3 January 2000 | nathan19
Duality makes this film an heir to Hitchcock's classics.
Duality -- the ability to be one person in a certain situation, and another in another -- is the underlying and pervading theme of "The Talented Mr. Ripley." It is a theme that sparks the central conflict of the picture, that influences each of the main character's decisions and actions. Each character in the film is either pretending to be something else, or playing directly to a superficial identity. The film unravels each of the character's motivations for doing so, and in so doing strips away the layers of reality we construct for ourselves. Characters either uncover the explicit duality of their lives (Cate Blanchette's willingness to admit that she travels under another name), or have it uncovered for them (Tom Ripley). When each character is laid bare, when each character is most fully themselves, when each character stops acting and pretending, they are undone.
The film presents a main character who does his best to pursue another life -- but he cannot ultimately follow through with it. We are trapped by who we are, aren't we? Gwyneth tries to become Dickie's ideal woman, to avoid asking him to settle down, but she cannot -- she wants the home and the family. This is her undoing -- she weeps in the film, "I must have pressured him". Dickie can't escape the fact that he loves the nightlife -- that he strays, that his attention only lasts as long as the diversion. He says he will marry Gwyneth, but we know that his eye can never stop roaming. This is his undoing. Dickie's pal -- superficially polite, while snide and arrogant at the same time -- is much smarter than he appears, which leads to his undoing as well. When each of the characters lets their guard down and becomes who they are, it destroys them. Each of the characters has a tragic flaw that they try to ignore, or play to, a flaw which undoes the perfect lives they all pursue.
The ironic twist is that Tom Ripley is the catalyst for all of this -- yet, his tragic flaw is that he has no flaw. While each of the main characters has an identity they are running from, Ripley HAS no identity to speak of. He starts out pretending, and he pretends through the entire film. Who IS Tom Ripley? Even Tom himself wants to know. One would think that this would enable him to become the perfect actor -- when you paint on a blank canvas, one would think you can paint anything. But even Tom, blank as he is, distills down to someone -- even if it is a blank canvas, a "real nobody." And it is not only himself he is unsure of -- it is the entire world around him. Among his first lines in the film is a line uttered while listening to a jazz record -- he mumbles to himself, "Can't tell if it's a woman or a man." It is this uncertainty that informs the world he sees, and how he relates to it. Is Tom gay or straight? Is he evil or good? Even Tom doesn't know.
The film points out that we cannot run from our own darker half. We are all tempted to become someone else -- anyone who has been made fun of in school, who has longed for the life of the rich and famous, can identify with this The enemy is not without, it is within. It is this same duality which haunted and tormented so many of Hitchock's characters, most notably (but not exclusively) Norman Bates in "Psycho." "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a worthy heir to that film classic in its ability to get the audience to sympathize and empathize with Tom. We feel his love for Dickie Greenleaf -- we feel his frustration at being shut out of his life -- we feel the awkwardness of being trapped in a situation that was never intended. As we watched Marion Crane's car pause in the swamp and waited breathlessly, perversely hoping it would sink and allow Norman's mother to get away with murder, so too we watch Tom Ripley descend into darkness, and when the cops arrive at his hotel, we wait breathlessly with Tom, hoping he will get away.
Duality is present within us all... and while we are taught "to thine own self be true," in this film it is only when we are true to ourselves, that true pain comes.