“Forever, Tom thought. Maybe he’d never go back to the States. It was not so much Europe itself as the evenings he had spent alone, here and in Rome, that made him feel that way. Evenings by himself simply looking at maps, or lying around on sofas thumbing through guidebooks. Evenings looking at his clothes – his clothes and Dickie’s – and feeling Dickie’s rings between his palms, and running his fingers over the antelope suitcase he had bought at Gucci’s. He had polished the suitcase with a special English leather dressing, not that it needed polishing because he took such good care of it, but for its protection. He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality.
Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence. It was as simple as that. And wasn’t that worth something? He existed. Not many people in the world knew how to, even if they had the money. It really didn’t take money, masses of money, it took a certain security. He had been on the road to it, even with Marc Priminger. He had appreciated Marc’s possessions, and they were
what had attracted him to the house, but they were not his own, and it had been impossible to make a beginning at acquiring anything of his own on forty dollars a week. It would have taken him the best years of his life, even if he had economised stringently, to buy the things he wanted. Dickie’s money had given him only an added momentum on the road he had been travelling. The money gave him the leisure to see Greece, to collect Etruscan pottery if he wanted (he had recently read an interesting book on that subject by an American living in Rome), to join art societies if he cared to and to donate to their work. It gave him the leisure, for instance, to read his Malraux tonight as late as he pleased, because he did not have to go to a job in the morning. He had just bought a two-volume edition of Malraux’s Psychologic de I’art which he was now reading, with great pleasure, in French with the aid of a dictionary.”
Early one morning in the summer of 1952, Patricia Highsmith awoke in a room at the Albergo Miramare hotel in Positano, Italy. The 31-year-old author had been traveling through Europe with her girlfriend, Ellen Blumenthal Hill, and the two weren’t getting along. Leaving Hill in bed, Highsmith walked to the end of a balcony overlooking the beach. It’s not as if things weren’t going well for her—her novel Strangers on a Train had just been adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock. But the tumultuous relationship was taking a toll. As she gazed out at the sand, pulling on a cigarette, she watched “a solitary young man in shorts and sandals, with a towel flung over his shoulder, making his way along the beach. There was an air of pensiveness about him, maybe unease,” she recalled in a 1989 issue of Granta magazine. She started to wonder: “Had he quarreled with someone? What was on his mind?”
The intrigue stuck with her. Two years later, while living in a cottage rented from an undertaker in Lenox, Mass., Highsmith drew from that image as she began a new novel, about a man named Tom Ripley. Even then, she sensed that she was onto something special. “She considered [The Talented Mr. Ripley] ‘healthier’ and ‘handsomer’ than her other books at its ‘birth,’” Joan Schenkar writes in her excellent biography The Talented Miss Highsmith.
Highsmith’s instincts were correct: With the charming sociopath Ripley, she’d created a new type of character entirely. In five novels over the next four decades, he’d become not only her most acclaimed and memorable creation but the prototype for a new kind of antihero: the unlikable, immoral, cold-blooded killer we can’t help but like anyway. Ripley was a character so fully realized, so simultaneously compelling and disturbing, it seemed as if he were based on someone Highsmith knew intimately. In a sense, he was:
An orphan unhappily raised by an icy aunt, 23-year-old Tom Ripley is living in New York City when we first meet him, trying his hand at casual extortion. In a bar one night, he’s approached by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf, father of an acquaintance, Dickie. Greenleaf is looking for someone who might persuade his son to return home from the bohemian life he’s been leading in the Italian village of Mongibello, and Tom seizes the opportunity. But what he finds when he locates Dickie is something he hadn’t expected: a glimpse of the privileged existence he’s always dreamed of.
René Clement – Plein Soleil (1960)
Tom Ripley – sociopath, parasite, killer – is the famous creation of Patricia Highsmith, and René Clément’s 1960 film Plein Soleil, or Purple Noon is re-released in cinemas, his adaptation of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, the first in a sequence of five Ripley novels. This approaches the book very differently from Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version, plunging us straight into the envious, unwholesome intimacy of Ripley (an eerily beautiful Alain Delon) with rich pal Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) on vacation on his luxury motoryacht; Clément fills in the backstory details later. As a thriller, it has to be said that this story has dated a good deal. In the late 1950s and 60s, what Ripley was able to get away with in terms of violence and impersonation in far-flung Europe was just about plausible; now in the era of forensic investigation, CCTV and Google Images, it is all pure fantasy, and I have always found the action that follows Ripley’s first ruthless act a little farcical. But Delon is a terrifically good in the role: his almost unearthly perfection is creepy itself, as if he is imitating a human being. This is a man, you think, who has grown used to a dazed, rapt expression on the faces of people talking to him, accustomed to their submissive awe, and yet with a diabolical insight into how that magnetism can be harnessed to manipulate and coerce. Delon’s Ripley is a Dorian Gray portrait of male beauty and unscrupulous daring, untroubled by conscience.
Anthony Minghella – The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
Written and directed by Anthony Minghella; based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. With Matt Damon (Tom Ripley), Gwyneth Paltrow (Marge Sherwood), Jude Law (Dickie Greenleaf), Cate Blanchett (Meredith Logue), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddie Miles), Jack Davenport (Peter Smith-Kingsley), James Rebhorn (Herbert Greenleaf) and Sergio Rubini (Inspector Roverini).
A FLOOD of adjectives bursts onto the screen at the start of Anthony Minghella’s glittering new thriller, considering ways to describe Tom Ripley before settling on ”talented” as le mot juste. This is only a minuscule show of ingenuity, but it’s also a promise that the film will keep. ”The Talented Mr. Ripley” offers diabolically smart surprises wherever you care to look.
His hypnotic, sensually charged adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s fascinatingly reptilian murder story has the same kind of complex allure that made ”The English Patient” so mesmerizing. This is a more conventional opportunity, being essentially the story of a homoerotic Faustian bargain played for keeps. But Mr. Minghella, who wrote and directed ”The Talented Mr. Ripley” with acute attention to every nuance, significantly broadens what Ms. Highsmith had in mind. Adding a couple of important new characters and bringing the secrets of Tom’s sexual longings to the surface, he risks losing the profound chill that made Ripley so disturbing in the first place. The character is several shades less loathsome and more conscience-stricken than he was to begin with, and his homosexuality is more openly expressed. But as played by Matt Damon with a fine, tricky mix of obsequiousness and ruthlessness, the nicer new Ripley is in no danger of losing his sting.
In a scenic, voluptuously beautiful film (kudos to the cinematographer, John Seale) that has a traffic-stopping cast, Mr. Minghella carefully plants the seeds of mayhem. When Tom is hired by Dickie’s father (James Rebhorn) to bring the ne’er-do-well Greenleaf scion home from Italy, he contrives to bump into Dickie on the beach and to echo Dickie’s infatuation with American jazz. The year is 1958, and it seems an impossibly glamorous time as depicted among pampered American expatriates in some of Italy’s most breathtaking settings.
Tom’s tricks, from wearing an embarrassingly skimpy chartreuse bathing suit to casually flashing some of Dickie’s favorite record albums, neatly accomplish their purpose. Soon he has made himself Dickie’s latest diversion, and managed this without even alienating Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), Dickie’s girlfriend. Marge was a thick, lumpen target for Tom’s misogyny in Ms. Highsmith’s version. Here, though still hopelessly oblivious to sexual currents between the men, she becomes a reminder that Ms. Paltrow makes as savvy a character actress as she does a swanlike leading lady.