‘Saltburn’s most WTF moments: From the bathtub to ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’


All hail Emerald Fennell! The English writer/director who brought us the critically heralded and Academy Award-winning, candy-colored revenge thriller Promising Young Woman, was sure to draw notice with whatever she made her follow-up. But who could have predicted Saltburn?

Described by Fennell as a “vampire movie,” this 2000s-set thriller about class conflict, jealousy, obsession, and murder, draws inspiration from stories like Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr. Ripley. But then it gets hornier and darkly funny in a way that is distinctly Fennell. 

Since its premiere at Telluride Film Festival in the fall of 2023, critics have been polarized on the film, with some sneering at its salty and spicy bits, while others have proclaimed it a gem in the crown of queer comedy. Audiences have joined in on this debate, especially since Saltburn hit Prime Video

Whether you love or loathe Saltburn, you can’t deny it’s peppered with outrageous moments. So in celebration of Fennell’s bold film, from its slurping bathtub scene to its climactic dance number, here are the most WTF moments of Saltburn. 

“I wasn’t in love with him.” 

Jacob Elordi as Felix Catton in "Saltburn."

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

The very first line of Saltburn is delivered by Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), who is reflecting on the long-ago summer that would forever change his life — as well as those of the aristocratic Catton family. Invited by his untouchably cool Oxford classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), Oliver spends the hot holiday at the titular family estate, getting to know puzzled patriarch James (Richard E. Grant), motor mouth mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), attention-hungry sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and suspicious cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe).

But back to this very first moment, which sets up unreliable narrator Oliver. Aside from not knowing yet who he is addressing with this speech (we’ll get to that), this line also appears he is selling us a lie. Because as he insists he wasn’t in love with Felix, a cascading montage plays that reeks of sex and longing. And this is just the beginning. 

Felix leaves Oliver with his busted bike. 

Between looking like Jacob Elordi, swanning around like the magnanimous king of the quad, and that very mid-2000s eyebrow ring, we can’t blame Oliver for offering a despondent Felix his bike to catch his eye and gain his favour. But when Felix responds by just assuming this stranger will also return the flat-tired bicycle to the campus? That stings. It’s also Fennell’s clever way of hinting at how Felix is cruising on all kinds of privilege, and just expects people to go above and beyond for him — which they do.

“Honestly, I don’t think it will even fucking register.”

Y Tu Mama Tambien anyone? When Felix’s girlfriend Annabel (Sadie Soverall) shows up at the college dorms looking forlorn and seeking booze, Oliver hooks up with her. She’s looking to make the playboy jealous. But what’s Ollie up to? Is he into her? Or is he just looking to get as close to Felix as he can?

Oliver’s dad dies. 

Two young men in tuxedos sit on a stone bridge.

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

Felix may be a self-centered prince, but he proves a sturdy shoulder to cry on for Oliver when his father (supposedly) dies. He even introduces the grieving college student to the Catton family tradition of writing a departed family member’s name on a stone, and then pitching it into a river as a means of saying goodbye. Alas, in this case, the rock lands in vomit. (“Well, that can’t be good.”)

Felix’s preposterous house tour. 

Fennell masterfully collides the obscenity of the Catton family’s wealth with the casual crudeness of their golden child. “I accidentally fingered my cousin here,” Felix offhandedly says while breezing through the massive mansion. On this comically whirlwind tour, he points out royal artifacts, classical paintings, “Shakespeare’s Folio, ghosts, and ‘dead rellis’ (dead relatives’ portraits),” and a bed that “still has some of Henry VIII’s spunk on it.” It’s dizzying, watching Felix drop all these details in such a blasé manner. He acts so above it all? Is he really? Or is this the show of apathy he puts on to impress Ollie all the more? 

Carey Mulligan returns! 

The Catton family at dinner in "Saltburn."

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

The English actress not only starred in Fennell’s Promising Young Woman but also earned an Academy Award nomination for it! In Saltburn, Carey Mulligan is credited as “Poor Dear Pamela,” who is a friend (or pet) of Felix’s gossip-relishing mother Elspeth, who seems to collect depraved and tragic stories as if they make her deep. 

Even if you caught Mulligan’s name in the opening credits, you might be taken aback by her reveal in the opulent living room, where the family gathers to watch Superbad on a comically small television. Where everyone else in the room appears chic and posh, Poor Dear Pamela has frightful red hair, a face thick with dark make-up, and an outfit that screams eccentric auntie. She couldn’t clash more with the surroundings if she tried. It’s an early hint this houseguest has overstayed her welcome. 

“I have a complete and utter horror of ugliness — ever since I was very young.” 

As Elspeth, Pike is lethal with her lines in Saltburn. She has a soft, sweet tone that sugar-coats the many terrible, terrible things she’ll say. And this line, one of the first things she says to Oliver, is just the amuse-bouche. 

“Daddy always said I’d end up at the bottom of the Thames.” 

Oh, Poor Dear Pamela. 

Runny eggs. 

More wild in retrospect, this scene might rightly be seen as the butler Duncan (Paul Rhys) messing with Oliver, showing him he’s not welcome in the halls of Saltburn. But when Oliver complains that runny eggs, served to him at breakfast, make him sick, well. On her Letterboxd review, Ayo Edebiri put it this way, “my man’s is doing all of this but can’t eat runny eggs?” 

The infamous bathtub scene. 

It’s the scene that made audiences scream and squeal. It’s inspired scented candles, an Alamo exclusive drinking receptacle, and much hand-wringing online. 

After Oliver spies on Felix masturbating in their shared bathroom’s tub, he covertly hops into the draining waters and sticks his face in the floating semen. He wallows in it. Slurps it. Then even tongues the drain to let nothing escape his mouth. 

But he wasn’t in love with Felix, right? 

Elspeth talking trash on her own daughter. 

Rosamund Pike as Elspeth in "Saltburn."

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

Dressed in a sequin gown for dinner and drinking a cocktail with Oliver, Elspeth lets loose on all the ways her daughter disappoints her. “Sexually incontinent,” she calls Venetia. “A born masochist.” In the scene, she then tells Oliver of Venetia’s eating disorder, or as Elspeth crudely puts it, “fingers for pudding,” suggesting her daughter has bulimia nervosa. When Oliver responds that he didn’t know, this malicious mother responds, “Exactly! It hasn’t even helped! Complete waste of time.” Beyond brutal. 

Oliver has period sex with Venetia. 

Venetia’s mother has exposed something she lives with privately, and Oliver uses it to manipulate her through some psycho-sexual control. He tries to control her through her eating disorder, making her agree to simply stop purging, in a rather ignorant assumption about eating disorder recovery. Having secured her promise, he says, “I could just eat you.” 

In their evening encounter in the garden, she warns, “It’s not the right time of the month.” But he is not deterred. “It’s lucky for you I’m a vampire,” he says, wiping her menstrual blood on his face and hers before sharing a bloody kiss. Then, he goes down on her. Look, contextually, there are layers of fucked up here between the manipulation and motivations, and they should both really read Mashable’s guide to period sex. But it’s hard to deny that scene is hot stuff.

Karaoke embarrassment 

Next to pool parties, is there any place so ripe for social horror than karaoke? 

Ollie’s been systematically winning over the Catton clan. But he stumbles with cousin Farleigh, who tells Felix about the Venetia hook-up to disrupt Oliver’s progress. During the Catton karaoke jam, Oliver tries a different tactic, attempting to seduce Farleigh, suggesting he could even be an ally in his handling of the family’s financial dynamics. But then Farleigh tricks him, setting him up to sing Pet Shop Boys’ 1987 song “Rent,” in front of the family and their friends. It’s a track that means Oliver must sing the line, “I love you, you pay my rent” — and it’s a diabolical, public reminder of class.

Farleigh: Double fucked. 

Barry Keoghan and Archie Madekwe in "Saltburn."

Credit: Archie Madekwe

As payback, Oliver sneaks into Farleigh’s room at night for a hook-up that brings up questions around consent. But a handjob in the dark doesn’t make them friends. It’s later revealed, Oliver took this opportunity to frame Farleigh for theft, getting the lone threat against him out of Saltburn for good.

“Pamela died?” 

Poor Dear Pamela. Not long after leaving the comforts of Saltburn, she shed this mortal coil. But don’t expect sympathy from the Cattons. Elspeth’s response to her friend’s death is not only cold but maybe the sharpest punchline in Fennell’s crackling script: “She’d do anything for attention.” 

Notably, this barb is so sharp that even Oliver drops his affable facade for a moment of sincere shock. Or… maybe not shock. Maybe Oliver is realizing how truly fickle these rich folk are, and how his own days at Saltburn are also numbered.

So, about Oliver’s dead dad…

Even on the first watch you might have been suspicious of Ollie’s supposed tragic backstory of a drunk mother, no siblings, and a dad who died horrifically. Turns out, he has a cozy middle-class upbringing with loving parents and older sisters — something Felix finds out by meeting them face-to-face through what he believes is a gesture of friendship. The whole Dickensian schtick was Ollie’s naked attempt to catch Felix’s interest. And now, he’s been caught in a lie so big that Felix is ready to cut him out for good. 

Felix dies. 

Oliver oversees the wreckage of the party.

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

Oliver’s opulent birthday party is poised to become a going-away party, as Felix aimed to banish him from the grounds once it was over. But then, at the centre of the Saltburn maze, Felix dies mysteriously amid the celebrations. And now, his devastated family clings to who they feel must be his best friend. But what even happened to the fallen prince? 

Lunch as usual. 

After Felix’s death, it’s time for lunch? The meal looks a mess. The family is crying. Venetia’s wine glass is overflowing. And those red, relentless curtains, meant to block out the site of Felix’s body being carted away by the authorities. Instead, the drapes cast the whole room in a hellish red. So, what is there to do but SIT DOWN AND EAT THE BLOODY PIE!

Grave humping. 

We all grieve differently. 

At this point in the film, Ollie has had sexual relations with Felix’s sister and cousin, drank his spunk, and hit on his mom. But his desire to be with Felix himself is denied, first by the prince’s rejection, then by death. So, Ollie says goodbye by fucking Felix’s freshly dug grave. 

Fun fact: Keoghan and Fennell came up with that on the day. In the script, Ollie was only supposed to kiss the grave. 

Venetia dies. 

Alison Oliver as Venetia in "Saltburn."

Credit: MGM and Amazon Studios

Return to the tub. Venetia delivers a monologue from the water, mocking Oliver’s grief. “You have nothing to do with him. With us. With here. Nothing at all. You are just a stranger,” she says, adding, “Stranger fucking danger.” And yet, she’s still not aware of just how dangerous he is.

Ollie returns to Saltburn. 

Sir James did his best to free his remaining family from the plague that is Oliver Quick. But the film’s final act cuts to years later, where the aristocrat is dead and his widow Elspeth is desperate for company. Re-enter Oliver, conveniently sitting in Elspeth’s local cafe, “handsome” and “all grown up.” And just like that, he’s back in the estate, looking after her. 

Oliver comes clean. 

While the Cattons tend to treat their lower-class associates like playthings, the finale reveals that Oliver was playing them all along. According to his big confession to a dying Elspeth, he reveals he tricked Felix into their fateful first meeting over the bike and manipulated the whole family from there on out. 

He framed Farleigh by using his phone after their tryst. He killed Felix by handing him a poisoned bottle of champagne. He gave the grieving, drunk Venetia the means to die by suicide. Then, he ran Elspeth’s health into ruin, after getting her to sign over everything to him. 

“Accidents are for people like you,” he tells her. “For the rest of us, there’s work. And unlike you, I know how to work.” 

Coming full circle

Those opening lines weren’t delivered to us. This whole story was for Felix’s mother. A confession or perhaps a boast, delivered to a helpless dying woman. Then he rips out her breathing tube. Brutal. But that’s not all. 

“Murder on the Dancefloor.” 

Fennell has said originally, the plan was for Oliver to walk around Saltburn naked, sort of claiming his territory. Then, as the shoot approached, the director wanted something bigger to conclude the tale. She proposed that Oliver instead dance through the stately residence to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s 2001 hit “Murder on the Dancefloor”, and Keoghan was game. 

It’s outrageous: an exuberant celebration of drugs, sex, and decadence. Through the halls that held history and the Canton ghosts, Oliver Quick struts, flaps, and shimmies without shame. With joy. The Cattons are not forgotten though. He dances gleefully around the family treasure, “The Canton Players” puppet theatre, on top of which sits four memorial stones, signifying each member’s death, and darkly honoring the family’s tradition.

“Gonna burn this goddamn house right down,” Ellis-Bextor sings, and Oliver smiles. Victorious. 

Saltburn is now on Prime Video.

This piece has mentioned eating disorders. If you feel like you’d like to talk to someone about your eating behavior, text “NEDA” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected with a trained volunteer or visit the National Eating Disorder Association website for more information.

This piece has also mentioned suicide. If you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to somebody. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email [email protected]. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat at crisischat.org. Here is a list of international resources.

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