This article contains Saltburn spoilers.
It’s strange times when the biggest streaming hit during the past holiday season was neither a family film nor a starry blockbuster filled with A-listers like Daniel Craig and Jennifer Lawrence. Instead the one experience this writer heard about time and again during the extended holiday break was of families gathering around and sharing a good old cringe as Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn played on.
Released briefly in theaters last November (where it barely grossed $20 million worldwide), this even pervier riff on The Talented Mr. Ripley didn’t truly come into its own until distributor MGM put Saltburn on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 22. Right in time for Christmas. There’s of course plenty for the whole family to enjoy: Barry Keoghan dancing nude and free around a mansion like Gen Z’s own twisted version of Risky Business; the same actor getting intimate with a freshly dug grave; and of course the one scene folks cannot stop talking about. It’s the sequence where Keoghan’s Oliver sneaks into the bathroom where he just spied on his infatuation, Felix (Jacob Elordi), pleasuring himself. Felix apparently tried to clean up the evidence by washing away bathwater and all other fluids therein, but there was just enough left around the drain for Oliver to lick it up in deliberate, extreme close-up.
It’s the type of grotesque spectacle that sticks with viewers… whether they like it or not. But according to Saltburn’s most famous producer, this is exactly the appeal that made Fennell’s script so exciting. As with Fennell’s first film, the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, Margot Robbie is a producer on Saltburn via her production company LuckyChap Entertainment. Robbie has used the speciality label to produce several of her own films, including I, Tonya and Barbie, as well as female-led projects where she has no onscreen involvement. Which is why while chatting with Variety, Robbie seemed so acutely aware of why folks cannot stop slurping up Saltburn in all its gross pleasure.
“It didn’t feel that shocking in the script, because Emerald immerses you into a world so quickly,” Robbie said about her first reaction to the bathwater moment. “She’s so masterful at tone and plot; she gets you into it so quickly… So by the time you get to something like the bathtub scene, she’s primed you for it. She’s got you. You’re like picking at a scab; you’re like, ‘I can’t help myself.’ Or like popping a pimple: ‘I know I shouldn’t squeeze but I’m gonna.’”
Robbie admitted these are not beatific analogies, but she thinks part of the allure of Saltburn is how it appeals to the viewer’s baser lizard brain.
Said Robbie, “I think there’s something intentionally disgusting and satisfying about where you get to in Saltburn. Like I think [Fennell] wanted you to be equally as disgusted as you are titillated, and equally as shocked as you are by finding that depravity in yourself. She gets in your brain and she kind of taps into the most depraved parts of it, so that you’re complicit in the story. That’s the watercooler moment—the thing that people are talking about two weeks afterwards.”
Well, it’s one of the things they’re talking about, at least. There also seems to be as much awe and revulsion at the bit where Keoghan’s Oliver succumbs to his lust again in a perfectly healthy way by shagging Felix’s grave (and after putting Felix in that six feet hole to boot); there’s also plenty of cringe at the scene where Oliver seduces Felix’s sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) by forcing her to swallow her own menstrual blood and then taking a few gulps of it himself while locking lips; and there is again the big swing of a final scene where Keoghan bares all as he struts his stuff across a mansion floor for an audience of dead “relaies.”
We cannot in good conscience call any of it great storytelling. The film’s climactic third act seems to particularly collapse under the weight of its sudden grasps toward surrealism, which in turn collide against muddled themes about class in the United Kingdom. It’s even fair to wonder if Fennell was aware that her film low-key justifies British elites who believe their “inferiors” in the middle and working classes need to be kept in their place. Or perhaps that is just one more grenade being hurled in a film that wants to get a rise out of audiences, be it through disgust or desire.
Nevertheless, Robbie is right insofar as Saltburn leaves an impression. It sticks in your mind, curdling around the drain of your subconscious and waiting to be plucked back up.
Saltburn is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.
The post Margot Robbie Explains Why Saltburn Bathtub Scene Is Both ‘Disgusting’ and ‘Titillating’ appeared first on Den of Geek.