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Kamalani Akeo talks with members of the womens volleyball coaching staff in 2021.
Kamalani Akeo: An unsung hero contributing to the success of Pitt volleyball
By Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer • 10:10 am

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Kamalani Akeo talks with members of the womens volleyball coaching staff in 2021.
Kamalani Akeo: An unsung hero contributing to the success of Pitt volleyball
By Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer • 10:10 am

Mimesis | ‘Saltburn’: I Think, Therefore I Am Not

Mimesis is a biweekly blog that analyzes media through a philosophical and narrative lens.
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Nicholas Cassano | Staff Illustrator

Burnt out from the fall semester, I found myself particularly resentful of modern philosophy (looking at you, Immanuel Kant). I was personally victimized by all the yapping of 19th-century men who had too much time on their hands. However, I can’t ignore the memorable tidbits imparted to me by those who wanted to figure out why humanity functions the way it does. My only solace from metaphysics and ethics was found in media consumption. 

“Saltburn” was one such piece of media, catching my fancy for its risque scenes of British debauchery. In its 2 1/2 hours of runtime, I thought the film inhabited several different genres, each less expected than the last. Emerald Fennell’s thriller recounts an Oxford student’s summer spent alongside his friend’s mysterious family. We are introduced to an awkward and intelligent Oliver Quick, also known as Ollie, who finds himself intertwined with wealth and degeneracy both by choice and by force.

The movie is applauded for its faithful account of early-2000s trends in fashion and music. In the first act, I perceived Oliver’s romantic college experience as the budding beginnings of a coming-of-age film. With cinematic beauty shots and an uplifting score, we empathize with Oliver’s interest in the charming Felix Catton. Oliver is warned of Felix’s duplicitousness, but remains loyal to his new companion, the two boys bonding over social politics and pitfalls. Oliver vies for Felix’s affection by divulging his tragic family life, attributing his attendance at Oxford as the result of a hefty scholarship alone.

In the 1800s, René Descartes proposed the idea of dualism — that we are composed of both an immaterial soul and a material body. While the soul commands our intellectual and cognitive pursuits, our body provides a vessel with which to perceive the world around us. In antiquity, it was believed that bodily desires corrupted the virtuousness of the soul, and salvation was found only in the pursuit of wisdom. 

In this day and age, our online persona is an extension of our sense of self. See Spotify Wrapped — the epitome of performative, curated, impressive versions of our music taste. Or TikTok, where nearly every video contains nested marketing and edited versions of the ideal life. Someone is always doing better than you, traveling to more exciting places than you, listening to more esoteric indie-sleaze music than you. 

We’re all living double lives in which our inner selves are engorged by the primitive desire to just fit in. Morally, this has implications for our collective psyches. We’re so busy creating an image of ourselves that we forget to figure out who we even are. But if we are only a snapshot away from public perception, there’s no way in hell we’ll ever let our guard down.

Oliver is an intelligent young man, and many audiences are swift to admire his position among the children of unrelatable rich kids. While Felix may be sheltered, he has good intentions for Oliver. Tragically (or conveniently) before final exams, Oliver breaks the news that his addict father has died. As college adjourns for the summer, Felix offers for Oliver to stay at his family’s estate rather than return to his mother, who is drowning her sorrows in alcohol. Oliver reluctantly agrees.

Viewers are likely to sense a grim undertone in Oliver’s intentions, wondering the strength of his own integrity. In the infamous “vampire scene,” Oliver’s benevolence mutates into aggressive bids for power, finding pleasure in his domination of the family. At this point in the film, most viewers are still rooting for Oliver’s inclusion in high society, but his descent into hedonism leaves a bloody taste in one’s mouth. 

In anticipation of his birthday, a massive party is hosted in Oliver’s honor. Felix proposes that the boys take a road trip that morning, and Oliver’s great facade crumbles into pieces. Unbeknownst to him, Felix has spoken with Oliver’s mother. The boys arrive at Oliver’s quaint home in the suburbs, with a lovely mother, and a father who is very much alive. All this time, Oliver’s personality was an act.

If you’ve encountered Kant’s work (you poor soul), it was likely something to do with his ethical doctrine. He believed that a person’s intentions dictate the moral worth of an action. If and only if one acts with the knowledge that they are doing a good thing because it is a good thing, is moral goodness truly present. Kant is notoriously dense to read, but I didn’t limp out of that class for nothing.

There’s no doubt that Oliver is unhinged beyond belief. I feel like he is a delightfully relevant example of how easy it is to engineer yourself into a desirable, successful product. While Oliver faked an entire life to win Felix’s attention, it’s unlikely that viewers are convinced by his justification. Oliver’s veil never totally lifts. Rather, it billows and lifts to the side for brief moments. He may feel shame, but he doesn’t feel guilt.

Oliver’s lie stemmed from an obsession with Felix. Interpretation of Oliver’s actions is commonly perceived as a commentary on class conflict and the out-of-touch lifestyles of the wealthy, but his own family is considerably well-off. While Felix attends Oxford by bloodline, Oliver clawed his way into good graces. By the film’s conclusion, the Cattons are the victims. As Oliver parades himself around their empty home, we may not know whether to feel satisfaction or disgust. 

“Saltburn” begs to be watched twice. While the class divide is certainly a theme, it seems stagnant when held up to the light. Oliver is already successful. He does not need a better education, a larger house or a party more lavish than a night out at the pub. His motivations stem from enviousness — for possession, for desire. 

“Saltburn” is a movie about class, but it is first a movie about obsession. Felix is an angelic figure, the perfect picture of luxury and the object of Oliver’s attraction. He is symbolic of the unattainable. Oliver’s jealousy isn’t for Felix’s money per se, but his fantastical image. 

Oliver’s conscience is in opposition to his physical urges throughout the movie. His first lines state that he loved Felix and admired him. But his bodily desires betrayed the integrity of his conscience. 

First, Oliver covets Felix’s position as a popular kid included in unattainable social circles. Oliver’s admiration is voyeuristic — he watches on as Felix has sexual encounters, as he parties with friends, as he falls victim to Oliver’s own trap to make his acquaintance. The state of his psyche is illustrated by his treatment of bath water and gravesites. Oliver attempts every possible violation of privacy in the body and mind. In the end, we wonder if he is a successful mastermind or a slave to his repressed feelings.

While it may be a retrospective of life pre-smartphone, “Saltburn” is bursting with parallels to social media brain rot. Oliver only acts freely for a single scene. There are no more eyes on his missteps. It’s rather telling that he is stripped naked and galavanting around his estate while he celebrates culling the herd a tad. Wouldn’t that be nice? Doesn’t that freedom sound lovely? Now go post a 15-second sound byte with a picture of your good side. How else will we know you’re cool? Drink the proverbial bathwater, friends — we all know we’re not escaping the internet any time soon.

About the Contributor
Chloe Woodruff, Staff Writer
Chloe is an English Writing and Philosophy major with a love-hate relationship with reading. Ironically, she primarily blogs about literature and narratives across mediums.  Write to her at  or check out her Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/chlobees