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Bypassing Tropes: A Critical Look at 'Saltburn,' an Ambitious Yet Flawed Cinematic Endeavor

Unraveling 'Saltburn': A Cinematic Journey Lacking Clarity and Conviction

As I immersed myself in the visually stunning yet perplexing world of "Saltburn," one question persisted: What is this movie truly about? Emerald Fennell, both writer and director of this ambitious creation, weaves a tale where events unfold, often without clear explanation, amidst exquisitely shot scenes that progressively criticize England's elite. While the humor takes a darker turn and the performances dazzle, the central theme remains elusive.

The film has been touted as an extravagant "eat-the-rich" narrative, a label that, upon closer examination, proves to be a simplification. True, "Saltburn" introduces affluent characters with comically grating shallowness and an outsider named Oliver, played by Barry Keoghan, who is both fascinated and ostracized by the privileged world. However, these elements are mere details in a narrative that seems reluctant to pinpoint its core message.

As Oliver descends into violence and self-satisfied depravity against the privileged, the motivation behind his actions becomes murky. Is it revenge, envy, a critique of wealth disparity in England, or perhaps a broader condemnation of capitalism? The film itself appears uncertain, leaving the audience to grapple with the elusive motivations at play.

Instead of exploring the intriguing angle of an unhinged young man's rampage against what he lacks, "Saltburn" opts for a picturesque portrayal of a smart individual infiltrating the moneyed lifestyle. The plot revolves around Oliver's plan to penetrate Felix's affluent world, leading to gradual havoc. However, the film's portrayal of Oliver's actions leans more towards maniacal than vindictive.

Comparisons to films like "The Talented Mr. Ripley" highlight the calculated approach of a protagonist infiltrating an indulgent life, but "Saltburn" lacks the depth to justify such a narrative. Oliver's descent into chaos targets a daft, self-absorbed family, whose flaws seem trivial compared to the severity of his actions.

In attempting to address wealth disparity, the film merely gestures vaguely towards the concept without delving into a meaningful exploration of poverty and affluence in relation to each other. As the narrative unfolds, "Saltburn" proves frustratingly incurious about the central point it aims to convey, leaving audiences with a beautifully shot but narratively perplexing cinematic experience.

Beyond "Eat the Rich": Unpacking 'Saltburn's' Unfocused Exploration of Capitalism and Desire

In the realm of "Saltburn," the dichotomy is not merely between the haves and the have-nots but rather the haves and the want mores—a nuanced conversation about their relationships with capitalism and wealth. However, this movie, directed and written by Emerald Fennell, sidesteps the scrutiny of these complex dynamics, choosing instead to revel in absurd entertainment.

The film challenges our preconceptions, inviting us to question what we project onto narratives like "Saltburn" and how our own worldviews interact with what unfolds on the screen. Stripped of the faux "eat-the-rich" veneer, the movie relies on its shock value and absurdity for entertainment. Scenes featuring black-tie dinners, intimate encounters on the lawn, and disturbing acts like slurping bathwater illustrate Fennell's penchant for pushing boundaries and immersing the audience in a grotesque narrative shaped by both capitalism and desire.

"Saltburn" navigates the audience through the lens of its protagonist, Oliver, providing a penetrable view into his desires and the opulence surrounding him. Fennell captures the essence of this world through meticulous details—the ripples on Felix's abs, the lush decor of the mansion, and the amusing repartee among Felix's relatives. Yet, despite the glee in these elements, the film falls short when it comes to an inspired narrative.

While Fennell delivers exceptional dialogue, the storyline lacks the boldness seen in her previous directorial effort, "Promising Young Woman." The movie's shortcomings become apparent when examining its narrative gaps. For instance, the jealousy of Farleigh, Felix's snobby, biracial gay relative, adds an intriguing layer, yet the film fails to delve deeper into this subplot, leaving it hanging in the air.

In the end, "Saltburn" emerges as an enigma, a cinematic venture that captivates with its shocking scenes and witty dialogue but ultimately leaves viewers yearning for a more substantial narrative. As Fennell traverses the fine line between absurdity and profound storytelling, the result is a film that, while entertaining, doesn't quite live up to the brilliance of its predecessor.

Unfulfilled Potential: 'Saltburn's' Shallow Exploration of Race and Privilege

Amidst the tit-for-tat dynamics woven into the fabric of "Saltburn," the film introduces a critical subplot through Farleigh, Felix's biracial gay relative. As Farleigh raises legitimate concerns about Oliver effortlessly infiltrating the family, his grievances are dismissed, reflecting the dismissiveness true to Felix's character. However, this dismissal only heightens the questions of race in a narrative that ostensibly aims to provoke thoughts on privilege.

The narrative's treatment of race becomes increasingly problematic as more facets of Oliver's character are unveiled. In films predominantly centered on white characters, discussions of wealth often default to class, sidelining the crucial intersectionality of race. "Saltburn" misses an opportunity to engage deeply with racial politics, a rarity in British-set films. While an interview with Vogue suggests that Fennell recognized this blind spot and collaborated with Archie Madekwe (Farleigh) on addressing the issue, the film falls short in conveying this collaboration distinctly.

Efforts to depict Farleigh's constant need to perform within his white family are undercut by his prominent braggadocio, even in scenes without family members present. The question of who Farleigh truly is within the story remains unanswered, portraying him as collateral damage in a narrative that fails to delve into his character's complexities.

In contemplating narratives that genuinely confront societal issues, one can't help but wonder how "Saltburn" might have unfolded if Farleigh, rather than Oliver, had been the central character. Such a shift could have led the film to a more profound exploration of race, privilege, and the dynamics within the wealthy elite. As "Saltburn" grapples with missed opportunities, it remains to be seen whether the film's shortcomings will resonate differently when viewed through a more critical lens.

'Saltburn' is currently in select theaters, with a wider release scheduled for November 22.

'Saltburn'—A Missed Opportunity for Profound Exploration

As "Saltburn" unfolds its narrative with tit-for-tat dynamics, it introduces a critical subplot through Farleigh, bringing issues of race and privilege to the forefront. However, the film's treatment of these complexities falls short, as Farleigh's concerns are brushed aside, contributing to a narrative dismissive of race in a story ostensibly aiming to provoke thoughts on privilege.

The film's exploration of racial dynamics becomes increasingly problematic as Oliver's character unfolds, missing a crucial opportunity to engage deeply with racial politics—a rarity in British-set films. While indications of collaboration between Emerald Fennell and Archie Madekwe suggest recognition of this blind spot, the film fails to distinctly convey this effort in addressing the issue.

Farleigh's character, caught between the need to perform within his white family and a prominent braggadocio, remains undefined, portraying him as collateral damage in a narrative that lacks depth in exploring his complexities.

In contemplating narratives that genuinely confront societal issues, the notion of Farleigh as the central character prompts reflection on missed opportunities within "Saltburn." Shifting the focus from Oliver to Farleigh could have led to a more profound exploration of race, privilege, and the dynamics within the wealthy elite. As "Saltburn" grapples with these missed opportunities, its shortcomings invite critical scrutiny, questioning whether the film's narrative would have resonated differently with a more nuanced and focused approach.

As the film continues its release, audiences will determine the impact of "Saltburn's" exploration of race and privilege, pondering the lingering question of what might have been in a narrative that holds the potential for profound societal reflection.