The Talented Mr Ripley

So, my flatmate was telling me the other day about seeing The Talented Mr Ripley, and then walking out during the scene where Tom bludgeons Dickie to death in the boat.

Which is fair enough – it’s an unpleasant scene. (Patricia Highsmith is very good at blunt, horrific, everyday violence.) But it’s not the one that disturbed me.

That’s the one at the end, where Ripley murders his would-be lover, on the chance that he could expose him. My mind wouldn’t let that rest. How could he have done that? I didn’t want to believe it. I thought about getting the book out the library, hoping it would have a different ending. I didn’t dare, because I knew I wouldn’t.

This was when I was maybe fourteen.

Earlier this year, I read The Talented Mr Ripley for the first time. (I’d read some of its sequels and other Highsmith books before.) And I braced myself.

Only …

Tom Ripley never murders Peter at the end of the book. Peter is but barely in the book.

It was both a relief and a letdown.

*

There is a moment, in the book, where Ripley thinks that the same thing that happened with Dickie could happen with Peter. And, he doesn’t want to go there again. And he doesn’t.

But in the movie he does. And it is all the more awful when the same thing does happen – because Peter, unlike Dickie, really does like Ripley back.

*

The movie begins and ends with a sense of regret. ‘If I could rub everything out, starting with myself.’ Whereas in the book …

But supposing they got him on the fingerprints, and on the will, and they gave him the electric chair – could that death in the electric chair equal in pain, or could death itself, at twenty-five, be so tragic, that he could not say that the months from November until now had not been worth it? Certainly not.

Ripley is wary of being caught, but as the book ends, he has not been. He’s got away with, is no longer under suspicion, and is a good deal richer to boot.

As the movie ends, Ripley is no longer under investigation, yes, and he is a good deal richer also – I assume (it’s not made explicit, but it certainly sounds to me like Mr Greenleaf is saying, I get it, you two were totally in love, it’s cool, you can inherit his money, I reckon he would have wanted that.)

But, he is a murderer and he cannot go unpunished. So when there is someone who loves him – well, it’s inevitable that Peter should maybe find out about the impersonating Dickie thing, maybe realise, and that Ripley should have to kill him for it. Ripley has horrible marks upon his soul, see; he can never be happy.

(God, that scene at the end. It is bloody heartwrenching, and my brain does not want to reconcile it.)

But the Ripley in the books can be. He can set aside his guilt and go on to lead a long and interesting life. Which might lack poetic justice, but it’s certainly less traumatic, and less predictable.

Honestly, to have spent so much of the book bracing myself, and that was not even in it. God, Anthony Minghella, why?

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