Page 10, 16th June 2000

16th June 2000
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Page 10, 16th June 2000 — The descent of the soul into darkness
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Organisations: Ivy League
Locations: Venice

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The descent of the soul into darkness

Video Robert de Butler

lhe Talented Mr Ripley T,,,,,, A MOVIE set in the Fifties that features a gaggle of current Hollywood

wood obsessions including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Jude Law and Matt Damon.

The story is a rather subtle cinema-friendly reworking of the novel by Patricia Highsmith. The opening shot has a balcony overlooking Central Park stacked with Ivy League worthies attentive to a young couple performing a piano and chorale piece. The pianist is none other than the talented Tom Ripley, the central character of the movie, who by a slick turn of a borrowed jacket is taken for a Princeton graduate by his hosts and taken into the confidences of the Greenleafs.

The rich Mr Greenleaf makes a pact with the impressive Ripley — if he will go to Italy and convince his dissolute son to return to America then he will pay him $1,000. He accepts. Ripley prepares for his mission with consummate skill and it emerges he is something of a mimick with a penchant for the odd forgery, but he is never presented as sinister by the director.

This is an achievement as the audience is not permitted to adopt an unsympathetic judgment of the young Ripley until it is really too late. The first intimation of later events comes when Ripley meets a young heiress on the boat to Italy, called Meredith who is obviously quite taken with him (Cate Blanchett). He utters his first lie and assumes the identity of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). They part and Ripley arrives at the southern Italian resort where Dickie and his fiancee (Gwyneth Paltrow) are staying by the sea. Ripley effects a seemingly casual encounter and is invited to visit.

The audience is astonished that at this stage of their meeting the charming Ripley does an impersonation of Dickie's father and gives him the full story of the pact. A moment of truth in a tissue of lies, but not quite — for Ripley has disarmed Dickie and establishes a bond. Dickie and Ripley become best buddies while the hapless fiancee looks on and dreams of marriage.

Here lies the subtlety of the movie because we are in fact introduced to a triangle of entanglement. Yet this is not a gay relationship. There are hints — the bath scene where Dickie and Ripley play chess and Ripley asks: "Can I get in?" The director hangs the audience upon the pensive intent of Dickie, but Ripley corrects himself: "I didn't mean with you in it." Yet the director manages to leave a doubt in the mind of the audience while nothing untoward is suggested by Dickie. Evidently this is just about male bonding. Eventually the lies and subterfuges that Ripley adopt unravel as he first kills Dickie in a fit of piqued rejection when it becomes clear that Dickie wants to marry and then his best friend Freddie who inadvertently discovers that Ripley has assumed the name and monies of the dead Dickie.

The distraught fiancee captures the sentiment when she says of the relocated Ripley, now in Venice with another of their friends, the good but ambiguous Peter: "Tell me why do I think there's never been a rainy day for Tom Ripley?"

The movie is an elaborate tale of the cumulative momentum of lies and a study in predatory relationships. As in all traditional narratives, and this is one, the central character nears a moment of self-awareness while playing Peter's piano: "Nobody thinks they are a bad person really."

He describes how lie deals with his crimes — locking them away in the basement of his mind and hanging on to the key. Peter too will be eliminated as the others in order to keep the tissue of lies going. The final scene has the cabin wardrobe closing in darkness as the cries of the dying Peter echo off in Ripley's mind. The closing door is a powerful symbol of the descent of Ripley's soul into total darkness. The light of truth like Peter has been suffocated.




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