“Saltburn” ending explained: Emerald Fennell and Barry Keoghan on film's unanswered questions

“Saltburn” ending explained: Emerald Fennell and Barry Keoghan on film's unanswered questions

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Saltburn.

When Saltburn ends in all of its naked, triumphant glory, there are still some lingering questions.

Sure, Oliver (Barry Keoghan) has succeeded in worming his way into the Catton family, killing them one by one in such a way that it gives him plausible deniability (in the eyes of the law, at least). In one last truly evil coup de grâce, it's revealed that the person he's been telling his story to since the film's opening moments is the comatose body of Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike). Once he removes her from the ventilator and she finally dies, he is lord of the Saltburn manor at last.

But, how exactly did Elspeth become comatose in the first place? How did Sir James (Richard E. Grant) meet his untimely end? How exactly is Oliver going to get away with all of this, and where does he go from here?

Writer and director (and Promising Young Woman Oscar winner) Emerald Fennell has the answers, but that doesn't mean she'll ever share them. "The thing is, when you are dealing with this sort of story, deciding what to keep in and what to leave out is really important. And to be honest, in the end, I'd have been very comfortable leaving all of it far, far, far less explanatory," she tells EW. "I think we understand on a gut and kind of metaphorical level completely what's happened. So much of the ending is revealing the how rather than the what, I suppose."

She continues, "You can kind of read between the lines, but I don't think it's useful for me to ever talk about necessarily... if it's not in the film, it's not in the film for a reason. I mean, we had it, but we decided not to put it in because it was an unnecessary amount of explaining, I think."

<p>Chiabella James/MGM</p> Emerald Fennell, Barry Keoghan, and Jacob Elordi on the set of 'Saltburn'

Chiabella James/MGM

Emerald Fennell, Barry Keoghan, and Jacob Elordi on the set of 'Saltburn'

Fennell says that when she crafted both this film and Promising Young Woman, she felt she had to walk a "really tricky balance" between "catharsis and a certain amount of the unknown." Ultimately, she says Saltburn's ending felt like the perfect amount of explanation versus not revealing, and in fact, she's rather enjoying watching people argue and hypothesize about what they've just seen.

"It's the people's very, very different feelings on why it happened, what was happening, if they saw the same thing. Some people pick up on completely different things," she says, adding, "and in many ways, it's kind of interesting talking to people who've watched the film for a second time because they feel much more confident explaining what they've seen, but that first time is such a kind of physical ride that they're shaken."

Keoghan is a little more forthcoming about his thoughts on where his diabolical character goes from here, though. The Irish star, who received his first Oscar nomination for last year's black comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, says he believes his character's obsession that fuels the events of the movie is more like an addiction for him, and it will never be enough.

"I think he doesn't go up from there. It gradually goes down. Where do you go from there? I mean, you've had your fun, you've played with your toys. And that's where he sits best. His most contentedness, weirdly, is when he's getting to experiment with these things and chess play, but now that's all gone as well," Keoghan says. For Oliver, it was never about just getting the house, says Keoghan: "I think that's the result of what happened — he got the manor and blah, blah, blah — but I think his desire is to have claws into something at all times. It's not ever going to be enough."

Saltburn is in theaters now.

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