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Best of 2023: Breaking down “Saltburn”'s most shocking moments from tub slurping to vampiric lovemaking

Plus, that revelatory, jaw-dropping road trip.

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Saltburn.

It says a lot about how wild Emerald Fennell's Saltburn is that EW has written in-depth break downs of the film's erotic cemetery scene and "post-coital triumph" of an ending, and there's still more to discuss.

The film, which follows Barry Keoghan's Oliver as he gets invited by the aristocratic Felix (Jacob Elordi) to spend a truly life-changing summer at his sprawling Saltburn estate, is a dark and deranged tale of privilege and obsession, and as such, there's just too many juicy moments in need of unpacking. We'd be remiss if we ended the year without discussing these moments, so, in honor of our Best of 2023 series, writer-director Fennell walks us through three other top shocking scenes from the film.

Tub slurping

<p>MGM</p> Barry Keoghan hops in the tub in 'Saltburn'


Barry Keoghan hops in the tub in 'Saltburn'

The first truly unhinged bit of obsession we see is when, after Oliver has secretly watched Felix pleasure himself while taking a bath, Oliver hops into the tub and slurps what remains at the bottom — water and all. Ironically, this was also the first thing that came to mind when Fennell was crafting the film. "The bathtub was the first thing, the first image, that came to me," Fennell says. "It was a boy saying, 'I wasn't in love with him,' and that same boy licking the bottom of a bathtub. So that was the very center of the film for me, this kind of unreliable narrator, somebody who was clearly in the grips of extreme desire and who hasn't yet come to terms with it or who has had to find another way of coming to terms with it or explain it."

Fennell says from the beginning, she had a very specific idea of what the moment should look like. For instance, she knew it had to be in profile on Oliver in the tub, so the production team cut a bathtub in half, "enough so that we could feel like we were inside it," says Fennell. Watching the scene come to life on the day with Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren — whom Fennell describes as "the most profoundly unshockable person" she's ever met — was "profoundly brilliant and thrilling."

"The Swedes are famously very... they'll talk about anything. And when Barry started to rim the drain, Linus squealed like a little girl, and we had to edit it out, and he was like, 'F---,'" Fennell recalls with a laugh. The unintentional goof from her cinematographer was very welcome, however. Says Fennell: "That is the thing — if in the room on the monitor you are all feeling like, 'Whoa, holy s---,' then it's the most exciting thing in the world. Because it's not just that something's incredibly sexy, or at least I think it is; it has an involuntary physical response actually, that even when you are not physically supposed to respond vocally because you're filming, you do that because it's something that you can't help but respond to. And it's those moments where you know that you are getting to something that is incredible."

Vampiric lovemaking

<p>MGM</p> Barry Keoghan's Oliver approaches Alison Oliver's Venetia in 'Saltburn'


Barry Keoghan's Oliver approaches Alison Oliver's Venetia in 'Saltburn'

When EW brings up this scene, in which Oliver performs oral sex on Felix's sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver), in the estate's moonlit garden while she's on her period, Fennell sighs. "Ah, what we describe as 'the vampire scene,'" she says, adding, "It's the most kind of overtly gothic moment of the movie, I would say." Behind the scenes, much was made about the blocking, the clothes, and "the exact sounds his brogues made" on the stone steps — all to create what Fennell describes as an "unbelievably almost fairytale silhouette." "The sound of those brogues and then his silhouette of him and he's fully dressed and she's in her nightgown, and he's standing over her, and the blocking in this film always is about power. Who has it, who's trying to get it?" she says.

In this case, Oliver has just learned from Venetia's mother, Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), that Venetia is a masochist and has a complicated relationship with her body, so he uses this knowledge to both manipulate and gratify her (and himself). "Actually, what he's doing is not just what she wants in order to manipulate her, but actually because it's gratifying to him, too, because I don't think he knows what he wants really. He has a sense of it. Generally, he wants Felix desperately, but that's just a closed door really, or a parted door that ends up really being locked," she says.

Fennell continues, "His great skill is of anticipating somebody else's needs and of giving it to them and getting his pleasure from them... And so it is an act of service and an act of love and an act of erotic dedication."

Revelatory road trip

<p>MGM</p> Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan take a fateful road trip in 'Saltburn'


Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan take a fateful road trip in 'Saltburn'

If there is one true plot twist in Saltburn, it's the moment when Felix surprises Oliver with a birthday road trip to visit the latter's family, and Felix (and the audience) realize for the first time that none of what Oliver has said is true. His parents are both very much alive and appear to be a very normal, middle-class family, with no addiction issues in sight. "If there is a twist in the movie, that is the twist, and [it was] the only thing that was important to me to preserve," says Fennell. "Because once we know that, once we reveal that he is not a boy who is struggling with a father who has died of an overdose or a kind of drunken incident, but in fact, he comes from an incredibly nice, incredibly loving middle-class family, that's when we know that he's a liar."

She continues, "And even if we've seen it already and been told multiple times — the first thing we see in this movie is Oliver lying to us; we know he's lying to us — from then on, that was the only thing I really, really wanted to preserve."

Saltburn is currently playing in theaters and will be available to stream Dec. 22 on Amazon Prime Video.

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