Another week of me talking about books I was forced to read in school that I ended up loving–now, it’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Specifically, the Patricia Highsmith novel and the 1999 movie, though there have been a few adaptations of both.
Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath. Here, in the first Ripley novel, we are introduced to suave Tom Ripley, a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf, back from gallivanting in Italy. Soon Ripley’s fascination with Dickie’s debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley serves as an unforgettable introduction to this smooth confidence man, whose talent for murder and self-invention is chronicled in four subsequent Ripley novels.
I kind of loved this book, alright? I read it for a course called Midcentury Queer Writing which looked at a lot of different meanings of the word queer (we also read Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (aka Carol) and Lolita and Another Country) but I loved the discussions of this book. It was all about subtle queerness in Tom, the super weird murder stuff, and it was probably one of the most “I would read this on my own” book I read in all of college assigned reading. We weren’t required to watch the movie, but I did, and while some things were different, I feel like it captured the weirdness/queer undertones of the book pretty well, even though it shies away from the actual gay tones, if that makes sense. Also, I haven’t read the other Ripley novels, but I want to. It’s just about finding the time–right? That’s what I tell myself at least. Also, it’s one of those books that I remember what I was when I was reading it–which is big for me. It usually means I liked a book a lot, or at least had a strong reaction. I was in Philly visiting one of my best friends–I remember reading Ripley in a coffee house near the movie theatre while I waited for him to finish some rehearsal. Weird that I recall that, but a good book!
Now, onto the 1999 movie
The 1999 film stars Matt Damon as Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge. Stacked cast, am I right? It’s also got Cate Blachett and Philip Seymour Hoffman, so wow.
From the Roger Ebert review,
“The movie is an intelligent a thriller as you’ll see this year. It is also insidious in the way it leads us to identify with Tom Ripley. He is the protagonist, we see everything through his eyes, and Dickie is not especially lovable; that means we are a co-conspirator in situations where it seems inconceivable that Tom’s deception will not be discovered. He’s a monster, but we want him to get away with it. There is one sequence in the film involving an apartment, a landlady, the police and a friend who knows the real Dickie that depends on such meticulous timing and improvisation that if you made it speedier, you’d have the Marx Brothers.”
I think this really hits on what I liked about the movie–the way the characters capture that imperfection–you don’t love them, but you have to be drawn to them in some way. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a pretty good adaptation of such a strange book.
On a final note, if you want to read a female modern adaptation of this book, read Social Creature by Tara Isabelle Burton.