In Emerald Fennell’s ‘Saltburn,’ what starts out as a young man’s infatuation with his friend turns out to be an obsession with the wealthy, hedonistic lifestyle of said friend, personified best by his family’s estate. Oliver Quick deceives Felix Catton throughout the film to become a constant fixture in his life. However, once his secrets come undone, the former realizes Felix can’t possibly mirror a raw desire for Oliver that would match his own. Therefore, the man equips a different strategy to secure his hold over the Saltburn Estate by eliminating his competition, The Catton family.
Although Oliver gets rid of the Catton siblings, Felix and Venetia, in quick succession, he ends up having to play the long game after Sir James compels him to take his leave while he and his wife mourn for their children. Yet, the seeds are sown for James’ demise, whose grief eventually contributes to his passing. Thus, with Elspeth left as the only Catton, Oliver smoothly manipulates himself into her life and takes Saltburn for himself after her sickly death. However, the question remains: what led to Elspeth’s sickly health in the first place? SPOILERS AHEAD!
Is Oliver Responsible For Elspeth’s Sickly State?
Oliver’s unplanned departure from the Saltburn Estate at Sir James’ insistence almost throws a wrench in the man’s best-made plans. Nevertheless, a good few years later, news of James’ death arrives, restarting Oliver’s efforts. Although Oliver managed to win over Elspeth’s affections during his stay with well-placed words of flattery and gossip, unlike his wife, James wasn’t smitten by the boy. Therefore, after Venetia’s death, officially recognized as a suicide, James sent Oliver away from Saltburn for his named price to allow his diminished family some privacy in their grief.
While Oliver would have preferred to stay with the family during this time and prove himself an invaluable facet of their life to better lay claim on their wealth, even he knew when to take a step back. As a result, he waited for James to exit the board naturally before making his final move. After James’ death, Elspeth surrenders to solitude, having no family left of her own. Her loneliness even drove her out of Saltburn’s grand halls and to a simple flat. For the same reason, the woman became all the more vulnerable to Oliver’s advances.
Ever a master in manipulating chance meetings, Oliver “runs into” Elspeth at a cafe the widow frequents. By allowing her to spot him instead of the other way around, Oliver ensures she holds onto a fake sense of control over their meeting. Yet, everything about it is staged. Oliver was a part of the last summer that Elspeth spent with her children at Saltburn. Consequently, he remains an intrinsic part of the mother’s memories of her final few weeks with her kids.
For the same reason, Elspeth can’t help but have an inclination toward Oliver and associate him with good times at her family’s Estate. Although Saltburn has only remained haunted by memories of her dead family since their departure, Elspeth can’t help but view Oliver as a second chance. As such, she ends up inviting him for a stay at the Estate in the hopes that his company may heal the pain of her family’s absence.
Thus, Oliver becomes an integral part of Elspeth’s life. However, soon after their meeting, Elspeth’s health deteriorates vehemently. The timing of her sickness can’t possibly be a coincidence. Oliver has showcased grave desperation in his quest to acquire Saltburn. As a result, now that Elspeth is the last piece standing in the way of Oliver’s victory, she remains his final target. Therefore, it’s most likely that Oliver found a way to poison Elspeth in doses without detection.
As Elspeth’s health took a turn for the worse, Oliver remained by her side as if fulfilling the role of a dutiful son. In turn, Elspeth, aware of her worsening state, couldn’t help but be swindled by Oliver, her primary caretaker, into naming him as her next of kin in her will. The woman has no immediate family left, save for her nephew Farleigh, but considering the latter’s absence in her life, the two have likely fallen entirely out of touch.
Thus, Elspeth signs Saltburn over to Oliver while she still can before inevitably falling to her death bed. At this time, Oliver finally reveals his true intentions, regaling the entirety of his time with Felix and after him to the woman as she nears her death. Finally, forcing the life support apparatus right out of her lungs—as if tearing out her organs, Oliver delivers a miserable death to the dying Elspeth Catton. With the woman gone, Oliver gains control over Saltburn, sating one of his deepest desires.