So Why is Saltburn Today’s Most Talked-About Film?

Barry Keoghan in the movie Saltburn dressed as a deer at the exit of a maze. Image by Margaret Mitchem

We’ve been bombarded on Tik-Tok with edits and people discussing the already infamous “bathtub scene”. But what is Saltburn really about? Here are five key points to analyse the movie (spoiler included).

Barry Keoghan in the movie Saltburn dressed as a deer at the exit of a maze. Image by Margaret Mitchem

12/01/2024

By Giulia Piceni. Cover image by Margaret Mitchem.

After A Promising Young Woman, here is another capital work by Emerald Fennell that has shocked cinema theatres across the US. Saltburn film is the kind of those that makes you want to write about it right after watching it, so if you haven’t seen it yet, jump on Prime Video (the only platform where it is currently available in Europe) to enjoy this five-point analysis at its best. Warning: there will be spoilers from the next line on.

Jacob Elordi, an eccentric spoilt family, and a mysterious late-Renaissance castle: would you ever refuse the opportunity for a summer break there? Oliver Quick certainly didn’t, and thus begins Saltburn – a must-watch for the most daring cinematic lovers this season. So sit back, relax and maybe enjoy a drink inspired by the movie as this five-point analysis unfolds. 

@stevenfingar

Who wants a Jacob Elordi bathtub cocktail? 🛀🏼 If you’ve seen the movie Saltburn, then you know (apologies in advance) — But if not, then it’s probably best to be blissfully unaware. Ingredients: – 2 oz light rum – 2 oz pineapple juice – 1.5 oz cream of coconut – splash of lime juice Combine all ingredients with ice into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Rim your glass with cream of coconut and pour. Please slurp responsibly! 🛁 #saltburn #saltburnmovie #jacobelordi #bathtubscene #barrykeoghan #cocktail #cocktailrecipe

♬ Murder On The Dancefloor – Sophie Ellis-Bextor
  1. Saltburn film is a nuanced variation of the “Eat the Rich” theme

During this summer, we’ve been amused by the rich characters of The White Lotus spending their summer on the Amalfi Coast, while a few years back, we became familiar with the fun world of the élites with Crazy, Rich Asians. Why has the “eat the rich” theme become so in vogue on the screen, and why has it been darkly popularised through Saltburn film?

In our current society, the growing gap between the rich and the poor is causing a feeling of resentment among the large non-privileged population, including Oliver Quick, a modern Oliver Twist in the academic Oxford of the early 2000s with a great desire for wealth and economic success. Oliver uses unorthodox methods to climb the social ladder, disregarding morals, transparency and, above all, feelings, with little remorse.

Venetia from Saltburn sunbathing nearby a pond. Illustration by Margaret Mitchem
Illustration by Margaret Mitchem.

Oliver’s character in Saltburn has a complex dual nature. On the one hand, he represents the victim of his middle-class upbringing, seeking to reach a wealth that seems unattainable. On the other hand, he is portrayed as a vengeful executioner of the wealthy oppressors, eliminating Felix’s family in the coldest and most calculated and ruthless ways and making them pay for their luxurious lifestyle – something that less affluent social categories cannot afford.

  1. The dressed and undressed body plays the biggest role in the plot of Saltburn film

Saltburn plays extensively with the stark contrast between dressing up and being bare. The extremes of being too dressed up or completely naked are portrayed as typical symbols of wealth. At Saltburn, there is a strict rule of wearing a black tie during dinner. For example, in one scene, at the beginning of Oliver’s stay at the mansion, Felix and his cousin Farleigh are seen wearing tuxedos while Venetia has a sparkling ensemble to play tennis. Being so elegantly dressed for a casual occasion, with effortless gestures making them look like they’re part of a fashion brand’s ad, reminds us of the common belief that being carefree and light-hearted is a privilege reserved for the rich.

On the other hand, the act of being naked is generally associated with vulnerability, and only those who are entirely self-assured can confidently engage in this practice. Most of the time, it is undeniable that self-confidence also comes from financial stability and the ability to do the most eccentric things without fear of judgment. In one scene, some wealthy young men invite Oliver to join them in sunbathing naked in a wheat field. Although he hesitates at first, the student eventually joins them, which symbolises his initiation into their exclusive world of vices and extravaganza. 

Taking off his clothes and becoming comfortable in his skin, along with dressing more elegantly, are some of the steps that Oliver takes to be part of Felix’s world and to secretly start embodying the persona he wants to be after the hosting family’s downfall.

  1. The symbolism hidden in Saltburn film plot is on point 

To analyse the symbolism in Saltburn would mean going down a rabbit hole and never coming back from it. The movie has different readings, with references varying from mythology to the history of cinema passing through art history.

If there is one element that ties all of these features together, that must be the maze. In Saltburn, we see a labyrinth that not only resembles the one in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but also shares its tragic ending. It is in this maze’s blind alleys that Oliver carries out his plan to murder Felix.  
The element of the labyrinth is a reference to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as the story of Icarus. At the time of his murder, Felix is inside the labyrinth wearing a pair of white wings, symbolising a modern Icarus, chased by Oliver, who wears deer antlers, representing the Minotaur. This element also alludes to a supposed maturity – the deer’s antlers only grow once he has reached adulthood – and to one of Barry Keoghan’s most famous performances: The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Minotaur and Oliver share the dual character of victim-oppressor. Oliver is like the monster, imprisoned in a labyrinth (Saltburn), from which, as it is said several times throughout the film, “it is easy to get lost”, but at the same time, he secretly holds the reins of the game.

In all this, Felix finds himself in the role of Icarus, a victim of his own arrogance, reminiscent of the Greek concept of hybris. This arrogance is evident from the very beginning of the story: flying too close to the sun, the risk of crashing increases and Oliver constantly warns Felix of this.

 

  1. Jacob Elordi has consecrated himself as the Hottest Queer Icon 

Jacob Elordi has become known to the public thanks to his role in the globally successful teen drama Euphoria. As shown by his character Nate –  the alpha straight male secretly in love with Jules, a transgender girl he met through an online chat – Jacob Elordi is certainly no stranger in playing queer and multifaceted characters that bewitch a vast public.

In Saltburn, the Australian actor had to play the nuanced character of Felix: a rich, seductive Oxford student (big shout-out for the British accent) depicted through the perspective of Oliver, a profiteering friend who has developed a morbid physical attraction to him.
Although Felix’s sexual orientation is never explicitly mentioned, many of his outfits have an undeniable homoerotic vibe, probably reinforced by Oliver’s narration. Even the Ralph Lauren embroidered polo player shirt, a status of preppy Ivy League style, adds a touch of Bruce Weber’s aesthetics to Jacob Elordi’s appearance, eventually transforming him into the ultimate icon of queer youth and the most popular idol of Gen-Z (as evidenced by this viral candle).

  1. The movie’s playlist is worth an Oscar itself

Dance pieces, techno tracks, early-2000s romance, and some 80s synth touches along with classical music. Saltburn boasts a diverse playlist, making it easy for anyone to find their favourite track out of all of them. The careful selection of all these tracks made me want to throw a party to celebrate this soundstyle diversity; was I the only one feeling this urge? If you’re looking for the perfect background music for your next party, just hit play and enjoy discovering piece after piece of this incredible soundtrack. 

Fields of Study
Art

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