Major spoilers ahead for “Saltburn.”
There are many secrets to be discovered in “Saltburn,” Emerald Fennell’s film about a reserved Oxford student, Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), who spends one sultry summer with his über-wealthy classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). One of these visual Easter eggs, Fennell reveals, will most likely only be spotted by the most eagle-eyed of viewers. “I would estimate one in 30 people notice it,” the Oscar-winning writer-director tells Backstage on In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast.
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment comes during a breakfast scene. The conversation between Oliver and the Catton family turns to the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who claimed to see his doppelgänger before drowning at sea. When the camera cuts to Elordi, his own doppelgänger walks by the window over his shoulder.
This is, of course, a bleak omen of what’s to come for Felix; the character is poisoned by Oliver at the end of the film, a gruesome fate fit for the type of story Fennell is telling. “There’s nothing more fun than these little kinds of portents,” she says. “We’re talking the Gothic [genre] here. It’s all about little signs and signals.”
Felix’s double, though, is meant to be less of an overt warning sign than it is a specter that adds to the film’s uncanny atmosphere. “It’s not really designed for people to see it. We took a gamble, because really, what we don’t want is people to see it,” she says. “It’s one of those things that was on purpose, but hopefully in a more subliminal way.”
She concedes that if audiences do happen to catch it the first time around, “we know where this is going. That’s the thing about this genre, really, is it doesn’t generally end happily. There’s a reason somebody looks back on a moment in their life that they can’t get over.”
In the end, the doppelgänger moment is just one of the many, many layers Fennell added to “Saltburn,” from the sprawling mansion that houses the story to the characters themselves.
“You need to have the marquetry walls and the velvet drapes, and you need to be obsessive about every little thing. But also, where are the crisps? Where’s the shit magazine?” Fennell told us in our cover story. “You can shoot Jacob like a Greek god because he looks like one, but you also need to go in super, super close and see pores and see sweat.”
“Saltburn” is in theaters on limited release Nov. 17 and wide release Nov. 22. To hear our full conversation with Fennell, listen and subscribe to In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast.