Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Talented Mr. Ripley

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Before this 1999 film, directed by Anthony Minghella, settles on its title, it offers a number of adjectives to describe the main character. Some are: troubled; intelligent; beautiful; yearning; musical. Before finalizing with “Talented,” another one shows up, which is “mysterious.” The movie suggests that he is multi-faceted, but also that there is no set of easily definable criteria to categorize him. That implication is possibly why his face is revealed during the running of the credits in strips, suggesting his personality consists of multiple puzzle pieces that may be impossible to assemble.

Who Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is can’t be determined by a surface observation. We first see him playing a piano accompaniment at an opulent outdoor party as a young woman sings opera. But, Ripley, in an after-the-fact voice-over, says that everything would not have happened if he hadn’t borrowed a jacket. This fact coveys that he is not wealthy enough to be a guest at the proceedings. But, the jacket sports a Princeton University logo on it. We immediately see that Ripley (whose name implies that he “rips off” others) pretends to be something he is not. When Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), a wealthy shipping businessman, assumes that Tom, being a Princeton man, must know his son, Dickie, Tom embraces the deception by saying he does. Greenleaf’s wife, seeing Tom with the opera singer exchange what looks like an affectionate kiss on the cheek, says what a nice couple the two makes. Another false assumption, as Tom is just a friend, and escorts the woman to a car where her boyfriend awaits, and from whom Tom borrowed the jacket. When it comes to Ripley, the theme of appearances are deceiving has been established.


We next see Tom working as a bathroom attendant at a concert hall, brushing lint off of affluent-looking men in dinner jackets. We already know he is musical, so where he works makes sense. But, he is a person residing on the lower rung of the socio-economic ladder, and has the opportunity to infiltrate those well-off groups by clinging to their fringes, providing menial tasks. Even though nothing definite is said, it seems apparent that Tom wants the better life, probably because he feels he deserves it. And, that is why he will perpetuate frauds to become part of high society. That he wants praise and acceptance is evident because he plays the grand piano on the stage, the spotlight shining down on him, when he believes he is the only one left in the theater. However, here and elsewhere, we get a shot of half of Tom’s face, the other half hidden behind a door frame, suggesting that there is always a part of him that refuses to reveal itself, to be explained.

Tom is able to cash in on Mr. Greenleaf’s belief that he knows his son. He is to try to get Dickie to return home from Italy. According to Greenleaf, his son’s “talent,” (as opposed to Tom’s multiple talents) is to spend the allowance his father gives him. The older American generation man sees work as the one prevailing virtue, and is antagonistic toward Dickie’s indulging his interests in jazz, lounging on the beach, and sailing. These activities represent the European leisurely lifestyle. One does get a negative, almost The Great Gatsby, critique in this film of the idle young rich who are unproductive, pretentious, condescending, and dismissive of those that don’t belong in their exclusive circle.
Tom prepares for his role, like an actor pretending to be someone else, to get close to Dickie by listening to and learning about jazz while he packs for the trip in his loud dive of an apartment. Because he is funded by the rich Greenleaf, Tom sails first class to Italy, and, thus, appears to be a member of the elite. He fosters this impression when he encounters Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) when they are collecting their luggage. Since the chauffeur who brought Tom to the ship said that Greenleaf is a name that “opens doors,” he pretends to be Dickie with Meredith, so he will be compatible being in her company, she being from a famously rich family. She wonders why he was looking for his luggage under the letter “R.” He is quick in adapting to situations, so he says he was traveling incognito by using his mother’s maiden name. He is a man disguising who he is by saying he is traveling in disguise. Meredith comments how she envies his ability to travel light, which is significant, because he has little historical “baggage” which he carries with him. And, she wishes to dispense with hers, feeling weighed down by her family attachments, and is also traveling under an assumed name. While his motive is attention and acceptance, she seeks anonymity. So, in this story, for varying motives, people are phonies.


There are numerous mirror images in this movie. When the artist uses reflections symbolically, they usually imply multiple personality aspects, or doppelgangers. Tom looks into a mirror as he practices his Italian for his role. He says, “This is the face of Dickie,” followed by “This is my face.” He has already pretended to be Dickie once. Much later in the story, Dickie (Jude Law) calls Tom a “leech.” He wants to attach onto a person and suck the life out of him, which may cause the host to die. Tom is like a body snatcher, an unformed entity drawing its form from another. He not only wants to be accepted by the upper class, maybe loved by them, but also wants to replace one of their kind with himself, since he can’t become a member of their club based on his social standing. A metaphorical validation of this point occurs when Tom first encounters Dickie. He had been spying on Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). He then pretends to recognize Dickie as a fellow Princetonian while casually walking on the beach where the two are sitting. Dickie does not remember him, but says his college days were like a fog, a place in which he was lost because it required him to rigorously apply himself. Dickie comments how white Tom looks. Tom says, “It’s just an undercoat,” and adds, “You know, a primer.” Tom’s joke is revealing of how he is an unfinished foundation, an incomplete person, ready for an identity to be grafted onto him. At this point he is as pale as an insubstantial ghost, looking to become incarnate.

Tom insinuates himself into Dickie and Marge’s lives by taking advantage of a courtesy invite to lunch. Dickie makes Tom feel like the help again when he asks him to make a martini, but Marge softens it by saying what a great drink she makes. Dickie says that is her talent and asks Tom what his is. He admits truthfully, although it appears comically, that his skill set includes forging signatures, telling lies, and doing impersonations. He then imitates Mr. Greenleaf, using some of Greenleaf’s words about jazz being “noise”, which impresses Dickie, and in his father’s voice, Tom admits to the plan where he is paid to get Dickie to come home. This reveal ingratiates Tom to Dickie, showing that he is really on Dickie’s side. Tom also wants Dickie to stay in Italy, so he can be part of his world. He strategically drops a bag of jazz albums onto the floor as he is ready to leave, and now Dickie is won over. He takes Tom to a jazz club, where Dickie plays the saxophone with the band, and brings Tom onstage, where he quickly picks up the lyrics, since the outside easily imprints onto him. It is appropriate that the song they sing is about someone who wants to imitate a lifestyle, like Tom. (This film reverberates its themes in almost every scene). Tom weds himself to Dickie and Marge by using Mr. Greenleaf’s payment to buy Dickie a refrigerator. As reciprocity, Dickie invites Tom to stay with them, furthering his encroachment into Dickie’s life.
Tom schools Dickey on duplicity by coaching him on writing letters to his father so as to milk Greenleaf out of more funds. In one of the father’s letters, he notes that he saw Tom with the girl at the recital. Tom pretends that he is engaged to her, affirming the misconception to be consistent with Greenleaf’s account. Dickie says that is why his father likes Tom – he is stable, settling down. We begin to see that Tom is becoming a replacement for Dickie in Greenleaf’s eyes. And, Tom, not knowing sailing, or the Italian cities, becomes a protégé, as Dickie unknowingly grooms him as a substitute.

Tom’s chameleon ability is witnessed in a chilling mirror scene where Tom, looking into his reflection, mimics both Dickie’s and Marge’s speech patterns, with pictures of his hosts also appearing in the mirror, as he handles their jewelry, coveting their possessions. Dickie even offers Tom, who has a corduroy jacket, stressing his outsider status in Italy, to wear his shirts, furthering their identification with each other.

There is a prevalent homosexual theme occurring in the film. Marge, who even though at this point likes Tom, complains to Dickie about his intrusion. She bitingly asks Dickie that if they were to marry, would they have to take Tom with them on the honeymoon, since she sees how Tom is drawn to him. Tom learned from Marge that Dickie sang “My funny Valentine” for her. Back at the jazz club, with Tom and Dickie on stage, Tom now sings the song, and we know he is singing to Dickie. When Tom takes off his glasses, Dickie says Tom doesn’t even look ugly without them. It is actually a compliment, and encourages Tom sexually, but also shows Dickie’s narcissism, as Tom looks a bit like him. Tom mentions that he is Clark Kent with the glasses, and Dickie is superman. This reference emphasizes the flattery, but also points out that the superhero reference signifies the merging of two personalities into one person. This is more than gay attraction – it is love of oneself, each participating in the romance. Under normal circumstances, the physical bonding between two men would be benign. But, we already know Tom is deceptive and scheming. As Tom holds onto Dickie when riding on the latter’s scooter, Dickie complains, saying that Tom is breaking his ribs. This scene indicates Tom’s dangerous nature because of his obsessive urge to possess another, and is a foreshadowing of the end of the film.

Dickie begins to recognize Tom’s obsession with him while Dickie is taking a bath and Tom sits next to the tub. They observe that the two of them and Marge are only children, which Tom says that means that they have never shared a bath with anyone. Tom then asks if he can join Dickie in the tub. Dickie gives a look that shows how weird he thinks the request is before saying no. Tom then says he meant using the warm water after Dickie is finished, because he is cold. This statement almost symbolically implies the sharing of bodily fluids. Dickie then emerges from the water, naked, and again we have the mirror, with Tom looking at the reflection of the nude Dickie. By looking at Dickie, Tom is seeing his own sexuality reflected back to him, but even more, their separate persons are merging into one image. Dickie is not a fully formed individual himself, as he moves from place to place, from one musical instrument to another, and diverts his attention to various people. Dickie’s lack of a definite identity is symbolized in the scene where authorities question his ID, to which an official says that he doesn’t look like his picture. Thus, he is ripe for Tom to take possession of him.
The arrival of Dickie’s friend, Freddie Miles (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) threatens the bond with Tom. Freddie is a condescending, elitist young man, who immediately sees Tom as an unworthy invader into the privileged sphere. Freddie works it that only experienced skiers can go on their holiday, so Tom is excluded. He now occupies all of Dickie’s time, exiling Tom to lonely, solitary sightseeing, reverting him to outsider status. Dickie becomes more alienated from Tom when he comes home and sees Tom wearing his clothes, including his shoes, and dancing around the apartment. This scene follows the tub one, and Dickie finds Tom’s encroachment disturbing. He tells Tom to take off the clothes, but in another room, attempting to minimize any sexual situations between them.


 In the scene where Freddie joins Dickie, Marge, and Tom on a boating outing, Tom, sits alone, reading, as the other young men frolic in the sea. Freddie pretends to be drowning Dickie, who yells out as if being threatened. Marge observes, “Why is it when men play, they always play at killing each other.” This is a foreshadowing, because in Tom’s world, the subconscious desire to destroy becomes outwardly manifest. Later, in that same scene, Freddie pressure Dickie to come with him to Rome, where there are many women. He says this within earshot of Marge, who goes below. Freddie demonstrates the inconsiderate carelessness of the wealthy here. Dickie follows his girlfriend, saying he must do “Marge maintenance.” The two engage in sex, with Tom peering in disgust, wanting Dickie to himself, through an opening above. Freddie needles Tom, asking him “how’s the peeping, Tommy,” and repeats his name over and over, “Tommy, Tommy,” We have a Tommy, a Dickie, and a Freddie here, supposedly grown men on the outside, but acting like children, unconcerned about the effects their actions have on others as they satisfy their wants.
Dickie’s father writes to Tom to tell him that since he hasn’t been successful in getting his son to return to America, Greenleaf says he doesn’t require his services any longer. Dickie, becoming distanced from Tom anyway, now has the excuse that Tom no longer can pay his way. So, he tells Tom it’s best that they move on with their lives separately. But, he says they will have a final outing at a jazz festival in San Remo before saying goodbye. On the train to the town, the two share a car, and Dickie snoozes. Tom sees his reflection along with Dickie’s in the compartment’s window, and the two men look very similar, stressing the merging of their identities. Tom rests his head on Dickie’s shoulder. Dickie wakes up, and comments humorously that Tom is a bit “spooky.”
Dickie now sees right through Tom’s fakery. He calls him out about not having gone to Princeton, and how he only said he liked jazz to get close to Dickie. On a boat ride, Tom says he has a plan where he will return to Italy after he acquires enough funds, and they can be together again. He says that they are the brothers they never had, and he will get rid of the “Marge problem.” Dickie says he loves Marge and is going to marry her. Tom says that Dickie loves him, which Dickie laughingly denies. Tom then releases all of his venom, reminding Dickie of his cheating on Marge, and how he caused Silvana’s death. Dickie calls Tom a “third class mooch,” emphasizing his lowly socio-economic status, and calls him “creepy,” saying he doesn’t want to be in the boat with him. Tom explodes, hitting Dickie with an oar, and, after a struggle, kills him. Afterwards, he nestles next to his body, presenting an image of necrophilia. He weighs down the boat, and swims to the shore.
Back at the hotel, the concierge addresses Tom as Dickie, and from here on he leads a dissociative life, becoming Tom or Dickie depending on whom he is with. He tells Marge that Dickie abandoned them both, and left for Rome, providing a forged letter from Dickie to Marge backing up the story. He sends letters supposedly from a living Dickie to Tom. He alters Dickie’s passport and draws money from Dickie’s funds. He again encounters Meredith, who knows him as Dickie from their cruise. She says she ran into Freddie, who said he was with Marge. To solidify the story, he says he left Marge. Meredith is attracted to Tom/Dickie, and Tom forges ahead with Dickie’s lifestyle, having Meredith as his escort, as she picks out clothes for him, symbolically helping him become Dickie. 

The two attend an opera, which significantly is about a man who pretends to be someone he is not. There, Tom runs into Marge, who is with a friend, a musical conductor, Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport). There is a spark of attraction between Tom and Peter, and one can’t help but think Tom sees Peter as a replacement for Dickie. His two identities are in danger of colliding, so Tom leaves the opera with Meredith. He says he can’t see her again, because she (another somewhat look-alike) reminds him of Marge. However, he says he will meet her the next day near the Spanish Steps at a café for a proper goodbye. Tom knows that Marge will be there, too, who shows ups with Peter. He stands up Meredith, who encounters Marge. Meredith substantiates that Dickie is there in Rome, and says that he still loves Marge. After Meredith leaves, Tom shows up as himself, and after he hears the story (which he has set up), he says, almost like an inside joke, that whenever Dickie does something wrong, he feels “guilty.”

 Freddie has been tracking down Dickie’s whereabouts, and shows up at the apartment in Rome. But, instead of finding his old friend, he sees Tom. He is suspicious immediately when Tom says that Dickie is having dinner at six in the evening, which is way too early. Tom looks like he is settled in there despite his saying he doesn’t live at the apartment. Freddie says the landlady said that Dickie was there now. As Tom talks, Freddie keeps hitting a piano key which is out of tune, indicating that Tom’s story doesn’t sound right. Tom is not wearing glasses, and has his hair swept back. Freddie, addressing Tom, says that the only thing there that looks like Dickie “is you.” Stating that Tom is a “quick study,” Freddie’s insight as to Tom’s attempt to replace Dickie is accurate. When Freddie leaves, he talks to the landlady who says Dickie plays the piano, which Freddie knows is not true. She then sees Tom on the upper landing and addresses him as Dickie. Freddie returns to the apartment. Bad move. Tom slams him over the head with a stone bust, killing him. IMDB says that the bust is of the Roman emperor Hadrian, whose gay lover was killed. An appropriate murder weapon for Tom, who did in his wished-for gay object of desire, Dickie. Always a wizard of manipulating what appears to be real, Tom pretends Freddie is drunk, and is helping him to his car. He even imitates Freddie’s voice, setting up the story that Freddie was alive when he left him. He dumps Freddie’s body in the woods next to his car. 

The police investigate the death, and question Tom as Dickie. He gets into a scooter accident, bruising his face, when he sees a man wearing a hat like the one Dickie wore. His smashing into mirrors along an antique row implies how he may be haunted by that part of himself that is now Dickie. He encounters Marge, who wonders if Dickie hurt Freddie. Tom says the bruise resulted from an argument with Dickie, as Tom creates a pattern of violence associated with Dickie. Marge says every time she looks for Dickie she finds Tom, an unknowingly accurate statement. The police, addressing Tom as Dickie, question what happened to Tom, who went missing when Dickie and Tom were in San Remo, and they found a weighed down boat. They think Dickie is the culprit – ironic, since it is Tom who is in front of them, and Dickie is the dead one. Anyway, they have two murders associated with Dickie.
Tom realizes he must rid himself of the Dickie persona, since he is a murder suspect. He forges a suicide note, which admits guilt about Silvana and Freddie. But the note goes on to say how Tom was the brother he never had, and is the type of son his father deserved. He also scratches out the picture in the passport, implying self-hatred, but really a ploy to prevent discovering Tom was impersonating Dickie. Tom travels to Venice, where he encounters Peter, whom he now latches on to. When Marge visits, she looks suspicious, saying, “I see you’ve found Peter,” seeing him as the next Dickie. She is suspicious of how he can afford such a nice place in Venice. She also discovers Dickie’s rings in Tom’s possession, jewelry she bought for Dickie, and which he swore he would never remove. She startles Tom, coming out of a bath when she makes the find and demands to know why he has Dickie’s rings. This shot in the bath reminds us of how Tom has replaced Dickie in the tub. But, when he goes to face Marge, Tom accidentally drops his towel, showing his nakedness, and metaphorically, revealing his true, duplicitous nature.
Mr. Greenleaf arrives in Venice with a private investigator. Marge says that Dickie wouldn’t have withdrawn money from the bank right before he is ready to kill himself. She suspects, rightly, that it was Tom accessing the funds before implicating Dickie as a killer and a victim of suicide. She says Tom now looks like someone who is “to the manor born,” as if he comes from the elite. But, she is really saying his rise was done through deceptive manipulation. However, Tom has plotted his scheme well, and gets lucky, too, as he learns from the investigator that he didn’t make up Dickie’s violent nature. He almost killed someone at Princeton, and his father got him off, allowing him to find refuge for a while in Italy. So, the story indicts more than just Tom. Based on the suicide note which contained Dickie’s endorsement of Tom, compliments of Tom himself, Greenleaf transfers Dickie’s trust to Tom. He now has truly replaced Dickie as his father’s son. When Marge leaves with Greenleaf, she attacks Tom near the pier, saying that she knows he is the killer.


Tom has now taken up with Peter. They embark on a cruise. He appears to want to come clean with Peter, wants to share true intimacy. But, Meredith is on the ship (there are a few too many coincidences here), with an entourage of family members. She knows Tom only as Dickie, and Peter knows him as Tom. He can’t kill Meredith, because she is not alone. Peter has seen him with Meredith, so he knows they will discover his secret once they talk to each other. He decides to do away with Peter, his possible soulmate, which makes the events even more tragic. We hear Peter, in bed, not involved in sex, but in the throes of death (the two were intermixed in Elizabethan poetry), saying how Tom is crushing him, reminiscent of what Dickie said when Tom squeezed too tightly on the scooter. Ripley’s embrace is more akin to a boa constrictor, than that of a lover.

The next film is The Insider.

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