Saltburn, the second film from Promising Young Woman director Emerald Fennell, is causing a lot of discourse, and it seems that she’s embracing the fact that people are talking about it regardless.
Fennell was in Savannah this week as the film bowed at SCAD’s Savannah Film Festival on its way to its fall release date from Amazon MGM Studios. The filmmaker was also honored by the festival this year with the Spotlight Director Award.
Described as a “beautifully wicked tale of privilege and desire,” the film stars Barry Keoghan as an Oxford University student struggling to fit in. Soon, he “finds himself drawn into the world of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for a summer never to be forgotten.”
The film also stars Archie Madekwe, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver and Carey Mulligan.
“About seven or eight years ago, a young man came to me, in my mind, and he said, ‘I wasn’t in love with her,'” explained Fennell during a Q&A following the film’s showing. “And then I saw him lick the bottom of the bathtub. And that was the beginning. I thought, ‘Oh, OK. Well, you’re a liar.’ And so I guess I wanted to make a film that felt like what it feels like when you’re absolutely in the grips of something. I think that, with the internet as it is now, where all of us are in this day of a constant pattern of looking and wanting, I feel the things that we look at and we want make us feel a certain degree of self-loathing. And then we transfer [that energy] back onto the object.”
She continued, “When you see beautiful houses, and you hate the people who live in them, and you wish ill on them. Maybe this is just me, guys [laughs]. Maybe you’re all really good people. But we’re looking at something, it’s never going to look back at us. And so, the aristocracy felt like a very good place to start with that….this kind of sadomasochistic relationship we all have with things that won’t ever, ever love us back. And then COVID happened, and it made the wanting so much more intense.”
The director, speaking on many of the characters, especially Elordi’s Felix, also talked about how the film brings out the moral grey area that most people exist in, which begs the question, is anyone inherently good?
“I don’t know that any of us deep down really believe that we are good,” she said. “And that’s because we can’t be. Because it’s not possible to be human and to be entirely good. And so, therefore, I’m not interested in making moral judgments on any character. I’m interested in getting to some kind of truth. I think something that is ever interesting is that tension and the kind of threat that people’s motives might not always be what they seem and people not being entirely honest. Because nobody is honest in their interactions.”
Saltburn screened at the 2023 Savannah Film Festival. The film is in select theaters on Nov, 17 and in theaters everywhere on Nov. 22.