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“Saltburn”: The questions you were afraid to ask finally explained

Warning: Spoilers for Saltburn and explicit content in this post

Saltburn, which premiered in late December of last year, truly took the world by storm with scenes from the film still going viral on social media platforms and moviegoers still asking questions about the consistently shocking scenes. 

Directed and written by the Academy Award-winning director, writer, and actress Emerald Fennell, the film showcases an A-list cast with the like of Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, and Carrie Mulligan, just to name a few. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film, it takes place in 2006 in which a poor student on scholarship to Oxford University, Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan), finds himself an outsider. However, by gaining the sympathies of a rich and popular classmate, Felix (Jacob Elordi), Oliver is invited the large family estate named Saltburn. What ensues is a chaotic summer of sex, drinking, and death which, to many moviegoers surprise, held shocking scenes of a mouth covered in menstrual blood, the adoration of a bath filled with semen-water, a sex scene with a grave, and Barry Keoghan dancing to the 2002 hit “Murder on the Dancefloor” completely nude. So…what’s up with that?

1. Vampires and periods

Watching Saltburn’s most controversial sex scene, where Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) goes down on his best friend’s sister, might have been much for those who may or may not have watched the film with an unsuspecting family member. What made the audience so squeamish isn’t necessarily the sex scene itself, but the fact that the entire scene made a point of showing that Oliver Quick was pleasing a woman on her period. Which is graphically show later as he gets into a bathtub to bath and his mouth is covered in menstrual blood. The entire scene got audiences asking, perhaps in between gags, what the point of such a scene was? Needless to say it was far different than what audiences were expecting. 

In an interview with Time magazine, Fennell describes that she doesn’t “…set out to be provocative.” Instead, she only wants to “be honest.” She continues by describing that the film itself is a “vampire movie” where Oliver’s sinister qualities and his takedown of the entire Catton family, shine through.

The period/sex scene is no exception. In fact, the entirety of the scene is about power where, according to Fennell, “We see [Oliver] giving people what they want…” which results in his eventual take over of Saltburn itself. To break down the scene even further, what this scene signifies, is that although Oliver is “beneath” the Catton’s in status and wealth, his giving them what they want—love, adoration, and acceptance— is what gives him power over them.

2. Semen bathwater and graves

Barry Keoghan slurping semen from the drain of a bathtub was definitely not something people were expecting, or hoping, to watch on their Saturday night in. Luckily, Keoghan was able to comment on his scene giving us some insight into the madness of his character. He says, “…he’s submitting to this obsession and trying to figure out what it is he’s chasing. It’s almost like a sacrifice in how he lowers himself into the bath, physically. And when he gets down there, he’s just confused and helpless and sick, you know, to do that.” 

Perhaps audiences can make peace with the uncomfortable bath scene knowing the metaphorical significance of Oliver’s actions. Actions representing his desire for power, wealth, status, and his friend, Felix.

This is only manifested more with the next uncomfortable scene in the film. If you don’t know, Oliver Quick, after the death of Felix, basically makes love with his friend’s grave. Again, in the context of watching this film unknowingly with family, many wondered if the scene was necessary at all. However, looking back, the scene is a powerful character-building moment in which it completely encapsulates Oliver’s inability to handle his own emotions, losing himself to grief and obsession. Without these two unexpected scenes, perhaps Oliver’s obsession, and the irony of his goals as revealed in the end, would not have been as powerful or provocative.

3. Dancing, nudity, and a hit song.

The final scene of the already divisive and shocking film features Oliver, now sole owner of Saltburn, dancing naked to the 2002 hit “Murder on the Dancefloor” in celebration of the deaths of the entire Catton family, mostly orchestrated by his hand, and his succession to everything he was pursuing from the start of the film. The scene mirrors an earlier scene where Oliver is given a tour of the house, but now, no longer a guest, the victor of overcoming the rich and powerful. 

Keoghan told Entertainment Weekly that the scene represents “…ownership. This is my place…”

“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,” the director herself gives further insight.

Saltburn is available to stream on Amazon Prime.


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