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Saltburn’s Soundtrack Might be the Most Compelling Element of the Film– Here’s Why

By Layla McGovern

If you haven’t seen Saltburn, you’ve probably heard about it on social media. Saltburn took the internet by storm with Barry Keoghan’s captivating portrayal of a young man, Oliver Quick, infatuated with Jacob Elordi’s steamy golden boy, Felix Catton. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that Oliver’s obsession with Felix is dangerous and unhealthy. Oliver’s role as a flawed protagonist highlights present themes against capitalism and overconsumption, and its soundtrack solidifies its messages.

One of the first songs featured in the film is “No Cars Go” by Arcade Fire. This song plays in the pub when Oliver first sees Felix with his friends. “No Cars Go” talks of an “other” place separate from reality. This is a place without the luxury of planes, cars or spaceships. The lack of transportation in this imagined space suggests you cannot easily travel to and from it. I believe the inclusion of this song in the pub scene implies that the remote, unattainable place in the lyrics applies to the capitalist class system. Felix and his friends reside in this “other” place of wealth and status while Oliver is an outsider.

“Destroy Everything You Touch” by Ladytron speaks of a cyclical, toxic relationship in which one of the partners displays destructive behavioral patterns due to their insecurities. This song plays in the pub scene when Felix’s friends pressure Oliver into buying a round of shots. Felix believes Oliver can’t afford to pay for the drinks so he discreetly offers him money. The timing of this song is significant because it occurs with a monetary transaction. Felix extends a pecuniary olive branch to Oliver, giving him a way into his inner circle. I feel that this song choice effectively foreshadows Oliver’s destruction of the Catton family.

Later in the film, Oliver and Felix have a minor falling out. After their argument, Felix goes to the pub with his friends and excludes Oliver. While Oliver watches Felix’s friend group wistfully, “This Modern Love” by Bloc Party plays in the background. This song details the anxiety surrounding new relationships and the mental turmoil that accompanies unreciprocated feelings. At first, the audience interprets this song as representative of Oliver’s unrequited love for Felix, but by the film’s end, we realize that Oliver never loved Felix, and had planned to infiltrate his wealthy family all along. I believe the “Modern Love” Oliver feels is for money, and his relationship with Felix symbolizes modern society’s unhealthy infatuation with money.

One of the more apparent indicators of capitalism in this film is the song “Rent” by Pet Shop Boys. This song appears karaoke-style which is significant because Oliver and Farleigh, Felix’s cousin, perform it in front of an audience of wealthy socialites. A noteworthy pause occurs before Oliver sings the lyric: “I love you, you pay my rent.” Oliver and Farleigh are the only two non-immediate family members who live at the Saltburn estate without paying rent, so their singing of this song highlights class conflict and marks a menacing shift in tone for the remainder of the film.

The final scene features Oliver dancing to “Murder on the Dancefloor” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. The lyrics in this song parallel Oliver’s actions in the film. Oliver committed multiple murders, metaphorically burning down the Catton house in doing so. He reveals his motives were purely economic and that he wanted to “eat the rich.” However, Oliver is no better than the top 1% in this film due to his exploitation of others for monetary and status gains. I firmly believe that Oliver is equally as much of the problem as the Cattons. Although the upbeat tone of the song implies a celebration, the lyrics ground the film in reality by identifying the moral ramifications of acquiring exorbitant wealth.

Many cinematic elements help convey Saltburn’s themes against capitalism and overconsumption; however, I think the soundtrack has the most compelling effect on the audience. While some songs are more apparent evidence of these themes like “Rent” and “Murder on the Dancefloor,” each song has a significant meaning. The lyrics and strategic use of each track in the film reveal a thought-provoking subtext. This subtext provides the film’s themes with a more compelling and lasting impact on the audience, prompting further reflection after watching.

One thought on “Saltburn’s Soundtrack Might be the Most Compelling Element of the Film– Here’s Why

  1. Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?

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