The Bitter Comedy of Social Satire in Saltburn

The Bitter Comedy of Social Satire in Saltburn

Experience the captivating allure of class satire in Saltburn, where Jacob Elordi shines as a modern-day matinee idol, exploring themes of queer love, loss, and lust amidst the constraints of noblesse oblige Add this thought-provoking gem to your must-watch list

Editor's Note: Culture Queue is a continuous series that provides recommendations for current books to read, films to watch, and podcasts and music to listen to. Young men in the public eye, particularly actors, capturing the attention of gay desire is remarkably fascinating, as described by "Saturday Night Live" star, Bowen Yang.

At 26 years old, Jacob Elordi, known for his roles in "Euphoria" and the "Kissing Booth" trilogy, has been gaining significant public attention lately. He was named GQ's Man of the Year, portrayed Elvis Presley in Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla", and is now establishing himself as a modern-day matinee idol in director Emerald Fennell's film, "Saltburn".

In "Saltburn", director Emerald Fennell delves into the intricacies of the British ruling class and their personal lives.

In the film, Elordi portrays Felix Catton, a privileged Oxford student and heir to the grand estate featured in the movie's title. Despite publicly dating women, Elordi's charismatic and alluring demeanor, as labeled by his "Saltburn" co-star Barry Keoghan, has drawn attention to his role in the LGBTQ+ cultural conversation. Unlike other young straight actors who have taken on gay roles and downplayed their characters' sexualities, Elordi's portrayal intentionally or unintentionally emphasizes his "Saltburn" character's flamboyance, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy it.

The Bitter Comedy of Social Satire in Saltburn

Jacob Elordi attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Saltburn" on November 14.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"Saltburn" is a dark dramedy that delves into the lives of Felix and his wealthy family, as they grapple with the intrusion of a cunning outsider. The show skillfully weaves together themes of desire and social status, ambition, and deceit.

Felix's charisma and handsome appearance, emphasized by winks and charming British phrases, are an irresistible attraction for the less fortunate Oliver Quick (played by Keoghan) in the film. Eager to get closer to Felix, Oliver fabricates a story about his father's death. "Why don't you come home with me?" Felix offers in sympathy, inviting Oliver to spend the summer at his country manor. The plot and style of these introductory scenes are reminiscent of "Brideshead Revisited" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

Immediately, Oliver is captivated by Felix's lifestyle and possessions, blending into the background like a curious observer. He astutely dissects the behavior of the wealthy family and their entourage from a distance. In the shadows, he fixates on Felix: watching his every move, observing his closely embraced (yet often exposed) torso from behind closed doors and around corners.

Elordi epitomizes this gaze, serving as both the focus and the object; his character has little to do other than simply look attractive. The camera captures Oliver's perspective as well, sometimes concentrating on mundane images such as beads of sweat on the nape of his neck. It is under Oliver's intense gaze that we witness their relationship unfold, often from a distance, feeling more routine and platonic than seductive, as they have very few opportunities to be alone together. Consequently, Oliver goes to great lengths to catch Felix's attention in sometimes quite unsettling ways, including one instance where he persistently drinks up Felix's leftover bathwater.

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Saltburn is a fiercely edgy film that ignites with a provocative energy, leaving no doubt about Fennell's willingness to push the boundaries. Much like a powerful firecracker, it is bold, loud, and incredibly captivating. As the successor to her Oscar-winning "Promising Young Woman," Fennell, a graduate of Oxford University and daughter of a celebrity jewelry designer, explores subject matter close to her heart. At times, the film walks a fine line, resembling "Bridgerton" and echoing a frat party atmosphere, but perhaps that's intentional. Despite occasional lack of subtlety, "Saltburn" compensates with a sharp-witted dialogue that scrutinizes the newly affluent within a setting they are most familiar with.

The Bitter Comedy of Social Satire in Saltburn

In "Saltburn," Oliver, played by Keoghan, is at Oxford on a scholarship, while Felix, played by Elordi, comes from a world of double-barreled wealth. His peers all have titles but no taste. Felix attended a private school where, as he jokes, students learned "Latin, water polo, and child abuse."

Keoghan undeniably portrays the more captivating of the two characters, but Elordi, while stunning, is also receiving more attention from the public. He is deliberately selecting roles in the early stages of his career that are not the typical, focus-grouped choices. For instance, in "Euphoria," his character is outed in a high school play, and in the upcoming period drama "On Swift Horses," he portrays a gay casino worker in a love triangle with his coworker. Additionally, there is "He Came That Way," an unreleased film in which Elordi plays a simmering, yet unexpected role as a serial killer coveted by Zachary Quinto's gay monkey trainer.

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The portrayal of a good-looking actor in "Saltburn" may lead to questions about whether his performance is genuine or just a moment of method acting. However, the film is a fresh take on the ridiculousness of the wealthy and contains genuinely shocking moments. Fennell successfully mimics the privileged and desirable, but the film may leave a slightly bitter aftertaste despite its high points.

Lucky for us all, then, that Elordi is a tall drink of water.

Add to Queue: Queer love, loss and lust amid noblesse oblige

Explore Edith Wharton's 1913 novel, "The Custom of the Country," which follows Undine Spragg's relentless pursuit of climbing the social ladder in New York. This captivating narrative delves into the lengths she is willing to go to in order to achieve her ambitions, even if it means causing chaos in her wake. With its fast-paced storytelling, "The Custom of the Country" stands out as one of Wharton's most compelling works, and it has drawn interest from filmmaker Sofia Coppola for a potential adaptation that delves into the audacious tale of American aristocracy and one woman's determination to mold it according to her desires.

Check out "Brideshead Revisited" (1981) for a faithful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's classic novel. The BBC series, featuring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, stays true to the original dialogue and is visually stunning. The show's script is fast-paced and captures the essence of the beloved story. Allegedly based on a real college-aged dalliance of Waugh's, the series also hints at homosexual tension. This adaptation sets a high standard for faithfulness to the source material.

Check out "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999) for a captivating portrayal of social climbing based on Patricia Highsmith's novel. Starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, this stylish film masterfully unravels the ambitions of a man from humble beginnings and unveils the hidden dynamics of the upper class. The movie expertly captures the tension and unease that comes with integrating into a new social circle.

Title: "Foster Dade's Journey into the Cosmos" (2023)

Nash Jenkins' 2021 novel, "Foster Dade's Journey into the Cosmos," is a recent addition to the queer literary canon. The novel delves into the moral complexities of its titular character, a student at an elite New Jersey college, and alludes to Dade's exploration of his own sexuality. Dade's hormone-fueled relationships with classmates and his exploration of masculinity create a captivating coming-of-age story, reminiscent of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History."

Title: "The Rise and Fall of England's Elite" (2023)

In his recent release, "The Rise and Fall of England's Elite," photographer Dafydd Jones captures the vulnerability of England's ruling classes amidst the champagne-soaked glamour. Through monochrome party shots, Jones provides a glimpse into the world of the Bright Young Things during Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, offering a nostalgic look at life before the impact of globalization and Brexit on Great Britain.