For all that Oliver Quick remains the protagonist within ‘Saltburn,’ helming the narrative on his shoulders, he is also perhaps the most intriguing character in the film’s arsenal. As he moves through the plot, he reveals different facets of himself that constantly build upon his character, allowing the viewers a deeper peek into his psyche. At Oxford, where Oliver first meets Felix, heir to the wealthy Catton name, he’s a friendly face skilled in subtle platonic seduction. Afterward, once he’s introduced to the otherworldly Estate of Saltburn at Felix’s invitation, we get a closer look at his more obsessive and manipulative nature as he interacts with the Catton family. Until ultimately, his grand master plan comes into view.
After witnessing Oliver’s character progression throughout the film, ripe with manipulative tendencies, violent behavior, and a general volatility in emotions, Barry Keoghan’s character in ‘Saltburn’ is bound to make the viewers wonder about his mental state. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Oliver Quick and His Sociopathic Tendencies
Oliver’s inclination toward actions that suggest a sociopathic label remains evident throughout the film, especially once his more sinister side starts to take over. Oliver’s story begins at Oxford, where he manages to escape his grossly unpopular social designation by striking up a close friendship with Felix Catton. He achieves the same by being at the right place at the right time. Likewise, by some twisted luck, his father’s tragic death manages to save his dwindling friendship with Felix by compelling the other man to take Oliver under his wing where he otherwise would have lost interest.
As a result, Oliver arrives at the Saltburn Estate, becoming a part of the Catton family’s luxurious ivory tower life. The story could’ve remained about Oliver’s one wild summer spent in a world entirely different than his own as he orbited the man he deeply desired. Themes of social inequality, class discrepancy, and privilege would’ve defined his tale if only Oliver continued to play the part of a protagonist with fate on his side.
Nevertheless, Oliver’s menacing reality starts to reveal itself in doses as his story progresses. Turns out, there was never any luck or fate involved. On his first day at Oxford, Oliver glimpsed at Felix. Everyone on campus was a moth to his flame, and Oliver was no exception. From wealth to beauty to charm, Felix Catton had it all. Thus, Oliver wanted it for himself.
While the narrative brushes upon Oliver’s obsession with Felix throughout the film, it isn’t until Elspeth, Felix’s mother, and the last Catton left alive, is on her deathbed that Oliver confesses to the depth of his manipulation. When Oliver spotted Felix at Oxford, it was obsession at first sight. Therefore, through meticulous planning and commendable acting skills, Oliver manufactured their first meeting and their entire friendship thereafter.
Oliver lies about his upbringing to present himself in a more pitiful light— an attribute essentially kryptonite to rich people like Felix and his mother. From there, he plays his friend’s family to carve out a place for himself at the Estate and gets rid of any possible roadblocks, including Felix’s cousin Farleigh. His actions are cool and calculated, allowing him to orchestrate his relationship with the Cattons to his complete benefit.
Even after Felix discovers his life, Oliver adapts and plans a homicidal streak that will allow him to fulfill his ultimate desire: to be a part of the Saltburn world, with wealth and power available on the tips of his fingers. Where he could’ve achieved the same through Felix’s companionship, Oliver can now have it by owning Saltburn and the Catton’s wealth.
As the story ends with Felix knocking all the Cattons off the board and winning his prize, his confession to Elspeth lays bare the man’s actions, motives, and feelings. Thus, it provides all the necessary information needed to diagnose his character’s plight, at least within the capacity that a fictional character can be diagnosed.
Oliver Quick’s Plight
Sociopathy, like Psychopathy, is medically defined by someone showcasing signs and symptoms of ASPD, Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Clinically, there isn’t a difference between the two terms. However, psychologist Robert Hare, sociopathy distinguishes itself from psychopathy through a clear conscience of moral right and wrong and the ability to justify the latter.
Therefore, when we take a look at Oliver’s overall behavior, we get the following: concerningly controlling tendencies, constant manipulation to the point where he appears as distinct characters at distinct points of his story, and a violent streak ending in four deaths. All these signs point toward symptoms of an ASDP.
Furthermore, Oliver showcases a clear lack of guilt toward his actions, as confirmed by his climactic victory lap across Saltburn. Nevertheless, his character has the ability to justify all his wrongdoings in his mind. Oliver can’t feel bad about his actions against the Cattons because they have condemned themselves for their grossly hedonistic, unempathetic lives.
Although any normal person would be able to point out the irony in Oliver, an upper-middle-class man criticizing the upper echelons of society for their lifestyle while he actively craves the same, it surpasses Oliver. Instead, the man can justify all his manipulative, violent behavior in the name of his desire and the Cattons’ excess. As such, it’s safe to say Oliver Quick is likely a sociopath. Ultimately, his desperate desire and inability to comprehend morality in a productive manner remain the reason behind his actions.