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‘Saltburn’: We are all Oliver Quick

The message of Amazon’s black comedy is you can only enter the lives of the idle rich by stepping over corpses

Jacob Elordi
Jacob Elordi in a scene from 'Saltburn'MRC Film (ZUMAPRESS.com / Cordon Press)
Eva Güimil

The casting process can undoubtedly alter the dynamics of a script. It’s something I’ve been pondering lately, particularly in relation to the Andreas character from the film Un amor (2023). The script described Andreas as a short, small-town guy, but the role was ultimately played by the large and worldly-wise Hovik Keuchkerian. It’s hard to imagine that Nat, the female protagonist from the novel, would have responded the same way to the attractive Armenian-Lebanese giant Keuchkerian.

While promoting Saltburn, Jacob Elordi joked with Barry Keoghan about the possibility of Timothée Chalamet being the initial choice for his role. If Chalamet had been cast, it would have been another film in the category of “a stranger comes and disrupts a family’s life.” This genre has endless variations, but one constant: the stranger is conventionally attractive. We can understand why the Catton family of Saltburn would have welcomed Chalamet with open arms, but not so much the somewhat odd-looking Keoghan. But they do, which somehow makes the film funnier. However, for fans of Elordi in Euphoria, Saltburn may seem like a tepid Brideshead Revisited.

Oliver Quick doesn’t have any extraordinary talents. He’s not a sophisticated seducer like Tom Ripley or a skilled con-man like Frank Abagnale. His brand of deceit is vague and easily pierced because the creator’s intention wasn’t to satirize social classes or ridicule the Cattons. Instead, the film is aimed at people who, like Quick, are captivated by Drayton House’s 127 rooms. Like entomologists, Saltburn viewers examine the lives of millionaires with fascinated detachment, much like they did with the Disney+ special on Isabel Preysler’s Christmas. Writer/director Emerald Fennell’s clear message in Saltburn is that you can only enter the lives of these undeserving and idle rich by stepping over corpses.

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