Best Enemies: Why Tom Ripley Is a Psychopath Made for Social Media  film
6 mins read

Best Enemies: Why Tom Ripley Is a Psychopath Made for Social Media film

hE is back. But he never went away. Patricia Highsmith's satanically inspired post-war creation Tom Ripley is back for us to enjoy in the age of 21st century Instagram lifestyle envy, silent class paranoia and online identity fraud. He reemerges triumphantly in Steven Zaillian's brilliant and instantly addictive new eight-episode adaptation of Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley for Netflix, starring the incomparable Andrew Scott as the charming, aesthete and serial killer Is. It's a seven-star luxury hotel from a TV show in black and white, which my colleague Lucy Mangan probably definitely admired.

It's set in the early '60s, but it has a strange echo to 2024. At a leisurely pace, Scott's Ripley is shown overcoming her initial restlessness and charmingly callow vulnerability, achieving a hypnotic and insidious balance, her eyeballs seeming to merge with the black of her pupils . Even to me he seems to quiver a little like a cobra in the presence of a hamster. Ripley is first seen living in flophouse poverty in New York, running small-time scams with stolen checks; She is then contacted by troubled wealthy plutocrat Herbert Greenleaf (played by Kenneth Lonergan) through a private detective, as Ripley was once introduced to this man's son Dickie Greenleaf, played by Johnny Flynn. Greenleaf Sr. offers Ripley a large sum of money to travel to Italy, where Dickie is visiting with his girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning), and convinces Dickie to come home. Instead, Ripley befriends Dickie, deploying his gift for mimicry and flattery, a parasitic conquest that leads to obsession and murder.

Most Infamous… Dougray Scott (left) and John Malkovich in the replay game. Photograph: Fine Line/Allstar

Scott gives a much more bleak, more realistic description of the anti-hero, or pro-villain Ripley, in contrast to the clearly evil Moriarty who appears in Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. In Anthony Minghella's 2000 movie version, Matt Damon plays Ripley with a nerdy, needy and more beta-male vibe, who first pleases Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf. Scott's Ripley is close to Alain Delon's portrayal in René Clément's 1960 version purple afternoon, in this Scott's Ripley creates a blankness, a disturbing gift for enigmatic reserve: the resting face of the sociopath. And yet Zaillian's adaptation gives us more of Ripley's essential loneliness and pathetic vulnerability. It seems to me that he doesn't show us the more mundane and more extravagantly lethal character of Highsmith's later novel Ripley's Game, embodied by Dennis Hopper in Wim Wenders's 1977 film. American friends and Lillian Cavani by John Malkovich replay game Since 2002.

Why is Ripley so attractive? Partly because there is something timelessly disturbing about its methodology: the perversion of friendship. We might think that befriending someone, or maintaining a friendship, is a universal good. Aren't strangers, after all, just friends we haven't met yet? And yet you can never really know what's going on in someone else's mind; Not even your best friend or lover or spouse, especially someone you met in later life. Who knows what ulterior motives there are in friendship, what vested interests are gratified, or how friendship can endure for years with rivalries and even dislikes? The term “frenemy” dates back to Ripley's birth but has become common currency in recent times.

Matt Damon and Jude Law in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Photograph: Collection Christoffel/ Alamy

Ripley's relationship with Dickie has a long pedigree; It's the relationship of Mr. Hyde with Dr. Jekyll, or Dorian Gray with Lord Henry Wotton, or Dirk Bogarde's creepy valet with James Fox's indolent man-about-town in Joseph Losey's film The Servant. And that strange dimension doesn't need any contemporary interpretation to be found: Emerald Fennell's divisive psycho-thriller satire Saltburn was about an oafish upstart in Oxford who conceives of an obsessive love for a handsome young male aristocrat. And was unconscious but secretly very excited to be invited. In the luxurious house of this young noble for the summer.

This kid starts out as Evelyn Waugh's Charles Ryder but ends up as Highsmith's Ripley. This was the allusion that gave rise to many of the film's critics: the neglected and overlooked class element of Ripley-ism. Ripley speaks of the ruling class's distaste for counter-jumpers and arrogant parvenus. But their existence angers those who are offended by the ironic implication that advocating on behalf of the poor is just the politics of jealousy. These people aren't poor, that's the purported mockery… They're just pretending, and worse, they're like Ripley, part of the vast and spongiform middle class that code-switches between posh and street whenever they want. can do. They are malicious and aggressive, they want to have the rich people's cake and eat it.

Timelessly disturbing…Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley in The American Friend. Photograph: Road Movies Filmprod./Allstar

Paradoxically, Ripley is a brave man for the new digital age. Whenever I re-watch Ripley, I'm left wondering how we needed that original setting since criminal imitations of it wouldn't really work in the age of smartphones and Google searches. And yet he is a narcissist suited for the new world of social media. Posting and boasting, taking carefully edited and filtered photos of our wonderful lives and beautiful vacations with witty descriptions and humble brags, essentially advertising our exclusivity. I can well imagine a version of Ripley in which he's always on Instagram, stalking Dickey's feed, posting a delusional version of himself in New York, sock- to further his creepy scam. Puppet uses Instagram and the .

Felicity Morris's documentary The Tinder Swindler was about a swindler who uses dating sites to extort money from his date-victims; It's about the sinister relationship between sociability, greed, emotional manipulation and the opportunities for hypocrisy offered by social media. Tom Ripley is the ancestor of them all. Scott's captivating performance as the Napoleon of emotional crime delivers all this and more. If only it weren't so enjoyable.

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