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Saltburn’s Controversial Grave Scene Was Not Scripted

Barry Keoghan took the liberty of improvising one of the most vulnerable and disturbing scenes in Emerald Fennell’s recent thriller.

Left: Barry Keoghan's controversial grave scene in Saltburn. Right: Barry Keoghan at Saltburn premier
(Left) Amazon Prime. (Right) Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Saltburn, released November 17th, has quickly become one of 2023’s most talked-about films. Telling the tale of outcasted Oxford University student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) who is invited to spend the summer with affluent friend Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), the film explores dark obsession punctuated by disturbed erotica.

Though downright jaw-dropping in places, there are certainly plenty of light-hearted, comedic moments. As such, Fennell’s most recent flick divided viewers and reviewers alike.

The Independent calls Saltburn ‘an inconclusive class satire, but also great fun.’ Other outlets have focussed on Oliver’s twisted sexuality, with MovieWeb ranking the film’s most shocking moments.

And there certainly is no shortage of shocking moments in Saltburn. One scene shows Oliver slurping up Felix’s bathwater moments after watching him masturbate in it. The final scene of the film, in which Keoghan dances nude to Murder on the Dancefloor, has become a viral TikTok trend.

The grave scene

Yet, no scene has shocked people quite like the grave scene. About half an hour before the end of the movie, and right after Felix’s funeral, Oliver finds himself alone at Felix’s fresh grave. The scene begins with him lying on the soil, crying. He begins to unbutton his shirt as the Christian hymn Lord of all Hopefulness plays in the background. The hymn rings out, and all viewers can hear is the sound of the pouring rain as Keoghan begins to grope around the soil before removing his trousers and getting down and dirty – literally.

Barry Keoghan in Saltburn's controversial grave scene
Keoghan in Saltburn’s controversial grave scene. Credit: Amazon Prime

Emerald Fennell told Entertainment Weekly that she did not initially intend for this scene to be so horrifying. The script only called for Keoghan to fondle the grave and kiss it, and it was a conversation that happened on the morning of filming that pushed it a step further.

“I spoke to Barry in the morning, and I just said, ‘I don’t know, Barry. I think that he would…unzip,’” Fennell recalled.

Keoghan agreed. Reflecting on the process, he said, “She plants seeds, Emerald, you know what I mean?”

 “She knows that they’re going to grow these seeds, especially when she plants them with me. But it is a testament to Emerald and having that idea and me meeting it with, to be honest, no questions. I was totally on board for it.”

Though the sexual aspect of the scene is what got people talking, Keoghan revealed that it was not really about that, at all.

“For me, it wasn’t about f*cking the grave, it was more about I don’t know what to do with this obsession; it’s making me confused and making me unhuman in a way,” he reflected. “It was a total discovery for him, I think. And it was sad. It was very, very sad.”

Fennell also admired the way the scene brings all these complicated emotions to the forefront. “[It] had to be a moment of profound despair — an almost relatable moment of grief over this completely forever unrequited love.”

Barry Keoghan at Saltburn Premiere.
Barry Keoghan at Saltburn premiere. Credit: Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Responses

Responses to the grave scene were varied. One reviewer wrote, via Google, “The bathtub and grave scenes are two of the most heart-wrenching cinematic visuals I have ever had the pleasure of viewing.” Another reviewer said, “I believe the sexual nature throughout is done in a very artistic, necessary and tasteful manner.”

Other viewers took to social media to share their disgust at the scene. One X user said, “I need to erase that grave scene in Saltburn from my memory.” Another wrote, “Bruh, how the f*ck did nobody warn me about the grave scene in Saltburn.. stay curious, my friends.”

Do you think the scene is needlessly vulgar? Or do you think that the disturbed sexuality adds a valuable complexity to Keoghan’s Oliver? Share your thoughts with us below!

Written By

Madison Collier (she/her) is a current finalist reading for BA English Language and Literature at Oxford University. Madison writes on news, culture, and entertainment, but specialises in music and identity.

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