’s a television room with remnants of parties thrown, cigarette butts everywhere and messy bathrooms. This juxtaposition demonstrates how Fennell wants us to see the family: their wealth does not necessarily equate to sophistication. 

The stunning “Saltburn” mansion where Felix invites Oliver for a summer. (Amazon Studios)

The movie is jam-packed with moments that some might deem grotesque, but others – including Fennell herself – see its sexuality and raunchiness as “completely necessary.” A central theme of the film is about one’s legacy and mortality as Felix’s grand stature and lavish life will always be unattainable for Oliver, despite all perverted efforts he goes through. Fennell herself said that Jacob Elordi “looks like a God, but he’s a mortal…the film is also about what we as an audience are willing to forgive for beauty and charm.” Felix is a flawed character, but those flaws are ignored as we see him through the lens of someone who is both infatuated and envious of him. The lewd scenes all involve Oliver yearning for Felix’s power as he doesn’t recognize it’s his identity that allows him to have his way in life.

The beauty of the stories Fennell tells in her movies lies within their ambiguity. “Saltburn” leaves you with more questions than answers, specifically with Oliver’s journey, but she did share that she “think[s] the information that needs to be there, I think is there.” Oliver becomes a puppet master by the end of the film, with Fennell citing Taylor Swift’s “Mastermind” as a parallel to the character’s actions. As the audience, we aren’t sure of Oliver’s motives for the chaos he creates. His actions do tie into themes of homoeroticism in Oliver and Felix’s relationship, as Fennell said, “And what he wants, from the very beginning, he says, ‘I wasn’t in love with him.’ And we know that’s a lie. But the question is how much of it is a lie that he tells us, or he tells himself?” 

“Saltburn” is not for the faint of heart, nor is it a great first date movie. But, it is a provocative piece of media that solidified Emerald Fennell as a true talent among other up-and-coming directors. “Saltburn” is in theaters now.

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About the Contributor
Claire Schuppel, Arts and Life Editor
Claire Schuppel is a senior from Lakewood, Ohio. She is a Psychology major with a concentration in Child and Family Studies and a Statistics and Analytics minor. She serves as the vice president of Psi Chi, the international psychology honors society and is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a movie fanatic, a lover of literature and an advocate for mental health awareness. In her free time, you can find her with a book in her hands or blasting classic rock from the 1970s. She one day hopes to obtain her PhD in Clinical Psychology and work with children and adolescents from all walks of life.

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