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Opinion: ‘Saltburn’ is more than what media make it

In November 2023 the movie “Saltburn,” directed by Emerald Fennell, was released and quickly became a significant pop culture phenomenon. The movie blew up on social media because of a few controversial and relatively disturbing scenes. Even though many people think that the movie is weird, I feel that in a few years, this movie will become something of a cult classic. 

Throughout the movie, there are many references to Greek mythology and classic literature like Shakespeare. The plot of the movie is based heavily on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The movie takes place over the summer at a wealthy European family's house — Saltburn — and much like the labyrinth in the myth, there is a maze in the yard. 

Oliver, the main character, is friends with the eldest child, Felix, and is spending the summer at Saltburn. In the climax of the movie, Oliver is seen walking through the maze to find Felix and finds him at the center underneath a statue of the Minotaur, much like when Theseus goes through Daedalus’s labyrinth to slay the Minotaur. Oliver and Felix have a confrontational conversation and Felix is found dead in the maze the next morning. 

After his death, the rest of the family begins dying off one by one and in the end, Oliver is left to run Saltburn. This is also what happens in Theseus and the Minotaur, after Theseus slays the Minotaur the royals all begin to die until Theseus ends up on the throne. It is later revealed that Oliver was, in some way, responsible for almost all of the family’s deaths. 

In the movie, there are also a lot of references to Shakespeare’s work, and the daughter in the film, Venetia, is a great example of that. Throughout the movie, there are many parallels between Venetia and the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” 

In “Hamlet,” Ophelia is a girl whose life is controlled by others and she has very little autonomy. She is seen as young and naive and incapable of taking care of herself. At the end of her story, she drowns and no one is sure whether she did it to herself or if she was murdered.

In “Saltburn,” Venetia’s story is played out similarly, she is seen as an irresponsible girl who throws herself at every man she meets. Even her death parallels Ophelia’s, Venetia is found in the bathtub after Felix dies with her wrists cut, making it appear as though she killed herself. However, when Oliver reveals everything that he did to the family it makes the audience question whether it was truly done by Venetia’s own hands. 

These are just two examples of the parallels between the movie “Saltburn” and different forms of classic literature and Greek mythology, but there are so many more woven into the story. Once you get past the rather disturbing scenes in the movie it is easy to see that Fennell has created a beautiful work of cinema that should be studied in the future. 

Please note that the views expressed in this column do not reflect the views of The Post. 

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