WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Saltburn.
- Saltburn is filled with hidden details and references that may require multiple viewings to fully capture.
- The film is influenced by literary, historical, and cinematic references, including Cruel Intentions and A Clockwork Orange.
- There are hidden foreshadowings and Easter eggs throughout the film, such as the lyric change in the opening song and Felix’s doppelgänger.
There is a great number of hidden details and references in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, many of them which would be difficult to spot even after multiple viewings. While the film is being mostly talked about for its most twisted scenes and characters, there is also a wealth of literary, historical, and cinematic references that can be found throughout Saltburn with a careful eye. Because of the shock value that completely takes over the film upon first watch, Saltburn has proven that it requires multiple viewings to full capture the breadth of its influences.
Fennell, who attended Oxford University at the same time during which her characters do in Saltburn, pulled some details of the now-classic 2006 – 2007 era into the world of her film. She has publically mentioned some of her more obvious film inspirations such as 1999’s cult hit Cruel Intentions as well as the not-so-apparent dark influence of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (via The Face). The end result is a seemingly straightforward psychological thriller that has many more easter eggs than meets the eye.
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10 “Zadok The Priest” Lyric Change
Fennell recently took to social media to point out that the opening song titled “Zodak The Priest” made a hidden lyric change as it played over the title card. Fennell said, “Saltburn’s opening sequence was written, filmed & edited to Handel’s Zadok the Priest: the coronation theme. Which Anthony Willis beautifully re-orchestrated. But here when the title appears the choir doesn’t sing “Zadok the Priest”, they sing “Oliver Quick”. Long live the king!” If anyone knew what they were looking for, the end of the movie is hinted at in its very first minute.
9 The Minotaur
Oliver dressed as a deer during his birthday party and on the night he killed Felix underneath a Minotaur statue. The visual references to the Minotaur are very clear but the meaning of it requires a deeper dive into Greek mythology than simply going off the information presented in the film alone. The Minotaur was a notoriously angry half-man, half-bull figure who ate people, much like how Venetia accused Ollie of “eating” Felix and “licking the plate”. The Minoatur is also related to a Greek figure named Theseus, who has a similar rise to power to Ollie.
8 Felix’s Doppelgänger
Another hidden detail in Saltburn actually briefly shows Felix’s doppelgänger as a foreshadowing of his perilous fate. During a scene in which the Catton family and Ollie talk about the the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Felix’s doppelgänger can be seen for a very short moment over his shoulder. This is a direct reference to the poet that they are discussing at breakfast, since Shelley famously saw his doppelgänger before dying by drowning. Fennell confirmed that she meant to put this detail in Saltburn but made sure that it was well hidden to avoid potentially spoiling her own movie.
7 A Midsummer Night’s Dream Party
Ollie’s birthday party at Saltburn is aesthetically themed to William Shakespeare’s famous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The deer antlers that Ollie wears is a reference to the changeling boy at the center of the Shakespeare play, before his darker side transforms him into the Minotaur, that is. Other references to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream include the costumes of Queen Titania, who Elspeth is dressed up as, and Duke Theseus, who and Sir James dresses as in a suit of armor.
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6 “The Shining” Labyrinth
The Labyrinth in Saltburn is likely a combination of a historical reference to the Minotaur as well as a cinematic reference to Kubrick’s The Shining. In Greek mythology, the Minotaur is condemned and trapped to live in a maze called the Labyrinth, where he kills and eats intruders until Theseus kills him. This Greek myth, which informed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, paints Ollie as both the Minotaur and Theseus, depending on how you view his murder of Felix. The maze in The Shining is where Jack Nicholson’s character famously descends into madness and tries to kill his family.
5 Death Foreshadowing
Outside of Felix’s doppleganger death foreshadowing, there are two other instances that hint at future Catton family deaths. When Venetia overflows her glass of wine at the dinner table following Felix’s death, this is a foreshadowing of her eventual death in a bathtub full of her own blood. In the same scene, Elspeth chokes on her food, hinting at her cause of death when Ollie later pulls the incubator tube out of her and she chokes to death.
4 Gothic Literature
There are many references to Gothic literature in Saltburn. Fennell has expressed that both The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley (1953) and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) were inspirations for Saltburn. The grave scene is also inspired by Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847) in which Heathcliff digs to his lover Cathy’s coffin, which provides a similar Gothic context. Fennell also gave Jacob Elordi a copy of Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh (1945) to help get him into character.
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3 “Superbad” Screener
James and Felix Catton crack up at the 2007 hit comedy movie Superbad during an early scene in Saltburn, which some viewers have pointed out could be a logistical error since the film was released in August 2007. With the events at the Saltburn estate beginning in June 2007, this would mean that the film, which seems to be mainly to provide temporal context, hadn’t been released yet. Fennell has responded to this with the justification that the Catton’s had received a screener to watch the movie ahead of time.
2 Mid-2000’s Aesthetic
The mid-2000’s aesthetic is painted all over certain scenes and moments in Saltburn, especially in Felix’s stud piercing above his left eye. The hairstyle for Farleigh was also inspired by High School Musical actor Corbin Bleu’s iconic afro and Ollie’s hair in the beginning of the film at Oxford was inspired by Zac Efron’s look in the same movie. Felix’s fashion style was inspired by Prince Harry’s look at the time and Venetia’s aesthetic was heavily inspired by Keira Knightley.
1 Theseus Statue
During a scene in which Ollie and Elspeth talk outside at Saltburn, a statue of Theseus can be seen behind them as he is killing the Minotaur. In Greek mythology, Theseus would become the King of Athens by tricking his own father into committing suicide. In this light, Theseus is representative of Ollie, who essentially tricks Elspeth into giving him Saltburn upon her death, which directly, unbeknownst to her, led to her death. James also might have died by suicide as well but that remains unclear. While Ollie can be interpreted through several lenses in Saltburn, the influence of both Theseus and the Minotaur are certainly present.
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Saltburn is a 2023 comedy-thriller film. When Oxford student Oliver Quick is invited to his friend Felix’s family’s wealthy estate, Saltburn, for a summer vacation, he is drawn into the world of eccentric characters and increasingly chaotic events as his obsession with Felix comes to a head.
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Emerald Fennell
- 131 Minutes
- Emerald Fennell
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , MRC , LuckyChap Entertainment , Lie Still
- Amazon MGM Studios