This morning at 5 AM, I was more than willing to give Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley a 7.5/10 or even an 8. The film had great acting, a pleasant score by Gabriel Yared, and very clever plot twists. The film was also terrifying as it was intense. And throughout the chaos and the beauty there was an icy, cold, calculated order. However, later it seemed pretty clear to me that this was just a homophobic jaunt.
In the original novel, Tom Ripley shocked audiences through the means that he took to rise above poverty to become a somebody: emotionally exploiting rich, insecure expats and then killing them for their identity and money. Readers, while disgusted by Ripley, could feel sympathy for him because his tenuous origins tenuous justified his desperation and since he didn’t mean to kill the people that he did, and he did feel guilt about his crimes.
Minghella’s Tom Ripley, however, murdered and ruined lives out of spurned homosexual jealousy, paranoia, and sprinkled with a tinge of psychopathy. Ripley killed Dickie Greenleaf, for though Ripley could steal money and any identity he wanted, he could never have Dickie’s love because Dickie wasn’t gay and he loved Marge. Then we are led to believe that the homosexuality of Minghella’s Ripley and his possible autism was the result of profound child abuse. If that wasn’t all, we are shown the depths of Ripley’s self-destructiveness and nihilism—a reflection of the age—when he murders Peter, another homosexual and the only person in the film who accepts and loves Ripley for who and what he is.
Frankly, Highsmith did a much better job of fashioning her characters and her plot back in 1955. True, she confused sociopathic with psychopathic disorders in the character of Tom Ripley, but she had an eye for the interconnectedness and dependency of humans, and she didn’t overtly sink to blaming everything wrong on homosexual jealousy.
Alas, there are numerous other problems with this film.
For instance, after examining the bodies of Dickie and Freddie, detective Alvin MacCarron should have easily come to the conclusion that they were both murdered by blunt force trauma. This would be especially so for Dickie, since he had defensive wounds. The only possible suspect here would have been Ripley since he and Dickie were seen together in San Remo and went out in a boat together.
Furthermore, MacCarron and the Italian police should’ve taken fingerprint samples from the licence plates of Freddie’s car and Dickie’s typewriter and examined these prints against Ripley’s prints. Instead, these basic investigative procedures were ignored.
Also, the police in his film/story did a terrible job of canvassing the entire population of Italy with photos of Dickie. For instance, the Ripley’s landlady in Venice would have easily revealed to the police that the only “Dickie Greenleaf” was Tom Ripley, just as she had revealed to Freddie.
With regards to the ending, undoubtedly, Ripley gets caught, but Minghella equivocated on this, perhaps as a last gesture of fidelity to Highsmith’s novel. IMHO, it is highly probable that Ripley gets caught after killing Peter because he would be the primary suspect in an investigation of Peter’s death or disappearance. An interrogation and review of files by the police would reveal that Ripley was a suspect in the murders of Dickie and Freddie. The interrogation would also turn to Meredith Logue, who would reveal that Ripley travelled under the identity of Dickie Greenleaf, who unknown to her was recently found murdered. Minghella’s Ripley, unless via the powers of plot contrivance, cannot escape arrest and imprisonment.
And why is this fate so?
Minghella’s Ripley must be punished because he was an unsympathetic character and he was an unsympathetic character because Minghella characterized him in crude brush strokes as an unloving, unloveable sociopathic homosexual. Since there is no link between homosexuality with sociopathy and/or misanthropy, the characterization and motives of Tom Ripley are weak.