Saltburn Owes Its Existence to 2003’s The Dreamers

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Summary

  • Saltburn and The Dreamers are films that present a world of sexual mystery and people living in isolating situations, surrounded by excess and forbidden romance.
  • Saltburn follows the story of Oliver, a new student at Oxford who ingratiates himself into the wealthy Catton family, using their excesses to his advantage.
  • The Dreamers delves into the lives of an American student in Paris and French twins, exploring their charged and erotic relationship against the backdrop of a student uprising. Both films leave viewers captivated, unable to look away from the car wrecks of their characters’ lives.


Every few years, we see films enter the arena that bring a strange sense of people living in a completely different and often isolated world from our own. The wealthy in their mansions surrounded by wealth, or the bohemians locked in their dreams. This is the case with 2023’s Saltburn and 2003’s The Dreamers.

The two films have an undercurrent of sexual mystery and plots that drip with the comfort of people existing in untenable situations. We wonder who will break first and how and why they ever got into these situations in the first place. Saltburn may not hit all the same notes, but it owes a great deal to The Dreamers.


Saltburn Is Filled With Tension, Desire, and Forbidden Romance

Saltburn
Saltburn

Release Date
November 24, 2023

Runtime
2hr 7min

Studio
LuckyChap Entertainment, MRC Film

Read Our Review

Saltburn introduces us to Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a new student at Oxford who is befriended by a more popular and wealthier student named Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who takes pity on him. When Oliver’s father passes away, Felix feels bad and invites his friend to his family’s Saltburn estate.

The rest of the film centers around how the Catton family reacts to Oliver and his wide-eyed view of their lives. But as he ingratiates himself, the excesses of the Catton lifestyle appear to be his, to use to his advantage. He begins finding his way into their lives and finding new ways of sexually gratifying himself while grasping more power from others.

The film is fraught with tension, desire, forbidden romance, and uncomfortable conversations. The audience often feels that something is wrong beneath the surface and that whatever is happening with the Catton family may not be exactly what it seems. This boy, who showed up as almost a plaything, has woven a web that will eventually bring things to a charged, explosive end that no one expects.

The Dreamers Examines the “Endless Summer” Mentality

2003’s The Dreamers finds a different way of looking at the issues of sex and excess. It stems from a bohemian student idealism that has no chance of lasting. The film delves into an “endless summer” mentality where a small and close-knit group evolves and then devolves in its own excesses.

The film follows an American foreign exchange student named Matthew (Michael Pitt) in Paris in 1968. The entire narrative takes place against the violent backdrop of the student uprising that saw young people protesting against traditional institutions, consumerism, and capitalism.

Matthew meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theó (Louis Garrel), French twins who take a liking to him and invite him to stay in their apartment while their parents are on an extended trip. Matthew is thrilled to have French friends and accepts. Only after moving in does he realize the relationship between Isabelle and Theó is far from what it appears. In fact, the twins have a charged and erotic relationship, a relationship that Matthew becomes a part of and that becomes a triangle that grows stronger within the walls of the apartment.

The three of them spend their time talking about classic films, their favorite actors, and reenacting scenes to the delight of the others. They live a life of food, film, and eroticism, unaware and uncaring about the world outside. But when Matthew and Isabelle begin to find their own relationship apart from Theó, rifts appear, and suddenly, their world may not be as dreamlike as they would have hoped.

This was Eva Green’s first major outing, and it cemented her as a sexual icon. The film’s title may actually refer to its viewers who swim through the plot while realizing that we don’t care if they ever leave the isolated romance of their personal excesses. But we know there is nothing coming but pain.

Both Saltburn and The Dreamers Leave You Feeling the Same

These movies both give you a sense of voyeurism. That feeling that what you are watching isn’t right but that you cannot turn away. They are both sexual and emotional car wrecks where you can see the damage they are causing to those involved but feel an overwhelming need to see what will happen next.

Barry Keoghan’s Oliver and Michael Pitt’s Matthew are creatures outside their elements who get pulled into situations where they do not seem to belong. They become involved in the debauchery and surplus offered by their hosts, only to become the catalyst that brings seemingly idealistic situations to the ground.

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Consider the fact that The Dreamers featured incestuous relationships and received an NC-17 rating upon its release. This type of content is still considered to be taboo. However, acclaimed director Bernardo Bertolucci, who is known for pushing the lines of erotically charged films such as Last Tango In Paris and Stealing Beauty, understands what people will accept.

For Academy Award-winning writer/director Emerald Fennell, Saltburn was a logical next step from Promising Young Woman. Her thoughts on the use of sexuality for the purposes of covert revenge are obvious in Saltburn and serve to create an undertone that reveals itself in a sometimes subtle and other times blatant manner. Yet, she serves her script in the same way as Bertolucci. Eroticism comes in many different forms, and sometimes, the most edge-of-your-seat films are not the giant action set pieces but the quiet, slow ways people behave in a draining bathtub.

The Dreamers shows the suffocation of a group in their isolated world and their eventual end. Saltburn takes a different group and forces them to an impossible-to-predict conclusion. But both movies rely on small glances, heavy breathing, and the sweat of forbidden love to create an ecstatic release for their audiences.

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