It’s kinda crazy to think the same person who played Midge in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is directing the new and refreshed twist of Talented Mr. Ripley. Emerald Fennell’s second film debut after Promising Young Woman, Saltburn, premiered in cinemas on November 17th 2023 and has recently made its way to the groupchat’s steamy discussions. 1..2..3..4.. Let me hear you scream if you want some more! (I have been blasting this old gem Perfect (Exceeder) by Mason for two weeks now).

Saltburn tells the story of Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), an outsider student at Oxford drawn to a handsome member of the wealthy elite, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi from Euphoria and Priscilla). Early in the summer, Felix invites Oliver to his family’s luxurious estate, where he meets a bunch of peculiar characters.

Captured on classic 35mm film, Saltburn showcases Felix's luxurious country estate, bringing to life the intriguing characters both within and beyond its walls. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Fennell highlights the film's distinctive 1.33:1 aspect ratio, reminiscent of the standard for television before the era of widescreen TVs. During their visits to the estate, Fennell and the Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren experimented with various aspect ratios, yet consistently found the allure of the nearly square 1.33 ratio irresistible. “It gives you the impression of peeping in, and that’s kind of what this is. It’s a doll’s house and we’re all kind of peeping in, scrabbling to get in,”

Amidst the untamed summer at Saltburn, Oliver and his hosts revel in leisurely, sun-kissed days by the estate's pools and ponds, indulge in quirky parties that extend into the late hours of the night, and engage in intricate mind games that leave a lasting impact on everyone involved. In her second feature, Fennell fearlessly explores provocative themes and presents visceral, at times sensuous moments that are bound to linger in the minds of the audience.

We are all in this very strange world now, I think, of wanting. We’re just in a perpetual state of desire and need and want,” she says. “Our relationship with the things that we want when we look on Instagram, or we look at clothes, or we look at food, whatever it is: “I both want it and I’m disgusted with myself for wanting it.” This film truly shows the animalic urges, desires, fleeting nonsensical feelings you have that just explodes. So much of that just kinda scatters out. It’s grotesque but it feels true.

Keoghan, renowned for his Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-awarded work in The Banshees of Inisherin and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, delivered a truly exceptional performance in Saltburn. Now, as he finds himself longlisted for a BAFTA nomination in the Leading Actor category for Outstanding British Film, it's challenging to imagine another actor embodying the character of Oliver with the same cohesion and resonance with the audience. He remains the pulsating heart of this film, a genuinely magnetic performer. This movie solidified my decision: "I will watch any film with Barry Keoghan in it from now on."

⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️ Major Spoiler Alert ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️

Do not proceed beyond this point if you haven't seen Saltburn and would not want us to spoil it. You have been warned. 👀

⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️ Major Spoiler Alert ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️


The Tales of Daedalus, Icarus, Theseus and the Minotaur

In Oliver’s birthday party thrown by Elspeth with a Midsummer Night’s Dream theme, the tale of Oliver unfolds. Wearing deer antlers befitting the theme, Oliver begins the night seemingly vulnerable and outcast. The narrative draws inspiration from a classic Greek myth where the young warrior Theseus ventures into a labyrinth to confront the minotaur, the half-bull, half-man monster who terrorises the Cretan royal family. Theseus slays the minotaur in the labyrinth, only to manipulate the royal family he offered to help and win the crown for himself. At Saltburn, the characters, Felix and Oliver, weave a modern tapestry echoing the ancient fable. The narrative dances with themes of hubris, consequence, and the delicate balance between creation and destruction. Initially, my perception of Oliver aligned with that of the Minotaur—an individual captured by circumstances, evoking sympathy, yet ultimately emerging as Daedalus, the mastermind behind the labyrinth.

The symbolism is rich; Felix's wings echo the tragedy of Icarus, the maze itself bears a Minotaur statue, and in the narrative, Daedalus, akin to Oliver, is the creator of the intricate maze. 

After he owns all and it’s empty, the visual narrative unfolds with striking static shots, culminating in a poignant scene featuring Perseus slaying Medusa. Oliver now assumes the role of Perseus, envisioning himself as the heroic figure. At first we thought Oliver was the Minotaur, a victim of circumstance that we feel sorry for him but at the end he is actually Daedalus, the architect who creates the maze.


Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

While critics may categorise "Saltburn" as another addition to the "eat the rich" genre, it's important to recognise the nuances that set it apart. The film, indeed, delves into the theme of societal disparity, yet it intricately differentiates itself by portraying Oliver, not as a struggling underdog, but someone with a privileged background. His pursuit of Saltburn is devoid of socio-political commentary; it's a journey of shameless self-indulgence.


The brilliance of the characters adds a layer of authenticity, injecting humour into a narrative that satirises the British class system. The mockery, both visually and through dialogue, creates a rich and amusing tapestry. "Saltburn" emerges not merely as a cinematic critique of wealth, but as a feast for both the audience and the film's central figure, Oliver, in his extravagant pursuit. The film navigates the delicate balance of satire and storytelling, providing a unique lens through which to examine the themes of privilege and excess.

Talented Mr. Ripley and Parasite on a modern and twisted gothic spin

Throughout the film we see Oliver really wanting to be Felix and in the end, the climax of his yearning is encapsulated in the final scenes, where Oliver, in a mirrored fashion, replicates Felix’s first house tour at the start of Summer. The act, now in reverse, serves as an archaic metaphor portraying a subtle dance of emulation.

This concept reminds me of the deception and obsession in the 1999 Talented Mr. Ripley starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Jude Law; Oliver as the central figure longing for a chance to belong in a world of bright shiny things through a perceived obsession / infatuation with a male counterpart that is seemingly unaware that they are the object of desire or pure envy.

The final scene, a dance of liberation, depicts Oliver in a state of undress, evoking a Greek statue. Each movement seems a deliberate pose—a celebration of his self-perceived heroism, an exhibition of the glory he believes he has attained, laid bare for the world to witness. He is basking in the glory that he’s achieved.

All in all, this is a film about voyeurism, I suppose, and desire and watching. Saltburn is now available to stream online on Amazon Prime Videos.

January 14, 2024

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About the author

Thyra Amelinda

Thyra is a content creator. Previously a social media manager at a creative PR agency, she’s been in the creative industry for almost 4 years and is currently on a quest to empower people especially young women through her musings. As an individual who aims to live a simple life, she loves spending her time reading, writing and playing tennis—anything to be away from the hustle bustle.