Tom Ripley or the Dolce Vita… at any price

The archetypal unscrupulous ambitious man, obsessed with the lifestyle of the ultra-rich, Tom Ripley is back in action. This fictional anti-hero, created in 1955 by American novelist Patricia Highsmith and made into a screen play many times over, is now being offered for the first time as a series on Netflix, with Andrew Scott in the title role. Portrait of a talented character, between light and shadow, who, 70 years after his creation, still fascinates as much as he disturbs.



Penniless, living on petty theft but determined to get out of poverty, Tom Ripley begins his entry into the world of luxury and false pretenses with a mission that looks like an all-inclusive vacation: to bring the son of a wealthy shipbuilder back to sanity and into the New York fold. The prodigal son lives a bohemian life with his girlfriend under the Capri sun. But the neurotic genius is not about to give up his new “friends” and the good life so easily. The result is an immoderate taste for luxury, which only a few days earlier was beyond his reach.


Black sunshine

Don’t be fooled by his cheeky smile and dandy looks. Because if Tom Ripley has the art and the manner… it’s to swindle and manipulate, if not kill his wealthy peers in the hottest spots on the planet.


An anti-hero whose morbid escapades and identity theft punctuate no less than five novels written by Patricia Highsmith between 1955 and 1995, Tom Ripley owes much of his venomous notoriety to the cinema, and more specifically to two adaptations of the first volume, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.


The first, “Plein Soleil”, directed in 1960 by René Clément, saw Alain Delon’s Rastignac land by a stroke of fate in the middle of the jet set, under the golden sun of southern Italy. The French actor and sex symbol, who had not yet filmed “La piscine”, co-stars with Marie Laforêt and Maurice Ronet as Marge Sherwood and Dickie Greenleaf, a young couple from a good family in perfect love, duped by the falsely benevolent young Adonis.


Poster for Plein Soleil, film by René Clément, 1960 © Paris Films Production/Titanus


The second, “The Talented Mr Ripley”, directed by Anthony Minghella and released in 1999, gave the lead role to Matt Damon, opposite a Hollywood cast including Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett.


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella, 1999 © Miramax


The sunshine of Tom Ripley’s golden sojourns in Sicily and Ischia contrasts sharply with the darkness of his heart in these two cult works of cinema, making it easy to forget that both films are psychological thrillers.


Adapted into a series of 8 1-hour episodes, the Netflix version of this Kaiser Sose, anti-hero of the 1995 hit Usual Suspect, makes the deliberate choice to exclude color, opting instead for a black and white as sublime as it is sinister.


Director and screenwriter Steven Zaillan confides, “I never saw this story as a sunny, colorful postcard, but rather as the disturbing thriller that it is. The story takes place in the winter of 1960, and like many of Highsmith’s stories, it has the feel of a film noir. “This former screenwriter of two Martin Scorsese films (Gangs of New York and The Irishman) and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, among others, concedes that “the story is about what it’s like to be Tom Ripley rather than his victim.”


In the role of the proletarian who intrudes like a parasite on a bourgeois family to seize their fortune, the director called on Andrew Scott. The Irish actor is best known for his roles as Moriarty in the Sherlock series and as a sexy priest in Fleabag.


While in Minghella’s version, Tom Ripley was still sweetly naive and fell into crime purely by accident, this new interpretation reveals a man who is very much in tune with the underworld. Here, however, this devious and ingenious man reveals a being who, according to the production notes, is “very solitary” and unsentimental.


Tortuous but talented anti-hero

When Patricia Highsmith, a Texan novelist and European by adoption, was working on what was to be her second novel, detective stories at the time were all about who killed who. Under her pen, the focus will be on the killer’s behavior and, more specifically, his inner world.


But where she surprises her readers is with her sharp sense of suspense, capable of creating a dramatic shift in the narrative without warning, and turning a peaceful rowboat ride into a murder.


Original cover of The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith



But above all, she plays on the ambiguity of this Gatsby in the making, refusing to turn him into a one-dimensional monster. Affable, charming, elegant and exceptionally intelligent, Tom Ripley is a dangerously irresistible character with whom the reader can easily identify.


In Patricia Highsmith’s Her Diaries and Notebooks – 1941-1945, the author declares, “If I feel pity for the mentally ill and the criminal [it’s because they will always be the best characters in anything I write] For normality and mediocrity? I’m not needed, I’m bored.”


A particularly cultured man, Tom Ripley has a knack for getting himself out of the most inextricable situations, and out of trouble with the police, as soon as his misdeeds have been committed.


Deadly obsession

Censorship meant that the René Clément version of Tom Ripley, starring Alain Delon, was completely silent about his quest for sexual identity.


Matt Damon and Jude Law as Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, respectively, in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella, 1999 © Miramax


Although Anthony Minghella cut out part of the plot of Monsieur Ripley for his film “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, he did not omit the character’s unhealthy obsession with the golden boy he was supposed to bring back to his father, in exchange for money. And if he seemed attracted to his partner Marge Sherwood, it’s a question of repressed homoeroticism, as in the novel.


For the series, the director preferred to portray a lethal desire for self-reinvention. In other words, Tom Ripley is not so much motivated by a desire to seduce the arrogant Dickie Greenleaf as to resemble him, even if it means suppressing him.


Ripley TV series with Dakota Fanning and Johnny Flynn – aka Marge Sherwood and Dickie Greenleaf opposite Andrew Scott, playing the enigmatic Tom Ripley © Netflix


In this, the penniless anti-hero experiences luxury, which, according to Rousseau, “corrupts morals” and consumes the soul. But unlike the aforementioned adaptations, Tom Ripley finds in Marge Sherwood – played by Dakota Fanning (Twilight, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood) – a clear-sighted adversary unaffected by his charms.


And to hear the director and screenwriter of this Ripley series, available since April 4 on Netflix, this sociopath born from the pen of Patricia Highsmith is not about to be consigned to the back of the closet: “like all great characters, Ripley can be reimagined ad infinitum like Hamlet.”


With its underlying themes of success, self-reinvention, mental health, loneliness and polysexuality, Ripley is in tune with Gen Z expectations.


Featured Photo: © Press

Victor Gosselin est journaliste spécialisé luxe, RH, tech, retail et consultant éditorial. Diplômé de l’EIML Paris, il évolue depuis 9 ans dans le luxe. Féru de mode, d’Asie, d’histoire et de long format, cet ex-Welcome To The Jungle et Time To Disrupt aime analyser l’info sous l’angle sociologique et culturel.


Luxus Magazine recommends

Luxus Magazine N°8

Now available