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The Falconer

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“Saltburn:” The Anarchy of the Rich and Raw Desires in One Flask

Saltburn+is+not+a+movie+for+the+weak%2C+but+its+unique+in+its+own+way.
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“Saltburn” is not a movie for the weak, but it’s unique in its own way.

For a long time, nothing has caused such a stir among people as the movie “Saltburn,” which was released on Nov. 17, 2023. Due to its unabashed frankness and depravity, many viewers have unclear feelings about this movie. Some people are ready to run for a bucket and throw up in it after watching this film, while others consider it an underrated masterpiece. Is one of these two opinions correct, or does the truth lie somewhere in between?

From the first seconds of the film, the audience is introduced to a seemingly ordinary student, Oliver Quick, who has just started his first year at the prestigious Oxford University. He comes from a middle-class family, so it is difficult for him to find common ground with his peers, as the scions of wealthy families consider him to be dirt under their shoes. One day, through “completely random circumstances,” Oliver encounters one of the most popular guys at the university, Felix Catton, and the two develop a friendship. Unlike his other peers, Felix sincerely sympathizes with Oliver, and after the latter learns of his father’s death, Felix invites Oliver to his family mansion called Saltburn for the holidays. All the movie’s events take place at this mansion, evoking a range of feelings, from complete disgust and shock, to laughter.

The idea of the movie is not super extraordinary, and a similar plot can be found in many others. What makes “Saltburn” so encapturing to the audience are the depraved sexual scenes that go against all social norms and are not often seen in modern films. That’s why many viewers have a lot of conflicting emotions, and for them, this film seems to be something wholly immoral and unusual. Perhaps, some people aren’t familiar with similar sexuality displayed in French films of the 60s, where the human soul falls into a dance with all the socially forbidden temptations because there is even more eroticism there, but the perfect balance with art makes them unique.

“Saltburn” also balances artistic value with plot twists. In addition to its disturbing scenes, the movie has psychological drama that most people only catch on the second viewing, once the shock factor has worn off. The number of scenes that foreshadow later events in the film is off the charts, and each of them is special. Some of them have references to mythology, which makes the film even more fascinating, especially when you rewatch it and start to notice different little details that you didn’t see when you first watched it.

Oliver himself is quite a complex character, as are his actions. At the beginning of the story, he appears to the audience as a simple victim of bullying and a clueless person about how the upper classes live, but as the film progresses, and the end shows, this is just his social mask, behind which lies a terribly intelligent sociopathic manipulator who has made the whole story part of his plan. One of the significant meanings of the movie is how difficult it is for one to control their rawest desires. Seemingly innocent Oliver is a perfect example of this, as the prohibition and suppression of his darkest desires had a mind-blowing effect on the protagonist. Saltburn Manor was the perfect place to realize his darkest desires that lurked deep in his soul, as social rules did not apply to this place, and, therefore, Oliver could do whatever his heart desired, no matter that he would be hated for it.

It’s also worth mentioning the rich people in this movie and how the director portrayed them. Audiences are used to seeing wealthy people as the modern English aristocracy, when, in fact, they can be the “savages” who have not heard of any social framework and rules because their money covers everything. This is exactly how they are shown in “Saltburn,” as every day seems to be a holiday in Catton’s family, and no one ever works, and people just drink and have fun and think about nothing as if every day can be their last day.

The movie’s cast was excellent, and the actors’ performance was mesmerizing. It is worth mentioning Barry Keoghan, who played Oliver Quick, as his unique performance perfectly conveyed the main character’s whole nature and background. The peak of his skill can be seen in the famous graveyard scene, as it was his improvisation and was not in the developers’ plans. In Esquire’s latest Explain This video, Keoghan shared the reaction of the entire group to this scene. “I think no one spoke for a bit,” he said. This is not surprising, as hardly anyone expected such a turn of events, but, in fact, this graveyard scene was one of the most crucial parts in the development of Oliver as a character.

Jacob Elordi, who played Felix Catton, also showed his brilliant skills. He was already a scorching topic of conversation, as he had starred in the movie “Priscilla” shortly before the release of “Saltburn.” He perfectly portrayed the rich and beloved-by-everyone boy Felix, who has a constant internal struggle with himself, so he deserves all that applause.

In particular, Rosamund Pike, known to everyone for her unforgettable performance in “Gone Girl,” pleased viewers with her appearance in “Saltburn,” playing Elspeth Catton, Felix’s mother. Her performance was outstanding as always, and the way she showed Catton as an unbothered queen was a chef’s kiss.

The way the movie was shot was also exquisite. Nowadays, films are shot in a 16:9 ratio, but “Saltburn” was shot in 4:3, which makes the viewing experience unusual, since it creates a more intimate atmosphere where the audience feels as if they are one-on-one with the characters of the movie. This format is very suitable for a movie like “Saltburn.” In a conversation with Vanity Fair, Emerald Fennell analogized the experience of watching “Saltburn” to “peeping in” at a doll’s house, contributing to her choice to use a 4:3 ratio in the film. It was a great idea, as some scenes in “Saltburn” would not have felt the same if they had been shot in 16:9.

Speaking of the scenes themselves, they were phenomenal. While amateurs will say they were strange and unremarkable, they were aesthetically pleasing and some will say it was a masterpiece of cinema. In addition, the film’s events took place in 2006-2007, so when watching it, viewers can feel nostalgic for the vibe of the early 2000s through the fashion, shooting style and music. The developers did an excellent job of selecting soundtracks from the 2000s, giving a second wind to such tracks as “Murder on the Dancefloor” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and “Perfect (Exceeder)” by Mason & Princess Superstar, which perfectly complemented the overall vibe of the movie.

“Saltburn” is not a movie for everyone, and not everyone who watches it will find something beautiful in it, so it’s not surprising that some people think it’s just plain vulgarity. But this does not mean it is, as the movie contains a lot of complex creativity and psychology that will not be immediately noticed. That’s why it’s a movie that should be watched more than once to understand it fully.

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Thanks for reading The Falconer. We're happy to provide you with award-winning student journalism since 1963, free from bias, conflicts of interest, and paywalls. We're able to continue with the generous support of our local community. If you're able, please consider making a donation. Any amount is incredibly helpful and allows us to pursue new and exciting opportunities.

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About the Contributor
Jane Khyzhniak
Jane Khyzhniak, Entertainment Editor
Hi! My name is Jane and I’m a freshman here at FHS. It’s my first year working as a staff member in The Falconer and in the journalism field in general. I’m a fashion enthusiast who loves good books, jazz music, and art (especially Renaissance era one). In my free time I like to bake, write poetry, and go to galleries.
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