‘In defence of Saltburn, 2023’s most divisive movie.’

The movie is a lush aesthetic experience, dripping with lasciviousness and debauchery. It’s also profoundly disturbing, cold, and grotesque – “the bathtub scene” has become a breakout meme in its own right. It’s the kind of movie you don’t want to take your mum to but has proved itself as the perfect movie to watch with your best friends, white-knuckling on their arms during its most uncomfortable scenes.

And look, Saltburn isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. 

The plot turns are so disorienting they feel like taking a hard right turn in the backseat of a car without a seatbelt. The racial commentary feels awkwardly ham-fisted. And it’s frequently cringeworthy in the places that it’s probably not meant to be. But to my mind, that doesn’t detract from its success as a really, really entertaining movie.

If the whole point of cinema is to make you feel something, Saltburn makes you feel quite a lot (even if a lot of that feeling comes from watching somebody f**k things that shouldn’t necessarily be f**ked). 

What the criticism of this movie has revealed seems to be less about the actual movie and more questions about what we really expect from cinema at all. Saltburn has been soundly panned by some critics – take, for instance, the New York Times review, which called it “the sort of embarrassment you’ll put up with for 75 minutes. But not for 127. It’s too desperate, too confused, too pleased with its petty shocks to rile anything you’d recognise as genuine excitement.”

And look, a lot of the critiques are clear-eyed and justifiable, given the film’s frequent flaws. But reconciling criticism like this with, say, a Rotten Tomatoes score that tells us 78 per cent of the audience enjoyed it is tricky.