murder on the dance floor

Saltburn’s Devious Naked-Dance Scene Ending, Explained by Its Choreographer

All the nerves, emotions, and hidden layers of meaning that went into the psychosexual thriller’s final provocation. Photo: MGM and Prime Studios

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Saltburn.

Once you’ve made it through the slurping, jizz-spiked bathwater scene and the grave-fucking moment in Emerald Fennell’s outrageous psychosexual thriller Saltburn, really, where can it all go from there? As the psychopathic social climber Oliver Quick (a devilish Barry Keoghan) and his reign of terror on the British aristocracy comes to a close, the audience is almost unshockable; we’ve already seen it all in visceral, gory Technicolor.

But then the ending rolls around, and it’s a whiplash-inducing double take. A fully naked Oliver prances around the Saltburn country pile, a camp little dance routine from the new lord of the manor (thanks to all that murdering), giving it all the jazz hands to a Y2K nü-disco jam from Sophie Ellis-Bextor. It’s funny and absurd, and even the movie’s choreographer, Polly Bennett, had no idea it would be the final scene of the film.

“Initially in the stage direction, it wasn’t going to be anything,” she tells Vulture. “It was just Oliver walking through the house. Then one day I was on set doing another piece of movement and I popped in to see Emerald and she said, ‘Oh, I’ve got an idea for the end. It involves a dance routine: He’s going to dance through the house to “Murder on the Dance Floor.”’”

Bennett — who is also a movement coach and has worked on Oscar- and Golden Globe–winning performances for actors in Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis, and The Crown — was enthused about the idea straightaway, as it gave her a chance to step away from instructing actors how to fully embody their characters and go back to her choreography roots with an old-school dance routine.

“It’s a dance of extreme ownership,” Bennett says, describing the moment and what it signifies at the end of the film. “He’s waking from a bed that isn’t his, in a house that isn’t his, and moving naked through corridors that aren’t his. He’s shed the veneers and this is who he actually is, in his full, non-regretful body.”

The one-shot routine was put together by Bennett and Keoghan in snatched moments before and after filming on set, and beforehand they texted references back and forth to each other: Keoghan sending a Fred Astaire solo, Bennett messaging back the stair-dance scene from The Joker. The end result is a weirdly perfect meeting point of the two on a Venn diagram.

Keoghan might have won awards for his turns in The Banshees of Inisherin or The Sacred Killing of a Deer, but he’s never been classically trained in dance, which is what adds to the macabre charm of the scene. “He’s a lovely mover in the sense that he’s very athletic and sporty, so he understands his body in a sports way,” says Bennett on preparing him for the dance. “So it wasn’t about using [dance] terminology, as he doesn’t speak in counts, so that’s why there’s quite a narrative to what he’s doing: He’s going to the door, he’s pulling back, he’s seeing the room, he looks at the family photographs as he passes … All of these things were put in so that he wasn’t having to be a professional dancer going down the hallway; it felt more like a groove, like you do when you’ve got music playing and you’re carefree.”

Keoghan grew in Summerhill, Ireland, practicing boxing as a hobby, and so he had to unlearn ways of holding his body that were essential to survive in the ring: “Barry was not used to extending his arms and taking up space, so I love the moment he slides through a doorway and does ‘Hollywood steps’ down the stairs. Then, we put in a shaking-the-dice move, which also looks like he is doing … well, something else with his hand, which caused us a lot of laughs. It was fun to see Barry enjoying physicality and biting the hand of the challenge.”

If you watch carefully, Bennett used her movement work with the other actors in the film to place little callbacks to other moments in the movie as part of the two-minute dance. “There are Easter egg movements that replicate actions Felix (Jacob Elordi) has done throughout the film, from doing cocaine to leaning on doorframes, so Oliver has really become him.”

Was Oliver always meant to be naked in the scene from the start? “Yes,” Bennett says. “That’s why the camera is behind him and certain moves have to be adapted and created so that it wasn’t the full-on Full Monty show for all of it. I did have to take out a couple of turns and spins I had put in because it showed just a little too much of the wrong thing in motion, which may have distracted the audience from the root message and reason of the dance.”

While there are flashes of full-frontal shots in the dance, there was an intimacy coordinator on set for the scene, and it was a closed set. Keoghan eventually relaxed into it, nailing it in just five or six takes.

He was still a little uncertain before he whipped off his robe for the first time, however. “Right before we filmed, Barry was like, ‘Yeah, fine, I’ll be fine.’ But once he’d done it the first time, the crew were suddenly going, ‘Oh my God, it’s great! What he’s doing is really great!’ and his confidence went up. After we’d done it a few more times, Barry had recorded it on his phone and afterwards he was going around showing everyone, so I think he felt very comfortable and proud at the end of it.”

“Something interesting for him was going on while he was doing this film,” Bennett adds. “He was about to have a baby and it felt like that fed into him in this scene. There was something kind of joyful about his engagement with this because it felt like that euphoric state that you’re in when you’re about to have your first child.”

The use of the Sophie Ellis-Bextor track is inspired, especially for Brits, to whom this insanely catchy song has run deep through national consciousness since its release in 2001. Bennett grew up listening to Ellis-Bextor (and even went to her concert when younger), but it wasn’t until she was analyzing the tune and its lyrics (“If you think you’re getting away / I will prove you wrong … I’ll blow you all away”) for the routine that she realized, “Oh my God, it’s actually about murder. I hadn’t ever noticed because of how upbeat it was!” It’s what made Fennell’s choice the perfect soundtrack to Oliver’s deranged behavior, she adds.

Ellis-Bextor tells Vulture she loved the use of her 18-year-old track in the film: “It’s flipping brilliant. I loved the movie, and seeing it have such a wild makeover is so fun. Let’s see if the, erm, style of dancing to it like that catches on? Would certainly make for some interesting viewing from the stage when I do my next tour.”

Months later, when Bennett got to watch the film in full for the first time, she says she was surprised, as they had been working on another movement-led scene with a beat that was meant to run after the dance. However, this was later cut. But she says this ending works better. “I’m really chuffed, as it solves Oliver’s frame of mind. I imagine that must have been a conversation in the editing room of ‘We don’t need another ending, so let’s just leave it as that.’”

Though a surprising ending — how often do serial killers get away scot-free in Hollywood as the credits roll? — it’s a twisted, darkly funny, and fitting note to finish on. “It’s really pleasing that a piece of choreography does something like that,” Bennett says. “If you can’t say something, move it. When we’re searching for words, we gesture, so if you don’t have the words to say what you want to say, dancing it feels like the right thing.”

Saltburn’s Naked-Dance Scene, Explained by Its Choreographer