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Saltburn–Class Wounds

Saltburn is a 2023 highly original indie psychological thriller written, directed, and co-produced by Emerald Fennell (creator of “A Promising Young Woman”, see my March 25,2021 review).   A brilliant middle-class Oxford student with  few friends (except for one rather sadistic roommate), Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan from “Banshees of Inisherin”) has little appeal with women, but outsized ambitions to be popular with his fellow aristocratic students. A coming-of-age film this is not!

Supernaturally handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), befriends Oliver after  Oliver wins him over describing his difficult life as a scholarship student with parents who are abusive and mentally ill.  When Oliver becomes grief stricken over his father’s death, Felix invites him to spend the summer at their country estate, Saltburn. 

This is where the drama gets macabre, but after a long Masterpiece-paced slog where some viewers might give up.  Don’t!!  The gasps,  shrieks and shocks accumulate in the last half hour.  Several controversial scenes occur when the viewer least expects it, including sexual behavior rarely seen on the screen.  Is  Saltburn wildly funny, dark and kinky, or just twisted?  Maybe all of the above.

Saltburn is mostly about class privilege and a sense of noblesse oblige:  helping others principally for one’s own amusement.  And Oliver is Felix’s family’s plaything.  Or is he?

The beautiful and elegant mother, Elspeth (the always magnificent Rosemund Pike) has been “fostering” poor wretches  She is electrifying in her blithe cruelty, delivering the kind of lines that beautiful evil queens in fairy tales spew, but with the British ‘sang froid’ that makes her words even more jarring. 

But the less fortunate do become tiresome and are then thrown out of their mansion, like Pamela (Carey Mulligan) and Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), ready for a new replacement toy. And so Oliver  becomes her new boy-toy.  

Felix’s insolent, promiscuous sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver) has experienced so much that almost nothing titillates her anymore.  And Felix’s dad, Sir James (Richard E. Grant),  an observer of voyeur proportions, only expresses his feelings when it is too late.

The excess is of obscene proportions:  the size of the mansion, the sex, the disconsolate and loneliness of the family and its patriarch, and most of all, the extreme aspirations of Oliver.  Part “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and part a psychotic “Great Gatsby”, Saltburn is not for everyone.  The lust, debauchery, and psychosexual abnormalcy are only part of the story, however.  The cruelty and brutality of excess leave no one without wounds.  Nothing lasts, no matter how hard one tries. 

The  dark fear center of the brain, the amygdala,  governs and catalyzes everything.  For the obscenely wealthy class, it is the fear of loss and power.  For those aspiring to that life, it is the fear of not achieving that misplaced and wasted dream. 

Availability:  Amazon Prime, currently in the top five films/series to watch, but received no Academy Award or SAG nominations.  

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