Emerald Fennell explains why Saltburn’s ending had to be so naked

Saltburn has formed up as certainly one of 2023’s most divisive love-it-or-hate-it motion pictures. Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to her 2020 writer-director debut, Promising Younger Lady, is radically totally different from that film in look and tone, however her expertise for pushing boundaries and demanding a response continues to be entrance and middle, and Saltburn is the type of button-pusher that typically both thrills individuals or makes them indignant. Critics have responded both ways: “Superficially smart and deeply stupid,” Mick LaSalle grumps in the San Francisco Chronicle, whereas Entertainment Weekly’s Maureen Lee Lenker calls it “a triumph of the cinema of excess, in all its orgiastic, unapologetic glory.”

And probably the most divisive components is the ending, which might be learn equally as sly artwork or rank titillation, relying on how you’re feeling about full-frontal male nudity. Polygon dug into it in an interview with Fennell shortly earlier than the film’s launch.

[Ed. note: End spoilers for Saltburn follow.]

Picture: Prime

Within the film, hungry social climber Oliver (Barry Keoghan) steadily turns into shut to his wealthy, standard Oxford classmate Felix Catton (Priscilla co-star Jacob Elordi), who brings Oliver to his immense household property, Saltburn, and introduces him to his household. Felix’s elitist, eliminated dad and mom, Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant) and Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike), make a hole present of welcoming Oliver. However Felix’s jaded sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver), clearly sees him as a brand new toy, and Felix’s vicious, jealous cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) sees him as a rival and an unwelcome upstart.

Because it occurs, Farleigh is correct — Oliver is mendacity about just about all the pieces that introduced him along with Felix. He invented a household tragedy to make himself a tragic and dramatic determine. A sequence of flashbacks reveals how Oliver engineered their early relationship by pretending to be penniless when he had loads of cash, and by sabotaging Felix’s bike so as to “help” when it broke down.

The later components of their relationship are even darker: Felix seems to die in an unclear accident, and Venetia seems to kill herself out of grief. However additional flashbacks present that Oliver murdered each of them, out of concern of being ejected from Saltburn, and resentment for the way in which they’ve each rejected him. It’s additionally clear that he units Farleigh up to be disinherited, then poisons Elspeth after James dies, all so as to inherit Saltburn himself.

And within the remaining scene, Keoghan dances via the property, stark naked and triumphant, waggling his ass to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor,” and presiding over a tragic little row of memorial stones with the relations’ names on them, dredged up from the property’s waterways to kind a type of ritual viewers for his dance.

“The movie always ended with Oliver walking naked through the house,” Fennell tells Polygon. “It’s an act of desecration. It’s also an act of territory, taking on ownership, but it’s solitary.”

Oliver (Barry Keoghan) and Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), in tuxes, sit together on a small stone bridge over a pond with Venetia (Alison Oliver) standing nearby in Saltburn

Picture: Chiabella James/Prime Video

As viewers watch the scene, Fennell desires them to discover Oliver’s path via the home, which is a reversal of his entry to the home earlier within the movie. When Felix introduces Oliver to Saltburn with a small tour, it’s an invite to a spot that doesn’t belong to him. And when he does his dance, he’s following that very same path in reverse, this time boldly claiming the house as an alternative of shyly tiptoeing into it.

“The nudity is an act of ownership,” she says. “It wouldn’t be the same if he’s just walking through the house in his pajamas. It’s that he’s walking through his house. It’s his fucking house, and he can do whatever he wants to with it. And that’s what makes it thrilling and beautiful.”

The unique script had Oliver symbolically claiming the home by strolling via it, however Fennell says one thing in regards to the scene as she’d deliberate it didn’t sit effectively along with her. “It just became apparent as we were filming it that the naked walk was not really going to have the feeling of triumph and joy, elation and post-coital success [I wanted]. It felt lonely and sort of empty. It speaks to Barry that when I said to him, ‘I don’t think it can be a walk, I think it needs to be a dance,’ — that’s the thing about Barry as a performer. He profoundly understood and completely agreed, and knew it had to be that way. There really wasn’t another way we could do it, given the film we’d just seen. To me, it feels like the ultimate sympathy for the devil.”

Fennell has already talked about how Saltburn concurrently has sympathy for everybody within the movie, and for nobody — there aren’t any outright villains within the story, in her opinion, simply individuals with understandably flawed methods of trying on the world. That perspective helped her sympathize with Oliver on the finish, which she hopes the viewers will do as effectively, regardless that he’s an unrepentant assassin.

“We have to be on his side at the end,” she says. “It’s crucial that the more violent he is, the more cruel, the more he plays them at their own game, the more we love him, even though we loved them, too. We have to feel at the end, like, ‘Yeah, yeah, get it.’ The way Oliver gets it is the way the Cattons would have got it in the first place. How do people build these houses? How do they make these houses? They’re built by violent means and got by violent means. So that’s where it ends as well.”

Saltburn is in theaters now.

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