While the morality of most characters in ‘Saltburn’ is ambiguous, with protagonist Oliver Quick remaining a leading man in that department, Farleigh Start also brings an intriguing perspective into the narrative. Farleigh is another student at Oxford, more hostile to Oliver than most. Yet, as Oliver’s friendship with Farleigh’s cousin, Felix Catton, grows, it inevitably brings the man into Farleigh’s social circle. Soon, they become a constant fixture in each other’s lives as they spend their summer together on the Saltburn estate.
Nevertheless, an air of enmity persists between Oliver and Farleigh’s relationship. Unlike the rest of the Cattons, Farleigh doesn’t enjoy Oliver’s company. Instead, he’s all too eager for the man to take his departure. Thus, viewers must be curious how the tables turned when circumstances push Farleigh, who has more of a right over Catton’s wealth than Oliver, to leave the Saltburn Estate by the film’s end. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Farleigh Start’s Relationship With The Cattons
Farleigh’s relationship with the Cattons is a complicated business. His mother, Fred Catton, is Felix’s father, Sir James’ sister. A while ago, when the woman was nineteen, she moved to America, uninterested in British society and its’ tight-lipped emotionality. However, in the States, Fred ended up getting involved with a man described by Felix as a “lunatic.” After having Farleigh with the man, Fred’s life went downhill as her partner continuously blew through her money.
Things escalated to the point that James Catton had to cut off Fred’s allowance from the family’s generational wealth. Nevertheless, Farleigh’s uncle started feeling guilty about the family abandoning his nephew to fend for himself. Therefore, he decided to pay for Farleigh’s education. For the same reason, the kid moved back to England, where he lives with his uncle’s family at Saltburn.
As such, a noticeable tension underlines Farleigh’s relationship with the Cattons. While he takes the liberty to move through life with a reckless abandon reserved only for rich people and their spoilt heirs, he constantly has something to prove. Unlike Felix, who can roll out of bed in a wrinkled shirt and rebellious eyebrow piercing, Farleigh has to constantly put up an image that establishes his higher social standing. The fact that he’s the only significant non-white person on screen further adds to this pressure.
Consequently, Farleigh equips a nastier and snootier deposition against Oliver than other characters. Oliver’s inclusion into the Catton family, even if temporary, remains a constant reminder of the discrepancies between Farleigh’s own relationship with the family. While Elspeth decides to throw a grand birthday party for Oliver on a whim, Farleigh has to beg for scraps for his mother.
Although objectively, it’s difficult to gather any sympathy for Farleigh due to his perpetual mean personality and uncharitable thinking, once you realize that every other Catton gets to indulge mindlessly, his struggle becomes easier to notice. Even in the world within the Saltburn Estate, where wealth is so free-flowing, it’s a trivial detail he has to convince Felix to allow his mother access to the family funds, that too in vain. For the same reason, the man remains in a constant rivalry with Oliver, who actively tries to weasel his way into the Catton family, specifically their wealth.
Oliver’s Feud With Farleigh
Although Oliver’s taut relationship with Farleigh begins during their time at Oxford, with the latter man constantly scrutinizing and intimidating the other because of his lower tax bracket, their rivalry increases at Saltburn. While Oliver manages to win over the other residents through calculated manipulation, Farleigh sees right through him and refuses to fall victim to his charm. Therefore, after a particularly unpleasant altercation at a dinner party, Oliver decides to get rid of Farleigh once and for all.
Oliver tries to be friendly, and he tries to be unpleasant. Nonetheless, Farleigh remains a roadblock in the other man’s path. Oliver desperately wants to be a part of Felix’s world and live a life of absurd luxury. While his deceit about his miserly upbringing starts as a ploy to befriend Felix, the more time Oliver spends at Saltburn, the more his motives shift toward long-term ownership over the Estate.
Therefore, Oliver realizes he must eliminate Farleigh from the scene if he wants his stay to remain smooth sailing. The man has a penchant for reading people and recognizing their soft spots. As such, he’s able to manipulate Farleigh in a similar manner as he manipulates Venetia— by taking control over him and engaging in a sexual interaction to tear the other man’s walls down. By doing so, he’s able to wear Farleigh off and catch him off guard enough to mess with his emails and send a message to one of James’ acquaintances that incriminates Farleigh of theft from the Cattons.
The next morning, Farleigh is promptly dismissed from the estate, never to return as far as Oliver is concerned. He knew about the other man’s tense dynamic with his family, and his sleuthing had helped him decode money as the center of their conflict. Thus, with enough manipulation, Oliver gets Farleigh kicked out of the house.
Yet, Farleigh returns on the night of Oliver’s birthday, right when everything is going wrong in the latter’s plan. Earlier in the morning, Felix learned about Oliver’s deceit after a surprise visit to his family home. For the same reason, Oliver now has to reckon with Felix’s indomitable hate. Worse yet, Farleigh’s presence makes him realize that no matter Oliver’s attempts, he will never fit in with the Cattons as he wishes to.
Since Felix has finally had his fill of Oliver, there’s nothing to do but dispose of the man. Therefore, Oliver decides to kill two birds with one stone. After noticing Farleigh’s free drug distribution at the party, Oliver mixes a bottle of champagne with some heavy substances. Later, during his final confrontation with Felix, wherein he pretends to drink from the bottle, he thrusts it into the other man’s hand before leaving.
Thus, the next morning, when news of Felix’s death arrives, his parents hold Farleigh in contempt after a pointed nudge from Oliver. As such, Oliver delivers the final blow to Farleigh’s relationship with the Cattons, ensuring he never shows his face again at Saltburn so that the rest of Oliver’s menacing plan can come to fruition.
Yet, even though the film ends with Oliver as the master of the Saltburn Estate, Farleigh may very well return to get his revenge in the future. Given the nature of the Cattons’ death and Oliver’s visible association with them, it won’t take long for someone to dig up the truth if they dedicate themselves to the investigation hard enough. Nevertheless, the same isn’t a problem for the film, which concludes with Oliver’s victory over the Cattons and Farleigh.