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Saltburn: A Shocking Movie or Statement on The Class System in Britain?



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Hot out of cinema, Saltburn directed by Emerald Fennell, has raked in 18.7 million USD since its release in 2023. However, despite the gruesome tale depicted, some have called out the twisted tale for highlighting how evident the class divide in Great Britain is.

A class divide people have stated that Saltburn, as a place, is depicted completely differently than it is in real life, as Saltburn has low health and mental health rate compared to other places in the Teesside district. Along with this, residents call it ‘a depressing place with tourists coming all over for nothing.’ Juxtaposing this, the Saltburn castle as depicted in the film includes vast lakes, greenery, and grandeur like you have never seen before, and of course, is owned by a wealthy family.

The main protagonist, ‘Felix Catton’ (played by Jacob Elordi), portrays a privileged, wealthy student attending Oxford, whereas the antagonist, ‘Oliver Quick’ (played by Barry Keoghan), represents a poorer student who is treated despairingly by the richer students. Despite this portrayal, in the early 2000s, when the film was set, the number of state students attending Oxford outweighed the number of privately schooled pupils, leading to the film being criticized.

 Oliver's main choice in the film was to be a ‘beige person’ or, as he was known, not poor enough to be known but not rich enough to hang out with everyone else, consequently leading to him having ‘no personality’. Many have critiqued this stance as they feel like they are being picked out due to their status, but that’s what ultimately drives the film’s murderous motifs.

 ‘Saltburn’ is depicted as a castle, a marvelous grand place that holds only the highest, skewing audiences into the spectacle of upper-class parties and the love of fancy dresses and decorative plates that cost more than some people’s homes. Many say that nothing harmful comes from the film as it is a ‘poking fun at the time warped concept'; however, others have slated the film for its insensitive view with butlers at hand and foot, drug taking, and talking cruelly about the lower classes.



The fatality of men



A big theme in Emerald Fennell’s’ tale is murder and death, more specifically the desensitization and culture of the higher classes attitudes towards death. Once the main protagonist has been murdered, a quick scheme to cover it up begins, with the family not mentioning the death and closing the curtains while his body is carried out so no one can see it. Could this be Fennell taking a jab at how death is just a clockwork procedure in the richer parts, or is this just an interesting plot point for people to analyze themselves?


A reoccurring motif throughout the whole film is Greek mythology, more specifically the image of the Minotaur, which stands menacingly in the middle of the maze in Saltburn, and the scene of ‘Felix’ murder. In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was the offspring of a Minoan queen and a bull- human body with a bull head. The monster is condemned to live in an underground labyrinth (like the maze described by police in Saltburn). Eventually, the Minotaur is slain by a young hero called Theseus, putting an end to years of human slaughter caused by the Minotaur. Theseus, however, eventually manipulates the royal family so he can have the crown. This is a direct reference throughout and shows Fennell’s incredible storytelling and how the film is popular amongst many.


The Minotaur


A clear thought that seems to run rife through reviews is the drug culture and how harmful it could be for an audience rated 15+. The characters are seen drinking on end and doing drugs such as cocaine as part of a daily habit. Many believe this glorification of substances could lead to more serious problems, as younger people can be easily influenced by these characteristics. They are in scenes where they are seen drinking early in the morning, and despite being normal in the film and their household, it poses many major risks.

This, however, hasn’t skewed the reviews, as Olivia posted a public review saying. “I like this movie a lot! I thought it was so beautifully shot and I loved how provocative it was, and that it showed deeply graphic scenes that are really never shown in media. that period sex scene was bananas. the only thing is that I almost wanted more insanity, it could’ve been even weirder for me.” (Letterbox review page)

Exposure to alcohol content in films has been linked to earlier onset adolescent drinking, even when viewing with friends and family It can lead to increased intake, especially in younger adolescents. If you need help with alcohol management, resources are available online to help.

 Whilst the plot is not meant to be a scathing critique of capitalism convincing the middle class that reaching aristocracy is achievable, the undertones still seem to remain, as many people are adamant that the undertones are that it is a jab at the different classes. The plot, however, seems to be named a ‘vampire’ film, as antagonist Barry is essentially doing ‘period play’ with another character. While being revolting to some, others have made it explicitly clear that the sexual aspects of the film add to it in general and therefore display the way the upper class can literally get away with anything!

 Along the same sexual lines, a wild debate has sparked up, as in an uncomfortable scene, ‘Oliver’ is seen on top of another character, ‘Farleigh’ (played by Archie Madekwe), forcing him to listen and, as he quotes, ‘behave’. However, during this sexual scene, not only did Farleigh not want to conform to ‘Olivers’ words and motifs, but there was no consent given between both characters. Many have taken to social media to show displeasure and have questioned the reason for the sexual assault that appears to take place, as they believe the same message could’ve been achieved without the uncomfortable and triggering scene. A review on Letterbox by ‘Citizen Gains’ states, ‘I feel like this film doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be. All over the place. Grotesque in the worst ways. Just a confusing experience. acting was good for the most part.’


Have you viewed the film, and if so, what are your thoughts on it?




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