Warning: This post contains spoilers for "Saltburn."
Everyone is talking about “Saltburn.” But what, exactly, are they talking about? Let's just say some — actually, many — of the scenes aren't fit for workplace conversation.
“Saltburn” was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who received an Oscar for her directorial debut “Promising Young Woman,” and explores themes of power, envy, desire and relationships.
The sensual, thrilling movie opens on a cross-class meet cute: Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) arrives at Oxford University and almost instantly becoming fixated on wealthy student Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). After learning of Oliver's difficult upbringing, Felix invites him to spend the summer at his family estate, Saltburn.
Throughout their summer at Saltburn, Oliver’s interactions with Felix’s family and the estate itself grow in intensity, evoking excitement, discomfort and disgust.
By the end of the movie, for better or worse, viewers will almost certainly experience a moment of, “What did I just watch?” To help you process the movie, we are breaking down some of the most, uh, unforgettable scenes and what Fennell had to say about them.
Fennell calls this scene the "sexiest thing (she's) ever seen in (her) life," per an interview with People. As for where you come down on it? Well ... check out the details and decide.
Oliver and Felix are sharing a bathroom at Saltburn. One night, Oliver watches Felix masturbate in the bathtub, without Felix noticing. When Felix leaves the bathroom, Oliver heads over to the bathtub. As the water is going down the drain, he licks the tub, eventually getting to the drain in a fit of passion (or desperation).
(Elordi told Variety he was "very proud" to "have Barry Keoghan guzzling it like that.”)
In an interview with The Ringer, Keoghan unpacked his character's motivations in that moment.
“The moment where he rubs his face along the plughole and wants to be in it, it’s sort of like, ‘I want to feel it, I want it to be part of me, I want it to change me,’” Keoghan said. “It’s a total obsession. He’s confused and lost. I don’t think he knows what he’s actually chasing.”
Fennell, on her end, thinks it's "unbelievably sexy," as she told Time.
"To me the bathtub is just an incredibly erotic scene,” Fennell said. “It is all the things that something stirring should be, which is funny and intimate and shocking and revolting and unbelievably sexy. What I was trying to make with this film was something that felt actually true about the nature of desire. For desire to really take you in its grip like it does in this movie, it has to be to a certain degree transgressive. It has to be something you wouldn’t necessarily want people to see.”
Like the recent movie "Fair Play," "Saltburn" features women having sex while menstruating. Both scenes are sensual and aim to confront a topic Fennell says people are "squeamish about."
Oliver develops a connection with Felix's troubled sister Venetia (Alison Oliver). He knows, through Venetia's mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), that she struggles with disordered eating.
“That’s the information that he takes into the next scene, telling Venetia that her body, rather than something disgusting, is in fact beautiful and arousing,” Fennell told Time.
Oliver uses a moment alone with her to reference her insecurities with food and her body, but with assertiveness and softness, leading to a flirtatious interaction. It's up to interpretation whether he brought up her insecurities to flatter her or to exert power over her — possibly both.
The mood between them becomes sexually charged. Although Venetia tells Oliver it's not "right time of the month" for them to be intimate, he proceeds anyway. Oliver eventually spreads blood on both of their faces.
"It’s an incredibly effective sex scene because he’s worshiping her body, and everything that her body produces, and that’s not something that anyone has ever done for her before,” Fennell told Time.
Felix and Oliver's friendship crashes and burns. The night after their falling out, Felix dies. But since Felix’s family is not aware of their fight, they treat Oliver like family through the funeral.
After everyone leaves the cemetery, Oliver stays behind. Under the rain, Oliver cries over Felix’s fresh grave.
If, based on what you've read so far, you suspect that Oliver is about to get carried away, you're right. The scene develops slowly. Oliver, facing down on the dirt, starts to move his body, lower his pants and ... penetrate the soil.
What's that all about?
“It’s about grief. It’s about love,” Fennell said to Time. “It’s an attempt to get some form of impossible closure. And the reason that scene is so long is because we needed the whole emotional journey. It’s an attempt at something that is totally futile; Oliver himself understands how absurd and appalling and ridiculous is the position he’s in.”
Final dance scene
Years go by and the rest of the Catton family dies. Somehow, Oliver ends up inheriting the Saltburn estate, and he enjoys it. He can do anything he wants now — including dance around naked, which he does, to the song "Murder on the Dance Floor by Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
The dance number wraps up the very stylish and vibrant movie with precise Oliver vibes: slightly unhinged, disturbingly attractive and confusingly enjoyable.
Fennell said the ending was supposed to make viewers consider whether they were "on Oliver's side" — and, according to her, they should be.
“A walkthrough didn’t have that post-coital triumph. If we all did our job correctly, you are on Oliver’s side,” Fennell told Entertainment Weekly. “You don’t care what he does, you want him to do it. You are both completely repulsed and sort of on his side. It’s that kind of dance with the devil. It’s like, ‘F---. Okay, let’s go.’ And so at the end, it needed to have a triumph, a post-coital win, a desecration.”