Saturday, December 23, 2023

Saltburn

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Socially-awkward Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) gets into Oxford on a scholarship and immediately feels out of place in a crowd of privileged peers. He is quickly smitten with co-freshmen Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), towards whom the entire college appears to gravitate. He falls into his orbit through a random act of kindness and next thing he knows, they are suddenly operating within the same social circle. Receiving news of his father’s passing, Oliver is consoled by his newfound friend and invited to their massive estate called Saltburn to unwind for the summer. There Oliver meets Felix’s eccentric family: his father Sir James (Richard E. Grant); his mother Lady Elspeth (Rosamund Pike); his “sexually incontinent” sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) as well as his poor American cousin Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwe) who constantly bullies him. Amused and bemused by the barrage of opulence, Oliver starts to charm his way into the family dynamics, but can he really force his way into a world where he obviously does not belong?

Deliciously psychopathic. Sorry, a one-word description wouldn’t have given it justice. Have you ever felt an insanely pervasive obsession towards someone so ridiculously intense that you could no longer even begin to fathom whether the attraction you are feeling is romantic, sexual or psychotic in nature? Like, do you want to be with this person? Do you simply want to fvck this person? Or do you want to BE this person? If ever you’ve had such a phase in your life, then understanding Saltburn’s Oliver should not be that implausible a feat.

On the contrary, you might even find the film to be cathartic. Somehow it serves as some sort of fantasy/curiosity fulfillment, by proxy, served to you on a silver platter by the magic of cinema. And let’s admit it, you wouldn’t go to such lengths just to pursue an obsession in real life. Ain’t nobody got time for jail due to shit like that, bro. Nonetheless, Saltburn has the tendency to bask in the vulgar and the obscene that will, guaranteed, make your prude friends flinch amidst all the onscreen feast of bodily fluids. People are said to have walked out of various screenings of this movie. You certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so.

Diving deep into the annals of Reddit, some kind Brits would lecture you about class dynamics in the UK and how wealth and status are perceived through the lens of peerage, a spillover of the country’s aristocratic past that still weighs down heavily on the very fabric of British society. Tackled from this angle, Saltburn can be argued to be a British rendition of South Korea’s Parasite, to some extent. Much of the discourse online revolves around this aspect as everyone seems to be in a mad scramble to decode the film’s central message.

In doing so, what everyone seems to be glossing over is the possibility that beneath all the semen and menstrual blood, perhaps this film is not really a thesis on the dynamics between the leftovers of British aristocracy and the middle class, but rather a case study on Limerence, if one decides to analyze it through the tenets of psychology, that is. Google the term. I’m quite sure we will end up in agreement. Either way, there is room for both classist and psychological undertones. Just don’t overanalyze it.

If Oliver’s sole intent was to be a hardcore social climber then the bathtub and grave scenes, where he didn’t have to put on a show because nobody was watching, just do not make sense. He was OBSESSED with Felix. Plain and simple. Obsession is what this narrative is all about. As an unreliable narrator, he could lie his way out of his own story that he is trying to tell us verbatim. Those actions of his when he was alone and just being himself, though? That can’t be faked. Everything else is just collateral damage.

It would be fun to see Keoghan get a follow-up nomination for his supporting nod for Banshees of Inisherin at last year’s Academy Awards, this time for consideration in the lead category, but this one seems to be up in the air. Unlike Fennel’s directorial debut in Promising Young Woman where Carey Mulligan’s eventual nomination was buoyed up by the MeToo movement, there really is no strong social movement backing this film up despite the brilliant ensemble acting of the cast. Perhaps the Golden Globe nominations Keoghan and Pike received are already a win for both of them. We’d love to be surprised, though.

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