Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Saltburn (2023)

Or, Ripley does Brideshead.  

One of the 7 Basic Plots is the social journey, where a fairly humdrum character is invited into a kind of "faery land". This usually ends with said character being found out or used up and expelled, or at least feeling the threat of expulsion from this borrowed reality. 

Two of the most well-known examples from the last century in literature and for adults and anglophone pop culture in general are Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr Ripley, so why not kind of combine the two?

There are several reasons why not to explored here. Firstly, there's something amiss about the period (noughties). Even some twenty years earlier undergraduate life at an Oxbridge college was not really like this, and just when you have forgiven Emerald Fennell for all that, she goes full "Posh Brits, export grade" in the next section. 

With one exception, none of the long-term occupants of Saltburn ring true as characters. That exception is Elspeth, but Rosamund Pike doesn't really have to put it on, and Fennell has given her the majority of actually funny lines in the script. 

Australian Jacob Elordi, rather like Hugh Grant, did not go to an English public school, but looks like he must have done and is occasionally convincing as Felix. I have no idea what Carey Mulligan is doing in this film. Maybe she thought it was going to be darkly and edgily hilarious like Fleabag and felt she owed the director one for Promising Young Woman.

Barry Keoghan, as ever, leaves you to ponder if anyone else could have been considered for this role. The script lets him down a bit, but he's always great just as a cinematic presence and Fennel has equipped his part with a series of gross-out sexual comedy moments, which will be what many are inclined to remember about her film. 

The point about these journeys to an alluring but fickle place is that most of us have experienced them in our dreams. The plot is constructed to titillate us with our insecurities, social and otherwise, yet in this Saltburn "leaves my blood cold", to paraphrase one of the last things one of its characters says. I could see where things were going and so never felt the jeopardy.


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