note: if you haven’t seen this film yet, this review would be a spoiler, so please stop reading now. Otherwise, read on….srp
How easy would it be to entrap yourself in a web of lies of your own fabrication like Tom Ripley? Those fine, silken threads, words spoken that seem to fly out of your mouth before you can stop them because at the time, it was so much easier to just say “Of course” when a guy like Herbert Greenleaf says you must have gone to Princeton like his son, Dickie, because you borrowed a jacket with a school insignia. What harm, you figure, could it do to just be agreeable, and really, maybe part of you feels that bit inadequate and you sort of wish you fit in or were of higher social standing than you really are, and besides, you wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. That’s what you tell yourself; or that’s what Tom Ripley tells himself. He’s not lying to cover for himself; that’s what I guess he would reason. He’s telling a “small fib” (“if you can even call it a lie, he would add) about a borrowed jacket “for chrissake.” Tom Ripley is the kind of guy who would make you feel like the histrionic even though he’s the liar and is deceiving everyone, including himself.
The thing is, Tom Ripley isn’t a bad guy – not in any obvious way, not at first. It’s really an accumulation of factors that in the final account, make clear what he is (never who, for who he is is unclear even to him). What we do know, is that Tom Ripley will say anything to fit in, will charm you with what he doesn’t know (the only times he doesn’t lie – when he believes it will be charming, and those are the times that make it hard for us to believe he’s a bad guy. Even if we know he has lied, even if we know that for every situation he’s into, he alone got himself there, somehow, Tom Ripley would have everyone believe he is the victim, yet he is a victim of himself and repeatedly, the classic example of the kid who never grows up and never learns.
What makes Ripley compelling maybe the fact that if we’re at all honest with ourselves, everyone has told a white lie here and there, though some would take the hard line and argue that there are no white or black lies or lesser lies – there are only lies. It all begins with borrowing a jacket, he tells us. If he could just go back and erase everything, he says, beginning with borrowing a jacket, then he would. We’re supposed to believe this. My problem is that I don’t. I think that for Tom Ripley, or more apt, if I were Tom Ripley and had what is clearly a genius level IQ and a real set of talents for forgery, being as charming as he is, as musically talented, as good a mimic to name a few, and I were stuck cleaning up after the pug-nosed rich at the symphony in the restroom and brushing their cashmere and mink lint off of their dinner jackets as was his job and after a night of that, returning home to my shitty little basement apartment and doing this day in and day out, then I might be tempted to do whatever I had to do to get out of it. For sure, it’s not a lack of talent that got him where he is in life. Is it Tom Ripley’s or society’s fault that his talent, which he clearly has in spades, is largely unrecognized. After all, we only meet Tom because he is filling in for someone else who has injured his hand and so can’t play a piano gig for Dickie Greenleaf’s rich parents on the roof their or some friend’s swank apartment. The question that occurs first is this: Why was Tom Ripley the stand in and not the star? Why didn’t he get the gig and not his friend in the first place? In short, why is he the back-up man or the understudy? Is it really that there are so many other talented people in the world, or is more that Tom Ripley is, like a Renaissance man, he has so many talents but none of them focused enough that he can ever really fall into one field squarely and make a real go of it. That’s my guess, but I could be dead wrong.