In Emerald Fennell’s psychological drama film ‘Saltburn,’ protagonist Oliver Quick tells Felix Catton that his parents have substance addiction and mental health issues while befriending the latter. When they are about to separate for the summer break, Oliver lets Felix know that his father died unexpectedly. Felix, to comfort and revive his new friend, invites him to Saltburn, his family estate. Oliver cherishes Felix’s company and the resources the estate offers to him. But his façade gets unraveled soon after Felix takes him to see his mother as the latter realizes that the former has been telling him nothing but lies! SPOILERS AHEAD.
Earning the Sympathy
Oliver lies about his parents to Felix to earn the latter’s sympathy. Oliver becomes Felix’s friend using the impression that he is a helpless broke student who joined the University of Oxford with a scholarship. The fabricated tales of Oliver’s parents’ substance abuse and addiction make Felix think that he should take care of his friend. That’s the reason why he invites Oliver to Saltburn. As far as Felix is concerned, he doesn’t want to see his companion immersing in the grief of losing his father, which leaves him no other choice other than to invite the latter to his home.
In the film, the Cattons reveal that Felix usually invites his friend to the estate for vacations. Oliver must have learned about it while getting captivated by Felix. He may have told Felix about not wanting to go home to make himself available for the invitation. When he doesn’t receive it, he seemingly creates the lie that his father passed away. Knowing that Oliver has a turbulent history with his mother to be with her in the troubling times, Felix asks his friend to join him when he goes home. The lies Oliver says allow him to spend the vacation with Felix and get closer to the latter.
Oliver continues to lie to Felix because a lie leads him to another. After establishing that his parents have addiction issues, Oliver relies on the same details to secure a chair at the dining table at Saltburn by building on them. “He [Oliver] just wanted to meet him [Felix]. And then he just wanted to be friends with him. And then he wanted to stay friends with him. And then, and then, and then, and then. And things become more complicated,” Emerald Fennell clarified to GQ.
Ultimately, Oliver lies for the sake of love. His love for Felix makes him create tales that would bring the latter closer to him. Without the lies he says, Oliver is just one of the several collegemates Felix has. Oliver dreams of becoming a standout among them with his lies. “Oliver’s profoundly in love with Felix. The first thing he says is he wasn’t in love with him. And we know that’s a lie. And the film shows us that’s a lie […]. I always think that this film was just the result of what happens when you don’t get loved back. If he’d loved him back, none of this would ever have happened,” Fennell added.
The Life Oliver Wants
Oliver portrays his parents as “good-for-nothing” because that’s all they are for him. Oliver is a man with ambitions. He doesn’t want to limit his life to the resources his middle-class parents offer him. Upon befriending Felix, he dreams of becoming the lord of Saltburn. He wants to overpower the people who condemn him and waltz through their manor naked. His parents, however, don’t fit into his dreams. They are tied to the boundaries of their class, which makes Oliver forsake them. Although Oliver’s father hasn’t died as he tells Felix in reality, the middle-aged man is dead in the mind of his son.
Oliver has moved on from his parents and it won’t matter to him whether they end up becoming drug addicts. For him, they are only helpful to earn the sympathy of Felix. That’s the only reason that makes him their son. Ever since stepping into Saltburn, Oliver is secretly ridiculed and laughed at because his background is mediocre or inferior to the Cattons. He must be blaming his parents for being a part of the middle class, which is not appealing to the family of his beloved. Therefore, through every lie Oliver says about his parents, he is secretly burying them alive in his heart.