As Netflix is continuously filling its figurative shelves with reams of original projects, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they started out by sharing some of the greatest Hollywood titles ever made. So, with Netflix Flashback, we’re looking back at some of the platform’s classic films and reminding ourselves just how great they are — next up is, The Talented Mr Ripley.
In today’s world when catfishing on social media seems to be the new normal, Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 eponymous novel, takes things a notch higher. Highly riveting and intense, this thriller remains pertinent more than two decades after its release owing, in no small part, to the high-strung tension and convoluted narrative. Starring a talented ensemble cast, including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and more, the film is indeed an eye-opener.
Ripley is like any other man, desperate to be rich. He wants money and he wants to be successful. As he plays the piano clad in a hand-me0down Princeton jacket, he is mistaken to be an alumnus of the university by a wealthy socialite named Greenleaf who agrees to pay him handsomely in exchange for his services. These services entail Ripley travelling to Europe to cajole Greenleaf’s spoiled and wayward son Dickie, who is enamoured by Europe, to return home.
Ripley embarks on the quest and slowly begins to grow obsessed with the idea of Dickie. Even after he meets him, there is a tinge of homoerotic bonding which shatters when Dickie insults him. What started out as a harmless desire to be rich and live in Dickie’s shoes take a dangerous turn and Ripley murders Dickie amid turquoise waters. However, using his calm, collected and charming demeanour, he continues impersonating the Greenleaf boy and manages to fool his family, girlfriend and friends whenever someone grows suspicious, the cold-hearted Ripley has no second thoughts regarding how he should cover up his tracks. He simply gets rid of them!
If one would go on to psychoanalyse Ripley’s character, they would see the frustration and narcissism that he harbours. He is confused regarding his budding sexuality and feels attracted to Dickie. Yet, he is the one assuming the latter’s identity, hoping to be like him which shows Ripley’s struggle with self-love. This idea is asserted by the final scene when he asks his paramour, Peter to tell him good things about Tom Ripley while strangulating him. His innate desire for self-acceptance and self-love is contrasted with how much he actually loathes himself. Dickie’s identity serves as an easy escape from himself as Ripley hates being at the lowest rung of the social ladder and would give up anything to climb up and gain importance.
His ingenious ways of impersonating Dickie and managing to get away with such heinous crimes show how spine-chilling his evil cunning is. Despite being exposed to his viciousness and ruthlessness from the very beginning of the film, one cannot help but empathise with him. When Ripley is on the verge of getting caught several times in the film, we find ourselves subconsciously praying for him to get away with it. Though it is pathetic to root for a man with no morals the clever writing begs for it. It brings out the worst in us while bringing awareness to a very important issue that continues to plague modern society in the age of social media- impersonation and identity theft.
Matt Damon is the highlight of the film as he manages to portray the gruesome monstrosity of Ripley’s character with immense dexterity. He is vile and evil yet equally empathy-inducing. His twisted psyche harbours insecurities and inhibitions, his love for Dickie and obsession is disrupted by the latter’s blatant rejection which enrages him.
When Damon kills Law’s Dickie, one cannot help but feel a surge of satisfaction as the rich spoiled brat gets punished for his habit of discarding people like yesterday’s newspaper. When Ripley kills Hoffman’s Freddie, Dickie’s rich, snobbish friend, we feel ourselves smiling as we remember how rude and impolite the latter had been to Ripley owing to their different social statuses.
A film that brings out the best and worst in us deserves a viewing second time. Streaming on Netflix, Minghella’s classic is a scary and unsettling thriller that has aged like fine wine.