‘Saltburn‘ follows Oliver Quick’s venture into the world of luxurious living and the subsequent obsession it leads to. As such, the film’s narrative delves into the character’s complex psyche, peeling back layers to dazzle and surprise the audience. The story begins with an almost picture-esque friendship between Oliver and Felix at Oxford, where the former may or may not be in love with his only friend. In turn, Felix is fairly fond of the other man, more so because of his fraught background, with an alcoholic father and a mother who faces mental issues, than anything else. Consequently, Felix ends up inviting Oliver to stay with him and his family over the summer at their family estate, Saltburn.
However, once Oliver gets a taste of Felix’s regular life— that is anything but regular— his obsession grows into an all-consuming infatuation. Although Oliver does some questionable things during his stay, the character’s actions become truly unhinged after his birthday when pivotal revelations come into the light. Therefore, Felix’s death, delivered at the hands of Oliver, must have left the viewers curious about the latter’s motives. SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Night Of Oliver’s Birthday Party
The key to understanding Oliver’s homicidal motives is to see the big picture. Like its protagonist, ‘Saltburn,’ also reveals its secrets in doses. The first big reveal comes when Felix— and the audience— learn that Oliver has been lying about his socioeconomic status this entire time. Instead of a dead father and an unstable mother, Oliver’s reality holds a nice suburban home with loving parents, siblings, and Grecian vacations.
The lie is weird enough to be destructive on its own. However, when you realize that Oliver and Felix’s friendship was built on their financial differences, the lie becomes the catalyst for ending their relationship. Yet, Oliver is desperate to fight for them and attempts to talk to Felix, who is understandably unreceptive to his advances. As a result, the tension culminates in a final confrontation on the night of Oliver’s birthday.
The ensuing conversation only further freaks Felix out, given Oliver’s desperate insistence that his deceit was born of his love for the other man. For all his delightful charms, Felix remains a spoilt heir who, like his mother, enjoyed feeding on the sob stories of others to make him feel better about himself. In his misguided love (or obsession), Oliver simply wanted to give Felix what he wanted so that he could win the other’s admiration and love in return.
Nevertheless, the same would never come to fruition now that Felix is privy to Oliver’s reality. Still, Oliver insists that shouldn’t his sheer desperation be enough? He’s put so much effort into making Felix love him. Why should a single arbitrary truth about his upbringing overshadow Oliver’s dedication and devotion to Felix?
Nonetheless, it does, forcing Oliver to accept that Felix will never love him or keep him by his side as the former wants him to. Thus, Oliver kills his friend by pushing a spiked bottle of alcohol in his hands. However, as the film progresses, Oliver’s ulterior motives come to life, revealing the depth of his multi-faceted nature.
Oliver’s Ploy For Felix’s Wealth
At first, one can interpret Felix’s murder as collateral damage to Oliver’s obsessive-hinging-on-manic desire for the other man. In fact, if you’re willing to entertain input from outside the text, according to Emerald Fennell, the film’s creator, Oliver’s ultimate happy ending would have been a married life with Felix. However skilled Oliver may be at seduction, his competency falters when it comes to Felix.
Oliver knows he can’t have such a life with Felix. Yet, his desire to remain by Felix’s side doesn’t simply come from a place of love. Oliver was entirely infatuated with Felix and his life before he even met the man. At Oxford, a place where Oliver stuck out like a sore thumb, the man observed those who fit in— the rich kids— and their unofficial king, Felix Catton. Oliver was desperate to glimpse into the life of Felix Catton, who had everything and everyone wrapped around his fingers.
Therefore, Oliver masterminded the grand plan to manufacture a meet-cute with Felix and consolidate a strong friendship with him. From there, all the other man needed were a few tragic backstories to take pity on Oliver and keep him by his side even after university ends. Still, Oliver’s manipulation to remain in Felix’s life continues. He plays up his part for Felix’s family to ensure no one gets bored of him, delivering what each member needs to keep them entertained and intrigued.
Oliver wants Saltburn. He wants a life where dinners are a black-tie event, and the proper badminton garb is considered a tux with a champagne flute in hand. He wants to drown himself in luxury so much that, to him, it becomes negligible. Therefore, Oliver’s dreams become unachievable after Felix discovers the truth about his past. Nothing Oliver can do will make Felix accept him as a constant by his side. Thus, if Felix can’t help Oliver attain his desires, he’s no longer useful.
Perhaps it is at this exact moment that Felix falls from Oliver’s pedestal, where his obsession, mistaken for love, for the other man diminishes. As such, Oliver must adapt and find another way to hold on to Saltburn, the physical manifestation of his desires. For the same reason, Oliver kills Felix— to carve out a space for himself within the Catton family as their shoulder to cry on.
Nevertheless, it becomes clear at Felix’s funeral that the family still considers Oliver an outsider when they effectively leave him on the outside during their family tradition. The rejection drives Oliver to take out his frustration at Felix’s grave, which he desecrates through his sexual actions. Maybe, in some twisted way, it conveys his actual plight with the man. Oliver wanted Felix to love him so that he could become a fixture at Saltburn. Since Felix didn’t, Oliver killed him, followed by his entire family, to finally lay his claim on his deepest desire, the Catton Family Estate.
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