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Emerald Fennell explores the depths of desire in upcoming film “Saltburn”

Ruby Henson

Academy Award-winning director, Emerald Fennell sat down with the Chronicle to discuss her upcoming movie, “Saltburn.”

The film is written, directed and co-produced by Fennell, in her sophomore effort following the controversial success of her debut film, “Promising Young Woman.”

“Saltburn,” which was centerpiece of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, takes the audience back to 2007 as Oxford student Oliver Quick, portrayed by Barry Keoghan finds himself drawn into the sprawling upper-crust Saltburn estate by alluring playboy Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi. The summer they spend together is filled with sundrenched drama and the twists and turns of aristocratic life that will never be forgotten.

Toeing the line between tragedy and comedy, the film explores excessive wealth, class and obsession. Despite the look into the elite, a common thread is woven through the characters and the audience: yearning.

“If you’re writing something like this, which is about desire, which is about wanting something, and someone so much that you’ve absolutely lost your mind,” Fennell said. “I think that we all understand that feeling.”

She encouraged audiences to watch the film in theaters to get the full experience of being uncomfortable. She felt like the film gave “permission” to experience that discomfort however they choose.

“Am I supposed to find this sexy? Am I supposed to find this transgressive? And am I supposed to root for this character, to like this person? Am I supposed to find this person hot? The answers to all of it always is yes,” Fennell said. “There’s something about being next to someone, particularly a stranger, where you’re like, okay this is a communal experience that we’re all kind of confronting together.”

While Fennell wanted to make “a vampire movie” with elements of traditional gothic horror, she injects humor into dreary scenes, and said she wanted to “take off some of those restraints.”

“Comedy is where I’m most comfortable talking about difficult things,” Fennell said, comparing the tone of “Saltburn” to “Promising Young Woman.” “I just don’t know how else to be honest about things without being able to laugh.”

Fennell said she hopes to draw a conversation out of the audience by the time they leave the theater.

“This film is about our relationship with the things and people we want, and what it gets us to do to each other and ourselves, and why it’s so confusing and sadomasochistic,” Fennell said. “When people leave the theater, and some of them are like, ‘that was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.’ And somebody else says, ‘that’s the horniest I’ve ever seen’. Somebody else says, ‘it was actually quite dull.’ That’s a conversation and that’s all you can hope to do, you know?”

“Saltburn” also stars Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver and Archie Madekwe and premieres in select theaters Nov. 22, before a wide release Nov. 24.

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About the Contributors
Patience Hurston
Patience Hurston, Copy Chief
phurston@columbiachronicle.com   Patience Hurston is a junior journalism major, minoring in Black World Studies. Hurston has reported on student loan forgiveness, changes with campus building policies and has written film reviews. They joined the Chronicle in June 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Ruby Henson
Ruby Henson, Former Illustrator
rhenson@columbiachronicle.com   Ruby Henson is a senior illustration major and has created graphics for artificial intelligence, campus issues and first-year student retention stories. They worked for the Chronicle from August 2023 through December 2023.   Hometown: Austin, Tex.