Spoilers for Saltburn can be found throughout this piece. And that includes one already-infamous bathtub scene.
While Saltburn didn’t have the biggest Thanksgiving 2023 box office showing this weekend, it’s been a buzzy movie and kicked off solidly. A lot of the conversation has been around a certain bathtub scene involving leads Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan, to the point where Amazon even threw bathtubs into theater lobbies in order to market the film. Now, the director has shared her take on the scene the Internet can’t stop talking about, and I honestly feel like I saw a different movie.
If you don’t know the premise of Saltburn, it is, in fact, a story about envy and lust. Oliver Quick (Keoghan) begins university and isn’t among the in-crowd, until a seemingly chance encounter has him becoming friendly with popular, kind, and yes, rich kid Felix who eventually invites him home to his manor Saltburn for the summer. There, in a viral scene, Oliver watches Felix masturbate and then drinks the leftover water out of the tub. In the film, it’s a sign his obsession is growing, and the theatrical responses to the 2023 movie release have been notable.
Saw the Saltburn tub scene with about 16 other people in the theater and you could hear a marshmallow drop the way no one moved or reacted pic.twitter.com/hg8kTY6TH7November 26, 2023
The moment was so shocking, I saw the male audiencegoer sitting next to me making uncomfortable comments to his partner while hiding part of his face under his hat. Another person left the theater – which seems to have been a thing in other screenings too – though I suppose they may have just run to the bathroom, as I did not pay attention to whether or not they returned. But if you were to ask Emerald Fennell, she’s embraced the scene as a “sexy” cinematic moment.
I first read over her comments and was not on the same page at all. This scene was intense and more of sexually explicit movie moment than one I would describe as arousing. It plays out as creepy and disturbing in the moment, and given what I know now having seen the ending, it’s even more perverted in retrospect. Sexy is not an adjective that would come to mind at all. But Fennell would go on to explain this take, and in the meantime, others have been sharing their takes on Saltburn as well.
Saltburn was wild. It does for bathtubs what Call Me By Your Name did for peaches. #Saltburn #FilmTwitter And Rosamund Pike was a standout amongst amazing performances. pic.twitter.com/ALMHEL0JSvNovember 27, 2023
The truth is, some fans are comparing it to that conflicted peach masturbation scene in Call Me By Your Name, and others seem to just be reacting to the moment due to its shocking nature. To me, the real doozy of a scene actually comes later in the movie, when Oliver Quick himself also masterbates … on top of a grave.
But Fennell is making a good point to People that the scene is certainly open to be interpreted in any given number of ways, and people should feel comfortable with whatever they have taken from the scene – even if it is discomfort.
She went on to tell the outlet that she creates scenes like these in order to spark a reaction from the audience, sexy other otherwise. So, no matter what you felt watching, as long as you felt something, Jacob Elordi masturbating in a tub while Keoghan was creeping in the shadows was a great success.
Ultimately, no matter what you think of this particular scene, I do think it will be one of the best Amazon movies streaming once it wraps its official theatrical run. Though I still don’t know that I can agree the scene was “sexy,” but it’s certainly the type of cinematic moment that will stick with me for a long time, and Saltburn was chock full of those. It seems that was exactly Emerald Fennell’s point.