Too late - all these minds were cooked long ago
dir: Emerald Fennell
This fucking film…
I don’t know how I feel about this flick. Some parts of it are funny, some are excruciating, some are downright sickening, but I still don’t know how I feel about it.
It is kind of an update on Brideshead Revisited, in that it has the similar initial setup and is mostly set at a grand / ghastly country estate, but they could not be more dissimilar in their themes or resolution. Our Charles Ryder, as in, our wide-eyed non-aristocrat innocent who finds himself hanging out with the landed gentry in this instance is called Oliver Quick. But instead of just being some young guy at Oxford with hopes and dreams, we have Oliver played by blue-eyed psychopath of the moment, being Barry Keoghan.
Since receiving plaudits for his role as the village idiot in The Banshees of Inisherin, perhaps that is pretty much the role he’ll be playing for the rest of his career? Oliver gets into Oxford, but he’s not from aristocrat money, and he’s not a social gadfly. So he’s on the outside, perpetually looking in. Much of the film literalises this by having Oliver looking through people’s windows, and only occasionally looking out of a window, at someone near his window. There’s always a pane of glass / the pain of separation between him and everyone else.
He sees one person to whom others flock, like moths to a flame, being Felix (Australia’s Own Jacob Elordi, who seems to be having his moment), but there’s no way for a nobody like Oliver to get into his world.
As luck would have it, one day Felix has a flat tyre on his bike on the way to class, and Oliver is on hand to loan him his bike instead. It’s less the start of a beautiful friendship and more just an in. Felix is plenty grateful and at least deigns to shine some of his social light in Oliver’s direction. Oliver talks of growing up in poverty and having addicts for parents.
That’s tough, and though it elicits some sympathy, eventually, Felix loses interest, especially since the rest of his friends don’t even want to sit near Oliver due to the stench of being poor.
But hark, is that another tragedy on the horizon? Oliver confesses to Felix that his father has just died, probably due to drugs. Oh, woe is me.
Woe is you, Oli. Why don’t you come out to my palatial estate after exams? Mother and Father would be delighted to meet you. And of course stay the entire summer if you like, it’ll be grand.
Let me just say that up to this point, almost every interaction Oliver has had with anyone has been excruciatingly awkward. I had hoped that after that introductory bit, we’d be able to move on from it. For me it was just way too painfully reminiscent of my first few months at university. It would be rare, I hope, for anyone to experience such a profound level of awkward alienation, but damn, was it familiar.
The rich people stuff… not so much. But then many of us, not all of us, but even those of us profoundly ungifted in the social stakes have days or moments, or are blessed with exquisite luck by a chaotic universe to eventually find a group of people who get you, who laugh at your jokes, and don’t make you feel like complete shit about yourself.
In a major turn-up for the books, Oliver doesn’t at all find that at Saltburn, the country estate. Almost everyone mocks him openly to his face, including the staff, and he never really seems to get comfortable with any of these people, other than Felix. The thing is, the film is setting us up for something: It’s saying “these fucking loathsome rich people, they’re so loathsome! Wouldn’t it be funny, and apt, and poetic justice if some awful shit happened to them?”
Yes, out of touch rich people are no doubt awful. And yet other than the toe-curling awful stuff they say behind Oliver’s back, or the openly disdainful (but mostly accurate) stuff they say to his face, no-one really deserves whatever divine seeming retribution is on its way, least of all Felix.
The thing we don’t know while watching it, that we’ll only know at the end, is why Oliver is narrating events to someone, but really to us in the audience, seemingly as the last one standing. And then we do understand, and we might have a moment where we go “Ah, now I get it.”
But then that moment should be followed up with “But wait, what the fuck?”
Everything we see gives us the pretty strong impression that Oliver adores Felix, like utterly longs for him. Sexually, for his time, for his attention, for his anything. And maybe, we think, it's less like a selfless love, and more like envy, where he wishes he could be Felix, to have his looks, height and charisma. But maybe it’s broader than that, that Oliver wishes he had a family that dotes on him, a social circle of witty and attractive admirers, and a guaranteed (and relatively easy) path through life.
And a fucking royal title. But despite how much evidence we’re given for this, later on, I have not much of an idea how much of it we were meant to take seriously.
Oliver is less a character and more hunger personified. He is also, without any shadow of a doubt a far more terrible person than anyone else in the flick. If the sin of the “wealthy” is in their not being able to see the humanity of poorer people, then how do we side with Oliver, who sees none of them as worthy of living?
There’s a step the flick takes whereby Oliver is no longer the harmless bystander, and actively starts manipulating the people around him, with word and deed, and you could write it off as just Oliver removing obstacles from what his heart desires, which is, having Felix to himself.
But then you think – where did this come from? If Oliver has cause, as in, if he’s actively pursuing revenge because of something done to him or someone he loved, then maybe we can understand that motivation. It’s a human motivation, after all.
I don’t know that the film does enough to earn our sympathies for Oliver’s intentions, is all I’m saying. It’s possible to see the rich fucks as shitty people, but since Oliver is shittier and more dishonest than all the rest put together, well, fuck ‘em all, I say.
The film transforms from being a drama, to maybe being a melodrama, to devolving into something macabre and grotesque beyond what makes any earthly sense, and I kind of lost respect for what it was trying to do. And whatever story it thinks it’s telling, it takes way too fucking long to tell it. This is two and a quarter hours, and I don’t think there’s that much mood setting or story to tell to justify it.
It also doesn’t need the flashback scenes to explain how everything was orchestrated from the start. If you got to the end of the movie confused as to how all of these awful things seemed to happen for a purpose, then you were probably confused, or drunk, or so grossed out by the flick’s sickening fixation on bodily fluids that you couldn’t figure out the obvious for yourself.
The worst flashback, the least necessary and the most insulting, is probably where Oliver, older, with a slightly better hairstyle, is sitting in a café writing on a laptop.
EXCEPT HE’S NOT!!! It’s an elaborate ruse. He’s typing nonsense into the laptop, don’t you see? It was all to trick Elspeth into thinking that he was REALLY sitting there at random, typing on a laptop.
You know what would have been even more cunning? If he’d been looking up the Wikipedia page for The Talented Mr Ripley, or writing his own slash fanfic for Brideshead’s Gonna Get Revisited Tonight!. That would really have been a clever revelation.
Performance-wise, I think everyone does exactly what they need to do. Rosamund Pike as the constantly talking Elspeth is a particular delight. Her throwaway anecdote about being the girl Jarvis Cocker from Pulp based the song “Common People” on is perfectly delightful, especially since she brings it up specifically to say that it couldn’t have been her (humble brag), because she never had a “thirst for knowledge”. And she delivers with every single line she's given.
Everyone is pretty great in their roles, even Carey Mulligan’s few minutes of screentime as Poor Dear Pamela, a sad hanger-on with nowhere else to go. It seems like the biggest problem these rich people have is always having people want to stay with them in their palatial estate. What a tremendous burden. Why does no-one talk about their pain?
Everyone is great in their roles (even darling, delightful Richard E. Grant) except maybe Barry Keoghan. He is perfectly the look they wanted for the film, with those terrifying eyes, that weird face, and the body of a Roman statue like the ones that populate the estate. And they talk about his large penis in the flick as his saving grace, and then the end of the film makes it obvious for the rest of us by having him dance around naked to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s banger from 20 years ago “Murder on the Dance Floor.”
But I’m not sure how we were meant to feel about that as a scene of triumph by our hero / antihero over the aristocracy. So many innocent / harmless people died for that cock shot to happen. I feel honour-bound to question whether it was worth it.
6 times this flick ain’t all that, but it’s something, especially if you hate rich people, and if you don't, you’re probably one of them out of 10
“He doesn't like sharing his toys. Even the ones he doesn't want to play with any more.” – it’s hard to share - Saltburn