There’s no denying that Saltburn has become a widely debated movie for 2023. Emerald Fennell, following her 2020 debut with Promising Young Woman, has come out with a film that is vastly different in terms of aesthetics and tone. However, her ability to challenge the status quo and elicit strong reactions remains as potent as ever. Saltburn is the kind of movie that tends to either thrill or anger its viewers. Critics have had similarly divergent reactions. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle calls it “superficially smart and deeply stupid,” while Entertainment Weekly’s Maureen Lee Lenker hails it as “a triumph of the cinema of excess, in all its orgiastic, unapologetic glory.”
One of the most contentious aspects of the movie, which has sparked widespread debate, is its ending. Depending on one’s views on full-frontal male nudity, the conclusion can be interpreted as either sly art or blatant titillation. This was explored in an interview with Fennell conducted by Polygon shortly before the movie’s release.
In the film, the story revolves around Oliver, played by Barry Keoghan, who gradually integrates himself into high society through his classmate Felix Catton, portrayed by Jacob Elordi. The Catton family are elitist and detached, and tensions begin to emerge as they interact with Oliver. However, it is eventually revealed through a series of flashbacks that Oliver’s interactions with the family are built on deception, manipulation, and even murder. The movie concludes with a striking scene of Oliver dancing naked throughout the estate of Saltburn, symbolizing his claim of ownership.
Fennell expressed her nuanced approach to this scene, emphasizing the significance of Oliver’s nudity in asserting his ownership of the house. The original plan was for Oliver to walk through the house symbolically, but during filming, Fennell and Keoghan decided that a dance would better capture the triumphant and joyous essence they sought to convey.
Despite Oliver’s heinous actions, Fennell presents him in a light that elicits sympathy from the audience. She argues that it is crucial for the audience to feel a sense of admiration for Oliver’s defiance, even in the face of his unpleasant behavior. This, she suggests, is the ultimate culmination of the movie’s themes and serves to provide viewers with a thought-provoking conclusion.
Saltburn is currently being shown in theaters and continues to spark controversy and discussion among moviegoers.