The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Rated: 3.5 / 5

“Are you a homosexual?”


That is probably the biggest lie Mr. Ripley says during the entire movie. Every time he puts on an act or does an impersonation, it is always with the women. Whenever he is with the young men of this movie, for the most part, he is himself. Plenty of homoerotic tension to go around, a tad on the creepy side for the first half of the film too. Gets a little more creepy during the 2nd half, for different reasons. A film that fits firmly into its drama/thriller category.

Ripley is a young man who is good at impersonating others and picking up skills and information quickly. He dreams to be somebody, somebody who can hang with the rich folk. He impersonates just for fun to temporarily live in the blue dream of his. Blue is the warmest color after all, and it is used at several points throughout the film. From it’s calm allure of envy and desire in the beginning, to the terror it inflicts from the blue nightmarish lights of the police cars near the end. By the end, the dream has become a nightmare due to Ripley’s nightmarish acts done for the sake of keeping the dream alive.

He is sent to Italy to retrieve Mr. Greenleaf’s son Dickie, who is a dick. Since Dickie is an attractive dick and Ripley is a semi-closeted homosexual in the late 1950s who is being paid to do this, how can he turn this down? But like Ripley, Dickie has a dark side. It’s as if they are two sides of the same coin, as symbolically implied when Ripley positions the reflection of his face to be close to Dickie while they are both on a train, and more blunt by saying they are brothers. Ripley is from the underclass who is intelligent and responsible and has high aspirations to improve his position. Dickie is a wealthy spoiled upperclassman who is irresponsible and has no aspirations other than to party his life away. Both lash out in violence when pushed or confronted.

For a while, Dickie, Ripley, and Dickie’s girlfriend and soon to be fiance are happy to be together, seeing all the sights, going to all the clubs, doing all the activities. But as their time wanes on, Ripley is moving further and further away from the enjoyment of it all. Partly because Dickey is pushing him away, partly because he feels he doesn’t belong. But also because he knows deep down that all of this can’t stay as good as his dreams and aspirations would allow. It can never be perfect, he cannot keep living a lie.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) : CineShots

But he does try living a lie. Every time he thinks he can get away from the lying and live freely, a consequence of his actions and lying comes back to get him, forcing him to make one of two decisions. Either give it all up, open the door to his locked basement and let the light shine on all that he has done, cleaning it all from his conscience (though that would be too neat for him after a point), or to keep on lying and making the lie bigger, adding more to his metaphorical basement he wishes to keep locked and out of sight. But it’s not out of mind. The nightmares of his actions haunt him.

Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

One of the few times he is honest and lets the truth out is with Dickie. At first it seems fine and relieving to let the truth out, but soon afterwards Dickie is finding Ripley boring. Is lying the only way to stay interesting in this world Ripley finds himself in? Was there no other way to get a taste of living the dream? Is there a right amount of lying and a wrong amount? Was it ever possible for Ripley to get what he wanted if he did some things different? Or is he a bad person always destined to do something terrible? I would say he didn’t start off as a bad person. Originally, he impersonated with the best of intentions to help others, from the piano player in the beginning, to Mr. Greenleaf’s request soon after. What started as a small white lie eventually turns into a large dark one. Soon after he lands in Italy, his lies becomes questionable when he impersonates Dickie just so he can fit in and talk with an upperclass woman, just for fun and for the sake of talking. By the halfway point, the turning point truly begins. At several points afterwards, there are times when Ripley wants to stop all the lying and give himself up. He knows it will be a sense of relief, but with consequences. He also wishes he could change the past, to change everything he had done, all the way to the beginning of the movie when he did a seemingly harmless impersonation for all the right reasons before he allowed it to snowball.

As for if he did things different, there are indications that he may have turned out all right, even after the big turning point of the movie. With the revelations that Mr. Greenleaf brings, and with Ripley finding a new love interest who seems a better match for Ripley than Dickey, if he told the truth and stopped the lies when a hotel clerk asked Ripley if he was Dickey, he may have turned out fine. But he can’t change the past. He knows by the end he is doomed to suffer and be alone in this dark room he has made for himself. The irony being he spent his time trying to find a place where he can have love and acceptance, only to become isolated and alone.

I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.

PS: And no, I have not seen the original French film version that goes by the title Purple Noon. But there is a sort of sequel titled Ripley’s Game, starring John Malkovich as Ripley. I have seen that, and it’s ok (not great, not terrible, just worth a watch). Somewhat interested in the novel series this is based on.

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