*** PROCEED WITH CAUTION: Major spoilers ahead for Saltburn. ***
At long last, Saltburn is here.
Filmmaker Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, it tells the story of an Oxford University scholarship student named Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) who finds himself drawn into the wold of his charming, much, much wealthier classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), spending an eventful summer with his eccentric family at their massive estate, the eponymous Saltburn.
As if that intriguing logline and those hot young stars weren’t enough, the darkly comedic drama immediately shot to the top of our must-see lists this year when we heard it described as “similar in tone” to The Talented Mr. Ripley, the (excellent!) 1999 psychological thriller about a sexually ambiguous con man.
That comparison also had us wondering if there was something more to Saltburn‘s central friendship of Oliver and Felix—like Ripley, would there be heavy homoerotic subtext between them? Might one (or both) characters actually be gay?
Well, now that we’ve had a chance to see the movie, we’ve finally got some answers. And, honestly, our jaw’s still on the floor over just how far this movie goes, delivering “a lot of nudity and explicit scenes,” as promised, plus a handful of other moments that are sure to have people talking.
So, with Saltburn in select theaters now (and opening wide on November 22), let’s break down just how gay it is, really.
*And, fair warning, we’ll definitely be getting into some spoiler territory here, but will do our best to avoid the narrative’s biggest twists and turns so that even the curious can read on and still be surprised when they get to the movie theater.*
The camera’s as obsessed with Jacob Elordi as we are
In Saltburn‘s opening moments we hear Keoghan’s Oliver speaking to an unknown person about his connection with Elordi’s Felix—adamant that, while he wasn’t in love with his friend, he did love him.
The monologue plays over a montage that seems to betray what Oliver’s saying, offering up many voyeurtistic shots of Felix: sun-bathing in an amber field, watching him through a window as he makes out with a young woman, and plenty of gratuitous close-ups of his armpits.
Look, Jacob Elordi is absolutely gorgeous, and Emerald Fennell knows it, making the muscled, 6’5″ actor’s striking beauty one of her movie’s strongest motifs. Who needs special effects when you’ve got him?
By frequently showcasing Felix in both loving—and leering—light, Saltburn makes it easy to see why he’s the object of Oliver’s obsession. And the audience’s.
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Everybody’s a little bit queer
Maybe it’s the posh, hedonistic world Saltburn enmeshes itself in, but every character seems at least a little bit gay, don’t they?
For example: Early on, we meet Felix’s American cousin, Farley (Archie Madekwe) who’s been leeching off the family’s money for some time now. And though his sexuality is never directly declared, we’re told he has a history of offering sexual favors to anyone and everyone to get what he wants.
And then there’s Felix’s mum, Lady Elspeth Catton, played with a pitch-perfect haughtiness by Rosamund Pike, whose every line reading feels readymade for memes and GIFs on Gay Twitter™. Though she has some sort of sexless arrangement with the elder Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant), even she admits to having played the field in the past—in the most hilarious way possible.
@mgmstudios Some like it wet. Some like it dry. Your call. See Rosamund Pike in #Saltburn ♬ original sound – MGM Studios
There is one gay sex scene—but it’s not what you might expect
Okay, we’re starting to get a bit more spoiler-y here, so you’ve been warned!
The longer Oliver stays with the Catton family at the Saltburn estate, the more he entwines himself in all of their lives—seemingly as ploy to not just get closer to Felix, but to feel closer to him.
While Felix’s parents are almost too welcoming to their guest, Farley is pretty immediately onto Oliver, pegging him as an interloper (likely out of self-serving preservation). So, Oliver make an audacious power play: He sneaks into Farley’s bed in the middle of the night, shoves his hand down his underwear, and coaxes him into sleeping together.
It’s not an explicit scene, per se, but it’s definitely the movie’s most overtly gay moment of intimacy. It also underscores one of Saltburn‘s most potent themes: The weaponization of sexuality.
Barry Keoghan is utterly fearless
At just 31, Keoghan already has quite a remarkable filmography, from respected indies (The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, The Green Knight) to blockbusters (Dunkirk, The Eternals), to his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in last year’s The Banshees Of Inisherin.
But Saltburn is the young star’s best showcase yet, proving that there’s no such thing as too far if the role asks for it.
In a showstopping, mid-movie scene, his character spies on Felix masturbating in the bathtub. Unaware, Felix finishes and then leaves the bathroom as the tub drains, and that’s when Oliver himself slithers in and even begins lapping up the dirty bathwater, eventually—brace yourselves—licking the drain like he’s performing anilingus.
Yeah, Barry Keoghan really goes there. But that gasp-inducing moment is nearly outdone by another later on, which… well, actually this one we really can’t tell you without ruining one of the movie’s biggest twists in the narrative. You’d have to see it to believe it anyway!
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The whole point of the movie is queer desire
So, yes, Saltburn features some of the most brazen, provocative moments we’ve ever seen in a mainstream movie. But Fennell’s film isn’t just trying to shock you (though it does a d*mn good job of that), there’s a method to its madness.
Speaking recently with The Pink News, the writer-director says Saltburn is “absolutely” a queer film.
“This is a film entirely about desire, and that desire takes every conceivable manifestation, and it’s so important,” Fennell shares. “Yeah, of course, [queerness is] part of the very fabric of the film… This is a world where everyone wants everyone.”
This goes especially for Oliver and Felix, whose relationship almost plays out like a rom-com in the film’s first act, complete with a seemingly sweet meet-cute (see blow).
Fennell continues: “I think there are some characters in this that are almost so hyper-hetero that they feel comfortable toeing the line, and then there are characters who are absolutely fluid in every conceivable way.”
The dance sequence everyone’s going to be talking about
And if you still need proof that Saltburn is for the gays, well… We suppose it doesn’t really spoil specific plot details to tell you that the movie’s final scene is a minute-long, unbroken sequence where Barry Keoghan dances around a house to U.K. chanteuse Sophie Ellis Bextor’s 2001 bop, “Murder On The Dance Floor.”
Oops, we almost forgot to mention: He’s complete nude the entire time, letting it all hang out. Truly, Keoghan is fearless. We have no choice but to stan.
Saltburn is now playing in select theaters. The film opens in theaters everywhere on November 22.
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