It must be confirmed that Emerald Fennell has a good eye for the camera. What she wants in front of her lens is carefully planned up to the standard of Stanley Kubrick or Coen Brother’s camera angles. We noticed her directorial talent for ‘Promising Young Woman’ and now she has followed up her signature trademark of intriguing camera shots where symbolism and metaphors are used. The average film watcher wouldn’t care or notice any of this, but films like Emerald Fennell’s ‘Saltburn’ deserve to be analysed, studied, and discussed especially for future film school students.
The plot is a modern version of ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ Barry Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a supposedly working-class student from Merseyside on scholarship at Oxford University. He finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate, Felix Catton, superbly played by Jacob Elordi, who invites Oliver to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for a summer never to be forgotten. When a working-class kid like Oliver is drawn at Oxford to study Literature; to be able to breathe the same air as Felix let alone be friends in his circle of aristocracy is not only a privilege; but more an opportunity to play his cards cunningly and close to his chest. What must this ‘nobody’ do to be noticed? What games must he play to befriend Felix? What must Oliver do to gain Felix’s trust? Being amiable is an understatement. It also requires quick thinking, planning and treachery.
Once the friendship is struck, he’s in! A chance to experience extreme privilege and public life. When Oliver meets Felix’s aristocratic family, they are spoilt, snobbish and up their own backsides but have likeable qualities as we appreciate they too like the simple things in life like singing karaoke and watching ‘Superbad.’ To welcome Oliver in their circles is like treating him like a pet to play with, but once that pet crosses the guest boundaries, that is where friendship is truly tested and the thoughts of dumping that friend can be truly uncomfortable viewing.
The fact that Barry Keoghan has enjoyed his Bafta success after his supporting actor win in ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ it is only right to take advantage of this opportunity; hence, to soon play the Joker in Robert Pattinson’s timeline of ‘The Batman’ will truly make him flourish into Hollywood A-List stardom. But to see him take the lead in ‘Saltburn’ is a wise choice indeed. Putting aside his futile role in ‘Top Boy,’ Keoghan is excellent in ‘Saltburn’ as he follows Fennell’s challenging direction brilliantly. We clearly see that Keoghan’s Oliver is obsessed with Felix. The audience squirm to see him lick the bathtub that Felix ejaculated in whilst bathing. Keoghan is not afraid to hold back as he engages in period sex with Felix’s sister Ventia played brilliantly by Irish newcomer Alison Oliver. She arguably steals the film as she eventually sees Oliver’s true colours. She claims he is ‘real’ but then “a moth. Quiet, harmless, drawn to shiny things.” Truly, the symbolism for the audience regarding the moth reference is a moth is associated with dreams and intuition. This may be because they are drawn to light, E.G. Extreme wealth and power. We know Oliver’s hidden intentions once this allegation is made.
As ‘Promising Young Woman’ is filled with symbolism that Carrey Mulligan’s character is an avenging angel/Saint-like figure, we if we are noticing Fennell’s trademarks in her camera angles on Oliver will be that he is the devil. We can base him as a discreet Damian Thorn from ‘The Omen.’ Someone who will feed of others to rise to power. How he will use Felix and his family to do this is the fun journey we embark on. The best camera shot is to see Oliver sitting at a glass table where we see him sitting upwards and we see his reflection facing downwards. The symbolism cleverly conveys his duplicity or that that this boy belongs down in Hell instead of the Saltburn estate, where he will have a chance to rise to the top.
Finally, Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike as Felix’s parents are perfectly cast and do a sound job. Nonetheless, to not mention Jacob Elordi would be sacrilegious. There is no doubt that one day, he will evolve in the league of Pitt, Gosling or Clooney. This Australian talent must not forget his roots of what got him here. Even if he has the second lead in ‘Saltburn’ and will play Elvis Presley in ‘Priscilla’, Elordi must return for one more season of ‘Euphoria’ in order to keep more grounded and modest. This will garner respect from his fans. Overall, ‘Saltburn’ is a perfect Emerald Fennell product. She has a high chance to gain another best director Oscar nomination but may lose out on Nolan or Scorsese. At least Fennell chooses fun pop music for her films unlike Nolan. Let’s just say, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ will be revived and then some. The song will never be thought of in the same way after you see ‘Saltburn.’
Drama | UK, 2023 | 15 | Cinema | 17th November 2023 (UK) | Warner Bros Pictures | Dir. Emerald Fennell | Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madekwe, Rosamund Pike, Richard E.Grant, Carrey Mulligan, Alison Oliver