To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Saltburn’ is a wild combination of class commentary and sexual shock value

A film trying to make a statement on the lives of the ultra-rich is hardly a new innovation. Many directors have made this attempt, often to success. Now, there is a new version of this commentary, but it is quite different from the past iterations. It is a take that is more modern, more exciting and more sexual. That take is called “Saltburn”. This film shows what happens when an outsider enters the rich estate and experiences this filthy wealth for the first time in his life. What could go wrong? A lot of things could, actually. In today’s world, many people are calling out how the hoarding of wealth by the top percent is creating a problem for society. This film is taking that commentary in a new direction that people will not see coming. The film will keep audience members on their toes, even if they have to look away at some moments. That is what makes the film a thrill. Released in theaters on Nov. 17 and available on Amazon Prime since Dec. 22, Saltburn is showing that even in a life of luxury, everyone has to be careful.

It is the mid-2000s and Oliver (Barry Keoghan) is a poor student attending Oxford on a scholarship. He is immediately fascinated by his fellow classmate, the popular and rich Felix (Jacob Elordi). Their paths cross one day when Felix needs to borrow Oliver’s bike. Because of Oliver’s kindness in this favor, Felix welcomes Oliver into his popular friend group with open arms. When the two men graduate, Felix asks him to stay at his family’s estate, Saltburn, for the summer. That includes staying with his eccentric mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), his serious father James (Richard E. Grant), his seductive sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and his irritable cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe). Suddenly, Oliver is being treated to a life of extravagant luxury. However, it is not all fun and games. Oliver’s infatuation with Felix may go a little far, which could also have effects on Oliver’s connections with the rest of Felix’s family. There may also be some secrets that lurk beneath this visit that could change the course of everyone’s lives. One thing’s for sure: Oliver’s stay at Saltburn is no ordinary summer vacation.

I feel that in a few years, we will look back at this film as the beginning of some serious acting careers. While Keoghan and Elordi have both done notable projects before this film, “Saltburn” allowed the two men to go out of their comfort zones and show off their acting chops. Oliver is a captivating character and Keoghan is able to do him justice. Oliver had many layers and it can be challenging to make the connection between beginning Oliver and ending Oliver believable. Keoghan accomplishes that job fully and is able to grab more and more attention over time. Because of that accomplishment, Keoghan will likely be an actor that we see more of in the future. When it comes to Elordi’s acting, he is also able to portray intrigue in Felix. Elordi has mostly received fame from cheesy teen movies and television shows, so many people did not know what the actor was capable of. While his part may not be as difficult as Keoghan, Felix is still a character that unravels over time and keeps you fascinated the whole way through. That is done through the skills and charisma of Elordi. Another standout, who is already reputable, is Pike as the hilarious Elspeth. While this film is a drama for the most part, Pike is able to keep some moments light with her behaviors and quips, which can sometimes be a nice breather. Amusing would be the best way to describe her character. She does also have her emotional moments, which is played with the excellence that is expected of Pike, but it is the dry humor that makes Elspeth memorable. In general, every character in this film brings some spice to the film and every actor is clearly making the most of their part. That is what helps this film capture viewers.

“Saltburn” is one of those films where the first half feels completely different from the second half. The first half of the film was more straightforward. It demonstrated comparisons between the life of a poor scholarship student and the life of the rich student who practically lives in a castle. While there were some weird moments, the film looked like it had a specific satirical path. However, that was soon proven to not be true. In the second half, the film became chaotic. In many ways, that helped the film, as it made for a unique viewing experience. On the other hand, there were times where it would go all over the place, leading the viewer to be unclear about the takeaways. Does this film want us to “eat the rich?” Are we rooting for the rich? There are many answers to those questions due to the choices and fates of the main characters. Emerald Fennell is the writer and director of “Saltburn,” and she was previously the writer/director of “Promising Young Woman,” one of my favorite films. While the films do not have a lot in common, they are alike in that they go off the rails towards the end. The reason why “Saltburn” falls shorter with that choice is because it all happens so fast that you almost get whiplash. That is what makes some takeaways unclear and you don’t know how you should feel. All that being said, watching this film was a fun viewing experience. It was a film full of energy that always kept the viewer wondering what would happen next. There were also the little details that kept the audience in, like the gorgeous scenery at the university and at Saltburn, and the quippy lines that are quickly passed by. I enjoyed my time watching the film; it was just the time after the end that made me wonder if that is what I wanted out of the ending.

One thing is for sure, the film was hoping to create a big reaction with many of its scenes. Without giving too much away, you may not want to see “Saltburn” with your parents if you want to be able to look them in the eye. There is a variety in the shock shown on screen, but a lot of it is related to sexual actions and bodily fluids. The question is: Are these scenes necessary? They help the film go the distance as well as try to warn the audience that this is not a normal film. While some of those scenes may be intriguing due to how they are not the type of sex scenes you see in most films, at a certain point, it can all be too much. To be clear, this is not a critique of sex scenes as a whole. Most of the time, they can add a lot to a film. However, the sex scenes in this film are not simple. They play on getting a reaction out of the audience and to show the juxtaposition of depravity amongst an upper class lifestyle. That point was understood with all of the scenes, but that point also could have been understood with less of those scenes. In addition, while those scenes have a purpose to the overall film, they don’t always directly influence the plot, which is why some could be taken away. Sex scenes are fun, but we cannot forget about the actual action at play. This is not a kink shame, just a suggestion that an artistic choice could have gone in a different direction

“Saltburn” was certainly a roller coaster, but who doesn’t enjoy riding a roller coaster every now and then? While I have a lot of critiques for this film, that does not mean I did not like the film. I found it to be quirky and thrilling to watch. The ups and downs of it all were what kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the film. In fact, it could be some of the wild problems of this film that make it enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Fixing the problems I had may make this film technically better, but that could take away some of its fun exaggeration and uniqueness. From the clever script to the wild action, this film is having fun, even through the dramatics. That is what makes it a terrific watch even if the actual story could use work. If you want to see a new perspective on the ultra-rich or want unconventional erotic imagery in your mainstream movies, watch “Saltburn” today.

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