Is It Wrong That I Find the Saltburn Family Sort of Likable?

Laura J. Burns
Laura J. Burns writes books, writes for TV, and sometimes writes TV based on books and books based on TV. She will never, however, write a poem. She’s the managing editor of The Antagonist.


Have you seen Saltburn? Doesn’t matter. You’ve seen the jokes, you know what it’s about–a nerdy con artist who infiltrates and sabotages an uber-wealthy British family. The Catton family is the sort of rich that Fitzgerald was talking about when he said “they are different from you and me.” The sort of rich that shouldn’t exist, but always has and always will. The sort of rich that deserves to be eaten.

But they’re not the bad guys in this movie. Ollie, the one who kills them, he’s the bad guy. Still, you might argue, the Cattons deserve it because they’re so disgustingly self-centered and wealthy.

But I found them rather wholesome in some ways. Hear me out.

This is a family–mom Elspeth, dad James, son Felix and daughter Venetia–who, despite their vast wealth, choose to spend the entire summer together. They do this every year, even though the kids are grown and even though with their money they could obviously go anywhere they wanted. Each one of them could head off to a different exotic locale for the entire season, no problem. Instead they all just go home and stay there, together. Hell, even regular families don’t generally do that once the kids have flown the nest! It’s nice, I don’t care if they are appalling people.

Well, yeah, but their home is a literal castle. It’s so big they don’t even have to see one another if they don’t want to. This is true, which makes it even sweeter that the Cattons spend evenings watching bad movies together in the library. They eat every meal together. They hang out by the pool(s) together. They play games together. They are always together. Seriously. They love each other.

Elspeth is presumably a terrible mother, because she’s a terrible person. She’s a vapid, gossipy nitwit with the depth of a kiddie pool. But she still knows her daughter has an eating disorder and suffers from depression. It’s not clear that she’s doing anything very helpful with this information, but I still give her points for being aware of it. When I was in college, the rich kids’ parents barely seemed to know their names, and they definitely didn’t know about their eating disorders. At least Elspeth is paying attention.

When Felix goes missing the morning after a big party, his family is all out there looking for him before Ollie the con man even wakes up. Like, they’re roaming the property in their pajamas yelling themselves hoarse trying to find him. If they were properly cold and hateful as we expect soulless zillionaires to be, they wouldn’t have even noticed he was gone for a week.

Are the Cattons nice people? No. But they do appear to have an actual family bond, with touching funeral traditions they carry on through the generations and bonds that matter to them. They enjoy spending time together. They grieve when they lose each other.

In a movie that dehumanizes pretty much everyone, I was surprised to find myself actually feeling a few pangs of sympathy for this revoltingly rich family of morons.

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