Saltburn: A Tale of Deception, Dark Humor, and Unfulfilled Potential

Saltburn is a combination of black comedy and psychological thriller with previously seen plots, from which much more was expected

by Sededin Dedovic
Saltburn: A Tale of Deception, Dark Humor, and Unfulfilled Potential
© MGM / Youtube channel

"Saltburn" is a combination of black comedy and psychological thriller directed, written, and produced by Emerald Fennell, the Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay for her debut film "Promising Young Woman." Set in England in the early 2000s, it follows a modest Oxford University student who becomes obsessed with a wealthy fellow student at his college who invites him to spend the summer at his eccentric family estate.

The film premiered at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on August 31 of last year, was released in theaters on November 22, and arrived on the streaming service Amazon Prime a month later. Nothing about this film is particularly surprising, though the author certainly believed most of it was.

The main character is Oliver Quick (Barry Cogan), a poor boy who was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to a prestigious university. Is he who he seems to be, or should we suspect that something else, and probably much darker, is happening beneath his socially odd behavior? In addition to everyone pronouncing his surname differently, Cogan is a unique young actor capable of being simultaneously creepy, pathetic, and genuinely likable.

From that standpoint, the actor defines Oliver because he is, by all accounts, all of those things at once. Oliver is likable because he comes from a poor family with parents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, but he has overcome difficult life circumstances to make it to Oxford.

Yet, Oliver is also pathetic because he clearly desperately wants to fit in not just among the students but within the select aristocratic group of students.

Saltburn© Prime Video Brasil / Youtube channel

This group belongs to Felix (Jacob Elordi), a tall, handsome, and unimaginably wealthy guy whose father is literally a nobleman and whose family lives in a castle.

Oliver wants to be Felix's friend and, if the introductory narration is to be believed, more than that. At some point after the events we see in this story, Oliver tells someone that he may have once been in love with Felix but definitely loved him.

So, we have a guy who, because of who he is and where he comes from, wants what he can't have, and the twists of this plot come later when a few details about Oliver's background, motive, and capacity for deceit are adjusted.

Saltburn© Prime Video Brasil / Youtube channel

Objectively speaking, these changes don't really change much because Oliver tells us who he is from the very beginning, and the actor's recognizable personality on screen does the rest of the work.

The story is essentially a straight line of deception and manipulation that could have been expected from Oliver's introductory scene alone—it's just a matter of knowing how far this character is willing to go with his actions.

However, if the extended epilogue that ties everything together is any indication, it's clear that the author definitely believes she has deceived us all.

Saltburn© Prime Video Brasil / Youtube channel

This leaves us with perhaps the only truly intriguing element of the story: how creepy and how capable Oliver can be.

What, actually, can be said about Felix's family aside from the usual/stereotypical? His mother (Rosamund Pike) shows kindness and generosity toward an old friend (Carey Mulligan) living in the castle but clearly can't wait to get rid of her.

His father (Richard E. Grant) is an aristocrat who has never wanted anything in life, and Felix's younger sister seems to have a normal head on her shoulders, except for her habit of falling in love with her brother's friends.

Meanwhile, their American cousin Farley recognizes Oliver's motives for attaching himself to this family—mostly because he's like that too. They are all shallow people, which is also the point that isn't too insightful.

It's fun to watch Oliver say exactly what each of them wants to hear, more precisely what they need to hear to believe him and find some distant fondness for him, much like they might have for a puppy. We can see the gears slowly turning, but to what end? The author has made a combination of Oliver's inability to behave properly in this society and his almost supernatural ability to understand what everyone wants, but what does he want? The cinematography and production are definitely the film's strongest points alongside the acting—Saltburn looks beautiful, and I particularly liked the shots where the magnificent castle simultaneously appears glamorous and neglected.

However, despite the grandiose setting and talented cast, the film fails to deliver a more compelling narrative, particularly interesting characters, or unexpected twists. "Saltburn" is an eccentric and provocative version of "The Talented Mr.

Ripley" in which the lavish visual aesthetics and the lead actor's performance cannot be praised enough, but more or less, the accolades stop there.