Did Oliver Really Love Felix in Saltburn?

Emerald Fennell’s ‘Saltburn‘ is a drama film ripe with romantic Gothicism, as it depicts the story of the summer Oliver Quick finds himself faced with indomitable and desperate desire. During his time at Oxford, Oliver, a scholarship student, meets Felix, heir to the wealthy Catton family. The two boys somehow become close friends despite their drastically different worlds— and tax brackets. As a result, moved by Oliver’s dire circumstances, Felix invites the other boy to stay at his house, the grand Saltburn Estate.

However, once Oliver immerses himself into the world at Saltburn— where dinners are attended in black tie and broken mirrors seemingly fix themselves, the boy’s infatuation with Felix bleeds into an obsession with his luxurious life. Consequently, as the summer progresses, the duo’s relationship undergoes several changes, with Felix discovering overwhelming truths about his friend. Therefore, as the story unfolds, one crucial question, first pitched at the film’s start, remains: is Oliver in love with Felix? SPOILERS AHEAD!

Oliver’s Relationship With Felix

From the get-go, Oliver’s relationship with Felix comes with a certain infatuation rarely reserved for a normal friendship. In fact, before the pair officially meets, Oliver can often be spotted staring at Felix, be it from his bedroom window or across a pub. At Oxford, Oliver falls into a dreadfully uninteresting category, defined as he is by his intelligence instead of wealth or good looks. In contrast, Felix, the center of Oxford’s social solar system, proposes a different picture worthy of everyone’s envy and desire. For his part, Oliver seems to harbor both for the other boy.

The torch Oliver carries from Felix is evident right from the beginning when he offers the other his bicycle on their first meeting and hauls Felix’s broken bike back to campus. In turn, Felix’s undeniable oblivion to Oliver remains evident as well, in his surprise to hear the two have the same university in common. As such, a unique charge surrounds the pair once their dynamic progresses from a chance meeting to constant companionship.

In the time that follows, Oliver and Felix become inseparable, their friendship defined by Felix’s never-ending rambles about his captivating life and Oliver’s rapt attention. Their relationship can almost be taken at face value for a moment if it wasn’t for Oliver’s Felix-driven voyeuristic tendencies. While the former never openly gains sexual gratification from watching his best friend have sex, he always wears a mask of explicit yearning. As such, the viewers are left to wonder if Oliver yearns to be Felix or be with him.

Therein lies the crux of the confusion. Is Oliver in love with Felix, or does he simply envy his life and want it for himself? The same dilemma exponentiates when the duo arrives at Saltburn, Felix’s mansion of a house. Although it’s obvious that Oliver doesn’t fit in with Felix’s filthy rich family, who are born into privilege and defined by it, he still can’t help but want the same epicurean pleasures in everyday life that they have.

Therefore, Oliver begins manipulating the strings at Saltburn Estate to remain interesting to Felix’s family, particularly his mother, Elspeth, and sister, Venetia, presumably to extend his stay at their house. For the same reason, his motives begin to be colored by his desire to fit into Felix’s world rather than a raw longing for the other boy. Yet, an argument can be made that the two are inherently interconnected.

Oliver’s Lie

So much of Oliver’s character is defined by his relationship with Felix that it’s nearly impossible to extricate one from the other. That is until the big reveal occurs, unveiling the truth about Oliver’s background. On the latter’s birthday, Felix’s decision to do something nice for his friend dissolves in chaos as it leads to the Catton heir realizing Oliver has been lying to him this whole time.

Instead of the financially and mentally fraught family life that Oliver painted for Felix, the latter finds a suburban home with stories of yearly vacations to Greece. Oliver isn’t actually an economically challenged individual. He’s hardly even middle-class! Consequently, Felix (and the audience) must reckon with Oliver’s betrayal and its implication on his every action thus far.

Yet, the objective truth remains that Oliver lied to Felix to get closer to him. Although the motive behind the same may vary, the former’s dogged infatuation with the other boy is hardly up for debate. Oliver confirms the same in his final confrontation with Felix at the hedge maze center.

Oliver knew his upper-middle-class upbringing wouldn’t make him an object of interest to Felix. The other boy had every luxury available at the palm of his hand. As such, the one thing out of his reach was a lack of privilege. Therefore, Oliver molds himself into someone Felix would want to keep around so that he can hold onto the other boy for longer. When phrased like so, one can easily believe Oliver must have been in love with Felix.

After all, it’s easy to tell Oliver’s infatuation goes beyond voyeurism and into an almost uncomfortable need to consume Felix, as conveyed by the former’s draw toward Felix’s ejaculation-mixed-bath-water. Thus, by their last interaction, where Oliver desperately tries to make Felix believe he only lied because he loves him, one can almost accept that’s all there is to it.

Even as Oliver murders Felix in cold blood afterward, it won’t be difficult to believe Oliver loved Felix in his own twisted, psychopathic way that confuses love with obsession and ends in self-induced destruction. Nevertheless, the film’s grand finale, which reveals one final piece of Oliver’s overarching puzzle, prevents any such interpretations.

Oliver’s Overshadowing Obsession With Saltburn

While Oliver’s attraction toward Felix is apparent throughout the film, his attraction isn’t limited to him. Yet, even though Oliver participates in sexual encounters with other people, the act inevitably ends up having a connection to Felix. As such, none of the interactions seem to hold any significance out of how they may affect Oliver and Felix’s relationship. Except for Oliver’s tenacious attempts to gain ownership over Saltburn Estate.

Before, Oliver’s infatuation with the mansion could be interpreted in favor of the legitimacy of his feelings for Felix. Oliver wants to stay at Saltburn, which would help him remain in Felix’s life. However, once Felix isn’t around anymore, by Oliver’s own doing, the latter’s attempts to win over Saltburn speak only of his infatuation with the luxury that the estate represents.

The argument that it symbolizes Oliver’s actual desire to be Felix also falls short, considering Oliver ends up murdering the entire Catton family to gain Saltburn. If the boy wanted Felix’s life, it would’ve consisted of the ability and freedom to be a spoilt brat to a wealthy family, not the person who runs the estate. Thus, Oliver’s final victory lap, a solitary nude dance through Saltburn, seems to hammer in the man’s motives, which have always revolved around his love for Felix’s wealth and his family’s lifestyle rather than any form of love for Felix himself.

As for Oliver’s relationship with Felix, it’s possible there were moments when some twisted form of love persisted between the two. After all, Oliver’s feelings for his friend— love, hate, desire, or envy— burned so intensely that it blurred all lines. Even after Felix’s death, Oliver’s actions remain ambiguous.

Does Oliver’s actions toward Felix’s grave depict some perverted attempt to finally sleep with him? Or was it the conclusive desecration of Felix’s life? Either way, it’s not an act born of love. Thus, we can conclude that if Oliver was in love, it was always with the Saltburn Estate instead of Felix Catton.

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