How Many Ripleys are on Screen?

The new series Ripley is out on Netflix now, marking the return of Ripley to our screens. This means that there is yet another Ripley for us on the screen. Created and directed by Steven Zaillian (known for his work on Schindler's List and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), with Andrew Scott in the lead role, and featuring Dakota Fanning and Johnny Flynn, the series is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's five-novel series comprising The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water. It delves into how Ripley evolves from a con artist into a serial killer.

Set in the 1960s New York, the story follows the con artist Tom Ripley, hired by a wealthy man to persuade his idle son Dickie Greenleaf to return home from Italy. As Ripley embarks on this job, he steps onto a path filled with lies, deceit, and murder.

This series of novels has been adapted into films multiple times, with stars like Matt Damon and Alain Delon portraying various versions of Ripley. This article will focus on Patricia Highsmith's screen adaptations, especially those Ripleys depicted on screen.

Alain Delon | Purple Noon (1960)

Based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Purple Noon was directed by René Clément and released in 1960. Alain Delon's portrayal of Ripley alongside Romy Schneider garnered immense attention, making this French rendition of the "Ripley legend" a sensation at the time. The film also marked a significant milestone in Delon's career.

In Purple Noon, René Clément completely omits the homosexual undertones, even having Ripley pursue his friend's girlfriend directly after killing his friend, successfully establishing an intimate relationship with her, thus interpreting the character in a heterosexual manner.

The film's ending differs from what's in the novel: in the original, Ripley manages to escape unscathed, amassing the wealth he desires, whereas in the Purple Noon, Ripley falls into the hands of the law. By the sunny seaside, Tom, wearing beach shorts and a casual cardigan, strolls before settling down for a drink. His face radiates contentment, unaware that detectives in the distance have uncovered his dark secrets, closing in on him step by step. From the onset of his crimes, the film foreshadows the inevitable fate awaiting this criminal.

Matt Damon | The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

How far would you go to become someone else?

The Talented Mr. Ripley, like Purple Noon, is adapted from the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, a classic Hollywood film released in 1999 and nominated for several Oscars. Directed by Anthony Minghella, whose previous film The English Patient won 9 Oscar awards, this American rendition of the "Ripley legend" retains the novel's ending and themes of existentialism and jazz-age decadence, portraying a lonely individual attempting to change himself and ascend into another social class.

The popular Saltburn last year shares similarities with The Talented Mr. Ripley but leans towards a darker version. Like Tom in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Oliver in Saltburn harbors an intense obsession with Felix and commits murders within the castle. However, their outcomes differ: Oliver leads a happily-ever-after life of the wealthy without any consequences. At the same time, Tom's inner turmoil during the murder of Peter in the film's climax reveals his reluctance. I prefer The Talented Mr. Ripley's dark and bleak ending. It depicts Tom Ripley forcing himself into a desperate situation through obsession, haunting him forever. As he finally locks himself in darkness, he may escape societal laws, but his soul dies within. Those who've watched The Talented Mr. Ripley surely remember Peter's words in the end, each syllable a punishment for Tom: to spend his life covering lies with more lies, murders with more murders until his beloved also perishes by his hand. Such torment is akin to descending into eternal hell.

Dennis Hopper | The American Friend (1977)

In 1977, the renowned German director Wim Wenders, a fan of Patricia Highsmith's works, brought the third book of the Ripley series, Ripley's Game, to the big screen, starring Dennis Hopper as Ripley, resulting in the acclaimed film The American Friend.

The film stays relatively faithful to the original; Wim Wenders relocates most of the novel's setting from the southern Parisian suburb to Hamburg. In the book, Ripley and Jonathan (played by Bruno Ganz) have two confrontations with their pursuers, which the film condenses into one. Jonathan is fatally shot in their final encounter in the book, while in the movie, he dies from illness. This adaptation directly takes on the third book in Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series. However, Wim Wenders also integrates elements from the second book, Ripley Under Ground: an unknown painter mimics the late artist Derwatt's style, selling his paintings at high prices.

The most significant deviation from the original lies in Tom Ripley's character: in the book, he's a hedonist, whereas in the film, Tom Ripley is a homeless, lonely figure. While Patricia Highsmith's version of Ripley as the protagonist should have had many scenes, Wim Wenders’ film adaptation shifts the focus to the mundane middle-aged man, Jonathan. Several planned crimes seem deliberately glossed over, emphasizing atmosphere over plot development and psychological portrayal.

John Malkovich | Ripley's Game (2002)

In 2002, another film version of Ripley's Game was released, which was directed and written by the internationally acclaimed Italian director Liliana Cavani.

Since The Talented Mr. Ripley weathered 20 years of trials and tribulations, he has shed the recklessness of youth, sensitivity, and suspicion, transforming into a refined, poised gentleman thief. His talent for discerning the dark side of human nature ensures his success in every endeavor. However, being trapped in the underworld outside the law comes with a price that can never be fully paid off: the eternal entanglement of grievances.

Embodying the aloof and proud on-screen persona, John Malkovich showcases Ripley's extreme coldness, erudition, cruelty, and disdain. In Ripley's Game, John Malkovich is not just a "cultivated assassin"; he manipulates and enslaves Jonathan's mind and actions, "turning an innocent boy into a murderer."

Barry Pepper | Ripley Under Ground (2005)

I think it's criminal the way people get so worked up about a little murder

In 2005, Ripley Under Ground, adapted from the novel of the same name, was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, with Barry Pepper portraying Ripley, known for his role in Saving Private Ryan.

Ripley Under Ground unfolds six years after the events of the preceding story. Ripley has now shaken off suspicion and begun to lead a leisurely life. Ripley is no longer the impulsive, hesitant youth of the past; now, he acts with composure and extreme calmness. He is not the type of criminal mastermind portrayed in the book, but his gaming mentality, along with the calm concealment of crimes and weaving of lies, sets him apart.

While Ripley's wife has few lines in the book, she is a captivating character. In the film, Heloise's interactions with Ripley hint at the author's unspoken imagination; she is both objectified and crucial to the plot. Her ambiguous attitude leaves viewers wondering if she secretly supports her husband's crimes. Perhaps, as hinted in the opening line, "I think it's criminal the way people get so worked up about a little murder," all is revealed.

Over the years, many talented actors have portrayed Ripley's character, each bringing their own interpretation to the role. As we reflect on the cinematic journey of Ripley, it's clear that his character continues to resonate with audiences worldwide. With the release of the Netflix series, we can analyze yet another captivating portrayal of this iconic character.

It also means that Ripley is a testament to the enduring appeal of Patricia Highsmith's creation. With its gripping narrative and compelling performances, the series promises to reignite our fascination with Ripley's dark and twisted world. We can expect more Ripleys on screen.

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