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Saltburn: We Moved on Too Fast

An analysis of the film and why we should still be talking about it


Graphic By Florence Wang

Initially, when Saltburn came out, I was put off from seeing the film as everyone raved about its many “unreal” scenes, but when I came back to campus, my friends were eager to dissect the movie. So, I watched it. 

Of course, some scenes in the film are incredibly off-putting, including those where I had to turn away and others where I questioned why I was even watching it in the first place. However, as the movie progressed and hit significant points in the plot, I began to change my view on it. 

From an initial reaction of “What am I watching?” to “This is an amazing film,” I began wondering why people were not talking about the characters and the symbolism behind almost every scene. I assume it’s to avoid spoilers, but when has that ever stopped anyone? 

The first fascinating thing about the film is that Oliver, or “Ollie,” is characterized as a shy, nerdy, and anxious character. From the outside, Ollie’s friendship with his peer, Michael, made sense. They were both seemingly nerdy, anxious people. This is also Michael’s assumption from the beginning when Oliver has to sit next to him at dinner. Michael first introduces himself when Oliver finally finds an open seat next to him, and Michael insinuates that Oliver is also friend-less, to which Oliver responds, “Isn’t everyone? It’s only the first night.” (Fennell, Wilson-Cairns, 2023). To this, Michael says, “Look around you. It’s just me and you, mate.” (Fennell, Wilson-Cairns, 2023). It’s no secret to the viewers that Oliver doesn’t like this arrangement. From the get-go, when he had just arrived on campus, he became fixated on Felix and his “popular” friend group. He just needed a way in—and as we later find out, Oliver would do anything to join Felix’s inner circle.

Later, the symbolism and relationship between Oliver and Felix and the notion of God and the King were almost thrown at viewers. At the film’s beginning, a song repeats the same lyrics repeatedly, “God save the King” and “Hallelujah.” Director Emerald Fennell practically dangles it in the faces of viewers that one was going to dominate the other. Oliver has this ability of control that he hangs over so many of the characters: Felix, Farleigh, Venetia, and Elspeth. The ability to use (fabricated) personal information, charm, and sex to manipulate these characters to act according to Oliver’s will is a power that can be compared to that of a God. Towards the end, in the scene where Felix is found dead, Oliver stands against the statue, looking unamused, visually implying that Oliver represents some sort of Demon and Felix is a God. Still, it makes more sense to characterize Oliver as a God and Felix as a King, as a God is typically more powerful and otherworldly than a King.

It has been debated here and there if Oliver is a sociopath, a psychopath, or something else entirely. Regardless of the label, Oliver is incapable of showing genuine emotion; he never sheds a tear in the film and is a compulsive liar even to the audience, who knew nothing of his ulterior motives behind every scene leading up to his victory at the end—and this wouldn’t be an article about Saltburn if we didn’t discuss the ending. From the song choice to the fact that he collected every dead family member’s funeral rocks from the river to display, I couldn’t think of a better ending.

Moreover, Oliver had the patience to watch as each family member died over many years just to collect all those rocks in the end and display them as trophies. At first glance, it’s weird that Oliver is dancing naked to “Murder on the Dancefloor,” but it makes perfect sense. Along with the idea that Oliver is characterized as a God, his naked physique most closely relates to nude statues. As we know, Greek gods and goddesses often had statues made of them and were either naked or clothed very loosely most of the time. So it’s no mistake that Oliver was naked as he danced across an estate that did not rightfully belong to him, rejoicing in the fact that he got it due to all the deaths of these rich people he hated so much. Oliver could run across the mansion naked because he had the freedom, space, and isolation to do so in their absence.

I think Saltburn could’ve been more appreciated for the filmmaking and not just its strange scenes. Sure, those scenes were disturbing, but I think placing so much attention on them took away from the well-deserved analysis of the film. There are many things that I didn’t touch upon in this article, like Oliver’s dad’s rock, the use of the color red, and the entire costume party, but all these things contribute to what we’ve already discussed about Oliver’s game, and how all along, the other characters were just pieces on the board.


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