In many ways, ‘Saltburn,’ the Emerald Fennell drama film that draws on Gothic horror elements, charts the twisted and outrageous love story between Oliver Quick and Felix Catton. Their relationship isn’t quite romantic, and they don’t love each other as much as they find the other infatuating and entertaining. Nevertheless, their narratives are as intertwined, intense, and intriguing as any love story. The duo meet during their time at Oxford, where they form an unlikely but close friendship.
As a result, when Felix, who has more wealth than he knows what to do with, learns about Oliver’s less-than-privileged background, he takes the other boy with him to his family’s Saltburn Estate. However, as Oliver’s obsession grows in the face of the Catton Family’s ridiculously luxurious life, the summer takes an unexpected turn. The film relies on Oliver and Felix’s dynamic as well as their respective flawed selves to hold the viewers’ attention. Therefore, given each character’s rich design, viewers must be wondering if they have an origin in reality. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Oliver Quick Is a Fictional Character
No, Oliver Quick from ‘Saltburn’ is not based on a real-life person. The character, an unreliable narrator within the story, is entirely a work of fiction, crafted from filmmaker Fennell’s imagination for the film. In fact, the first idea that led to the perception of Fennell’s sophomore feature-length directorial came from a provocative image of someone licking a bathtub— an instance that will perhaps forever remain associated with Oliver’s character.
Fennell discussed the same imagery and its thematic resonance within the film’s overarching narrative in a conversation with ScreenDaily. “You know everything from that image [of someone licking a bathtub]— that’s about somebody wanting something they can’t have,” said the filmmaker. “When we’re in the grip of a really intense desire, I don’t think licking the bottom of the bathtub feels that transgressive. Desire is not all candles and jazz. It can be more sinister.”
As it would turn out, this imagery, laced with the menacing desperation of raw human desire for something unattainable, ends up defining Oliver’s character within the film. He remains an enigmatic individual with dark desires and infatuations but no coherent understanding of them. In the same breath, he continues to be a master in understanding other people’s needs and wants, which often shapes the kind of persona he adapts at times.
Furthermore, this same sense of contradiction evokes itself in the character’s name as well. Oliver Quick has a distinctly Dickensian name that immediately conjures a connection to Oliver Twist. Yet, although his story begins as an analysis of Dickensian themes, such as class and socio-economics, it immediately falters in the department once the narrative reveals his upper-middle-class upbringing. Thus, with ambiguity and juxtaposition as his defining features, Oliver Quick presents a fascinating character but holds no tangible connections to any real-life individuals.
Felix Catton is a Fictional Character
Within ‘Saltburn’s’ fictitious world, Felix Catton also remains a fictional character without any basis in a real-life person. Like his family and their estate, Saltburn, Felix is also the embodiment of Oliver’s desires and desperation. While spoiled rich brats are a common character genre that can be found in such films, Felix distinguishes himself through his comparative kindness and empathy that shines through in the company of the rest of the characters.
“You can understand completely that no person would be capable of resisting this person [Felix],” Fennell said when discussing Felix’s character. “But at the same time, you can also understand that it is also sort of an illusion, an illusion other people are projecting onto him—and he’s actually not necessarily particularly special or interesting. He just happens to seem like he is.”
As a result, Felix’s appeal as a character seemingly comes entirely from his relative charm. Nevertheless, considering Oliver’s character substantially outweighs the film’s narrative, his perception of Felix and his relationship with the other boy significantly inform the character’s on-screen presence. Since ‘Saltburn’ is primarily a film about desire, Oliver and Felix can best be described as the obsessive admirer and the object of his desire.
Thus, both characters end up being a reflection of each other. Felix is the personification of Oliver’s deepest and darkest wishes. Oliver is infatuated with the man and desperately wants him to reciprocate his intense obsession. In some ways, this dynamic plays into a conversation about class, wherein Felix’s role is reflective of the infamous upper echelons of society. Therefore, his character retains a sense of familiarity. Nevertheless, outside of the occasional reference to the same, Felix’s character has no basis in real life.
Read More: Did Oliver Really Love Felix in Saltburn?