The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Aaron Bros Sidebar

Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn Is the Hottest Nightmare of the Year

Arts reporter Cristina Rodriguez talks to Emerald Fennell about her new film Saltburn.
Barry+Keoghan+stars+as+Oliver+and+Archie+Madekwe+as+Farleigh+in+Emerald+Fennells+upcoming+film+Saltburn.+Image+courtesy+MGM+and+Amazon+Studios.+
Barry Keoghan stars as Oliver and Archie Madekwe as Farleigh in Emerald Fennell’s upcoming film Saltburn. Image courtesy MGM and Amazon Studios.

Have you ever dreamt of spending a summer in the British countryside, surrounded by luxury, basking in the sun, while the intimidatingly attractive Jacob Elordi sits beside you, leisurely enjoying a popsicle? In Saltburn, director Emerald Fennell opens the door to this world. But not everything is as idyllic as you might have imagined.

Saltburn is Fennell’s second feature film, following her critically acclaimed debut, Promising Young Woman, which earned her an Oscar in 2021 for Best Original Screenplay. This time, Fennell takes her audience to England with the story of Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a first-year at Oxford University who strikes up a friendship with charming aristocrat Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). Over the summer, Felix invites Oliver to his family’s estate, Saltburn, where Oliver finds himself thrust into the middle of a peculiar family dynamic and lavish lifestyle. Over time, Oliver finds it harder and harder to escape his desires and becomes lost in the splendor of Saltburn.

In crafting the world of Saltburn, Fennell was not afraid to blend the beautiful and the scandalous. During a college roundtable discussion, Fennell emphasized the importance of watching the film in a movie theater, saying that “it’s hard to feel uncomfortable on your own.” She continued, “There’s something about sitting next to someone, especially a stranger, where you realize this is a communal experience that we’re all confronting together.” Fennell recognizes and embraces the wide range of reactions that audiences have had to the characters in Saltburn: “Am I supposed to find this sexy? Am I supposed to find this transgressive? Am I supposed to root for this character? To like this person? Am I supposed to find this person hot? You know? And the answer to all of it, always, is yes. And there is no permission, however, you feel is how you feel. And if you want to laugh, or you want to gasp or just be silent, that’s all good, too.”

Fennell points to gothic romance and vampire films as important references for Saltburn. This influence is evident in the film’s cinematography, which portrays the Saltburn estate in a strikingly different way during the day compared to the night. Discussing this contrast, Fennell explained, “There’s the kind of sunshine, the kind of saturated, kind of colorful, hot, sweaty, burning summer. And then there’s the things that happen kind of in the nighttime, which are the more… Nosferatu-style, kind of erotic moments.” To achieve this atmosphere, Fennell said she worked closely with Saltburn’s director of photography, Linus Sandgren.

In Saltburn, Felix’s family estate not only serves as the backdrop to Oliver’s journey but also contributes to the story’s development through its design and intimidating presence. The property, located in Northamptonshire, seems to have an endless number of rooms and meticulously preserved spaces. However, the audience only catches subtle hints of the presence of any staff members cleaning or performing maintenance duties. According to Fennell, this concealed labor element mirrors the voyeuristic essence inherent to such opulent spaces. “Everyone watches, everyone talks, and so there’s that feeling of constantly being watched and judged even though it’s not on the surface and then there’s also the kind of like erotic side of that which is that every room has multiple doors for staff to get inside and out without being seen and therefore there are lots of places that you can watch from and be watched [from],” Fennell said.

Additionally, Fennell believes that this artificial image of effortless beauty in aristocratic settings reflects the superficiality of the film’s characters. She explained, “Everyone talks about how likable Felix is, but the thing about Felix is that he does something really callous or misogynistic or racist in every single scene. He does something kind of shitty. But because he’s so beautiful and because he’s so charming, charismatic, it’s always sort of asking what the audience is going to forgive.”

Despite delving into darker themes of obsession and classism, Saltburn at its core is a dark comedy, with some of its sharpest dialogues delivered by the talented Rosamund Pike, who portrays Felix’s cunning mother, Elspeth. Fennell believes that the comedy draws the audience closer to the events of the film, even making them complicit. She explained, “If you’re laughing at Elspeth Catton, and her absolute cruelty to her daughter…she’s vile about her daughter, and yet, we love her. We’re laughing along because we’re beguiled by it. And the moment you’re laughing you’re complicit.”

As she looks to the future, Fennell believes that laughter will continue to be an integral part of her artistic expression. She said, “I just don’t know how else to be honest about things without being able to kind of laugh.” In Saltburn, Fennell demonstrates exactly that—showcasing Oliver’s harrowing journey from desire to madness through a strong comedic lens.

Saltburn, rated R, comes out on November 17 in select theaters, and on November 22 in theaters everywhere.

Leave a Comment
Donate to Chicago Maroon
$800
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation makes the work of student journalists of University of Chicago possible and allows us to continue serving the UChicago and Hyde Park community.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Cristina Rodriguez, Photographer
Donate to Chicago Maroon
$800
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All Chicago Maroon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *