Saltburn A Deep Dive Into its Mindjob Chaos. I love a good time travel mindjob movie. I like alien movies, and horror movies. I enjoy closed-box head explosions with two actors and a screenplay that screams. I love mindjobs in anyway that I can get them. But I particularly love mindjobs that don’t seem to be mindjobs. And I particularly adore movies with actors that move the foundations of the earth, hades, and the heavens. This is the sort of MindJob that Saltburn is. A movie that gets so deeply entwined in our intestinal innards that we become controlled by it as it wriggles us this way and that.
It’s no shock to any of the regulars here that I adore all things Barry Keoghan. His ratio of mindjobs in his entire oeuvre is incredibly high. Wait, you know not of what I speak? Um. The Killing of a Sacred Deer literally keeps this site running without assistance from any other post I’ve written, because so many have been so confused and so desperate to understand it. The Green Knight? (No, you haven’t even heard of it.) The Banshees of Inisherin? American Animals? (“Oh, and he’s not even going to mention Keoghan’s best film, a Nolan film at that, is he??” – “No, no he is not. Because Dunkirk isn’t even close to being in Barry’s best film five or ten films he’s been a part of. HECK, the voice work he did at the end of The Batman was better than all that! Okay, maybe I’ve gone a bridge too far there, I admit it. My apologies.”)
But you take my point? Barry Keoghan should be the PATRON SAINT of all things THiNC. Alright, if you’ve never heard of the film Saltburn, watch this trailer, then head off to the theater before you continue reading. Fair enough? Thanks for that.
Saltburn Movie Deep Dive Walkthrough
Last warning – the rest of this discussion will be a very very deep dive into the detailed goings-on of the film Saltburn. We will walk through the comings and goings so that when we start our postmortem on the deceased, we’ll all be on the same table… as it were.
The movie begins with Oliver Quick. An Oxford student on a scholarship, and completely out of his depth. It’s immediately obvious that Mr. Quick has no idea which way is up in this world of world of upper-class sensibilities. In time, Oliver stumbles upon a fellow student named Felix Catton who’s in a bit of a dire straight in that his bike has a flat. Oliver quickly offers up his own bike, and offers to push Felix’s bike back to the shed on his behalf. This starts off a chain of events, like a final snowflake that touches off a murderously rampaging avalanche.
Felix is sympathetic to Oliver’s stories about his parents, whom he has no relationship with. They are apparently drug users, dealers, and have spent considerable time in prison as a result. Oliver even tells Felix that he was 8 the first time he learned how to shove his hand down his mother’s throat in order to make her throw up the toxic stew of alcohol and drugs in her system that will surely kill her otherwise. It’s a riveting telling. Harrowing even. But when Felix becomes annoyed with Oliver’s constant presence, he casts him off like yesterday’s garbage. Then, one day, Oliver shows up at Felix’s place a sobbing mess, apparently his father died suddenly. And in a kind gesture, Felix comforts him and invites him to spend the summer at his family’s sprawling estate, Saltburn.
If Oliver was out of place at Oxford, it’s infinitely worse once he arrives at Saltburn. He arrives early, and finds the doors and gates closed. Once the footmen open the door, he’s berated for not falling in line with all manner of etiquette by letting them know. And it only spirals further and further out of plumb from there. He soon meets Felix’s parents: Sir James (Richard E. Grant) and Lady Elspeth (Rosamund Pike – I Care A Lot). So they are knighted apparently? He also meets Felix’s sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver), and his American cousin, Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and he is roundly gaped at as the rube that he is. I mean, the only thing missing from this medieval family is the alligators in the moat around the castle.
But soon, Oliver finds daylight to manipulate his way into the family. They become very sympathetic to his broken family, and his social inabilities become cute in time. Look! He has no idea to bring cuff-links to our black tie dinners! He continues his infiltration by having sex with Venetia outside in the house garden. Farleigh sees their transgression and tells Felix about it all. Oliver, who has history of nuking past friends that connected with Venetia, is unpleased. But then Oliver lies, and makes it seem like Farleigh is attempting to manipulate him. OBVIOUSLY he wouldn’t make an advance on Venetia. Pshaw. Later, Oliver threatens Farleigh while sexually um, manipulating (?) him. Not sure. But yeah. It’s clear that Oliver is wanting him to know that he shouldn’t get in his way. But it seems as though Oliver’s real target, the real object of his affection? Is obviously Felix. I mean, right? Is that what is going on here? We’ll have to wait and see how this Gordian knot develops.
Coincidences or a Thickening Plot of Revenge?
Soon after, Farleigh is kicked off the premises for attempting to sell extraordinarily rare Palissy plates to Sotheby’s. Was that Farliegh’s doing, or a continuation of Oliver’s threats? Or just a big misunderstanding all the way round? As the summer winds down Lady Elspeth and Sir James are keen to throw Oliver a birthday party. But before they do, Felix catches Oliver unawares and takes him to visit Oliver’s mother. Oliver comes completely unraveled at the thought of being caught out in his enormous lie. Which he has, and while Oliver isn’t even in the same stratosphere of wealth, he isn’t homeless and living on a lice covered mattress. His parents are very well off. Better yet (or worse for Oliver), is that his father is very much still alive! They obviously aren’t addicted to drugs. And they all live a very well adjusted, even normal life. Felix comes unglued – as he rightly should. Oliver has made up his entire life whole cloth. Even worse is what he’s been telling his parents about his time at Oxford – that he’s the top student! It’s painfully obvious that Oliver is working it both directions on multiple fronts.
As a result, Felix tells Oliver that once that evening’s party is concluded, he has ordered Oliver to leave the house, and never to return. Felix even tells Oliver that he should get psychiatric help. In the middle of the family’s maze, Oliver attempts to dissuade Felix from sending him away… to change his mind. But Felix refuses. That night, Oliver spends it roaming the grounds, drinking, sleeping, watching the continuing festivities run well into the morning. Then when Oliver wakes, he hears the sounds of chaos and an uproar. Felix has been found dead at the center of the maze. Oliver implies that Farleigh – who has pushed his way back onto the property for the party – was to blame for Felix’s death. Sir James cuts Farleigh off for good, and forbids his return.
They bury Felix on the property, and Lady Elspeth tells Oliver that he must continue to stay at Saltburn. James isn’t keen. And Venetia either. But what Lady Elspeth wants, she apparently gets, because Oliver is able to continue on at the house. Later, Venetia, while in the tub, talks with Oliver, and she ultimately blocks his sexual advances having grown aghast at how Oliver has continued to consume her brother’s memory. Here are a few quotes from that really insightful dialogue:
“Dad started calling you Spiderman, because you are always weaving your spidery- olivery – web… always sulking around. I don’t think you are a spider, I think you are a moth. Quiet, harmless, drawn to shiny things, hitting up against the windows just trying to get in… well, you’ve made your holes in everything now, you’ll eat us all from the inside out. You are wearing his aftershave aren’t you? I bet you are wearing his underwear too! You ate him right up and you licked the fucking plate.”
Cut to, a few years later when Oliver learns of Sir James’ death in a newspaper. Later, when Oliver “stumbles” into Elspeth at a coffee shop, she seems truly excited to see him and insists that he comes back to Saltburn. Months in, Elspeth becomes ill and Oliver reveals his ownership of the tragedies befalling the house. Oliver manufactured his original run in meeting with Felix, and the flat. He then poisoned him after Felix rejected him. He suggested Venetia should kill herself by placing razor blades at her bath. And he crafted the email with Sotheby’s to frame Farleigh’s expulsion from the estate. And he also orchestrated his run in with Elspeth at the cafe. And we also learn that Elspeth left the entirety of the estate in Oliver’s name. And we watch as Oliver murders Elspeth by shutting off her life support. As the movie ends, Oliver dances around the estate.
A Deeper Dive Into the Movie Saltburn
Saltburn A Deep Dive Into its Mindjob Chaos – Okay. So here we go. The ending’s proactive dumbing down of the obvious slightly annoyed me. Similar to Emerald Fennell’s other mindjoby movie, Promising Young Woman, the ending held the viewer’s hand a bit and spelled it all out for us. But if you didn’t realize that Oliver was murdering pretty much everyone he ran across? I’m sorry, but please take a step back and reconsider your critical thinking skills. Actually, maybe it’s better to assume the best of others? Maybe I’m the one that is so very horribly broken. REGARDLESS, I wasn’t a fan of how Fennell chose to dumb the ending down, and in the process change everything we presumed about the movie. Which, we should really seriously consider – is the movie lying to us? As such, there are exactly to ways to read this movie:
Saltburn Explanation #1 – Oliver As The Scorned Lover
Throughout the first 80% of the film, the movie sets up the characters and the conflicts specifically in reading #1’s direction. Oliver probably came to Oxford for the sole purpose of meeting Felix. He high-jinxed a broken bike. He intervened “coincidentally” at just the right time. He crafted a similar story to others’ backstory, in order to gain Felix’s sentimental interventionist tendencies. The only real flaw in this theory (besides the ending) is that Felix was able to unravel his family’s real story. Why would he have allowed that to occur? Sure, accidental… but seems like a massive failure for someone that is so incredibly smart, and enormously clever. TO JUST LEAVE HIS PHONE SITTING AROUND? Hrm.
Saltburn Explanation #2 – Oliver as Saltburn Obsessive
Want a subtle hint as to how to deconstruct this movie? Remind me what the name of the movie is again. Oh, right, it’s definitely not called Felix. It’s called Saltburn. Could it be that Oliver originally anticipated getting Saltburn via Felix? Sure. Okay. Maybe. But did he really care one way or another about Felix? Not even a little bit. The moment Felix made it clear he thought that Oliver was duplicitous and horrible? He poisoned him to death. And then he began working his way through the family tree, one by one until Saltburn was his.
Oh, wait. There is a third way to read this movie… and it might actually be better than the other two.
Saltburn Explanation #3 – Oliver the Scorned Lover
Take theory one as your predominant theory. Oliver is crazy about Felix. Manipulates his way into his life. He’d do anything for him. He’d die without him. But then, Oliver screws up just one time, and Felix realizes just who Oliver’s family is. That Oliver is lying about everything just to get close to him… and casts him out. And, like the great Shakespearean tragedies of old, Oliver burns it all down, and salts the earth….
S-A-L-T-B-U-R-N! HAhaha. Totally. Yes, the movie is called Saltburn! It’s not called Oxford on the Wye or something. It’s Saltburn! hahah. The verb, of the noun. Not just the noun. I mean, get it? I didn’t clearly. Pardon the slow one in the crowd! hahaha. So, yes, Oliver is mad about Felix, Felix face-palms the kid, and in return? Oliver salts and burns Saltburn. Perfect. That’s it. That’s what I think happened.
Final Thoughts on the Movie Saltburn
Barry Keoghan. Barry Keoghan. Barry Keoghan. The only other actor today that blows all my circuits like Barry Keoghan is Timothée Chalamet (Cooper Hoffman definitely does not count.) The deviousness of the story is also an intriguing selling point. I enjoyed the inverted Dead Poet’s Society of it all. The Oxford school surroundings and instead of the pursuit of knowledge and all that seizing of the day business, we got clawing and scrapping and ripping. It’s almost like Saltburn takes the story of the landed gentry of England and flips it on its head. It’s almost like we see behind the curtain of the really “exceptional” of the world, and we learn that they really aren’t all that exception after all. Reminds me of the craziness of the societal uprising in Mexico in the movie Nuevo Orden.
And yet, it sounds like the movie isn’t that well received by critics and movie goers alike. But they missed out on quite a ride. I personally thought anyway. But what do I know?