(Part 11 Of An Ongoing Series)
Don’t you just take the past and put it in a room in the basement, and lock the door and never go in there? That’s what I do.
Tom Ripley (Matt Damon)
1999 was teeming with movies about people desperate to reinvent themselves (Fight Club, American Beauty, Boys Don’t Cry, Being John Malkovich). Yet of all those movies, only Boys Don’t Cry was as heartbreaking as The Talented Mr. Ripley.
We sense early on that Tom Ripley’s awkwardness and duplicity mask much darker demons, but we’re still pulling for him. Thanks to Anthony Minghella’s sympathetic vision and Matt Damon’s sensitive portrayal, we want Tom to find a place to fit in and a person to love him. We’ll even root for a bromance between Tom and Jude Law’s stupendously charismatic Dickie Greenleaf, despite Dickie’s formidable douche-breath.
Alas, Tom smashes our hope with just a few strokes of a paddle.
Apparently this happens differently in Patricia Highsmith’s book, where Ripley commits a more premeditated murder. But Ripley’s a vastly more fascinating character when his story turns on a crime of passion rather than one of cold-blooded calculation. Here he’s not just a sociopath- he’s a sociopath wrestling with a lost little boy, and we see that fight in his eyes every time he’s threatened with discovery.
Ripley’s villainy, pathos, and ingenuity create a disorienting cocktail of emotions in the movie’s second half. We want Ripley brought to justice, yet we want him to find peace, and we get off on watching him use his wits to weasel off the hook. And when we see what he has to do when he finally finds someone to love him- when we realize this troubled young man will probably never become the person he wants to be- the amount of pity Minghella and Damon are able wring from our souls is utterly diabolical.