How Is Netflix’s ‘Ripley’ Series Different From ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ Film?


Netflix’s new black-and-white series titled Ripley is a loyal adaptation of the book The Talented Mr. Ripley. If you’re not a reader and you think the name is familiar, it’s because it’s also a 1999 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett (amongst others); all just stepping into their prime in the industry. What many might not know is that Ripley’s been on the screen once before in the French adaptation Plein Soleil (Purple Moon). I actually don’t know anything about this film, so I’ll refrain from saying anything about it, but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless. It’s beyond my comprehension how something written in 1955 could still garner this much attention seven decades into the future. Though I will admit, there’s something admirable about this Ripley guy that makes creators intrigued enough to try and bring it to life on screen time and time again. Though it would be a disservice to the source material, I can’t help but bring up the recent discourse around this movie, thanks to 2023’s Saltburn. Apparently, it is not inspired by the same story, though it’s a superficial, aestheticized Gen Z version of pretty much the same concept. At least call it inspiration, no? I understand the fascination; really, I do. Ripley toes the line between masculine bruised ego and dreamer in a manner that will keep you wondering what his next move will be. There’s one thing in common between the show and the film, which is that Ripley is actually a massively unlikeable character.

Spoiler Alert

Tom Ripley: In the Show vs. the Movie

First, we must discuss the casting of the character of Ripley in both the show and the film. In the movie, Tom is played by a young and dashing Matt Damon, who is at the peak of his charm game. I was truly mesmerized by this man, who acts with his eyes and brings this character’s worries and inner thoughts to life simply through his gaze. Matt’s Tom is not very evidently in love with Dickie. In fact, in the film, there’s no clear evidence of Tom’s queer identity. He could be gay, pansexual, or even asexual, but he uses the idea of his sexuality to get what he wants. In the film, it’s all about Tom’s aspiration to become Dickie. The fact that he’s played by a dashing Jude Law definitely helps as well. See, these two apparently heterosexual men have some sort of homoerotic tension in this film, which is palpable. But is it enough to make us believe Tom’s gay? Many will say that the fact that Tom and Peter end up together is a testament to Tom’s sexuality, but I personally don’t think so. It’s foolish to think that Tom’s actually talented, but I will admit that fooling people—not just other characters but an audience—is one of his few talents.

On the other hand, “Show Tom” is played by Andrew Scott, whose sexuality is known globally. His age also casts the character in a different light (you know, the show is all about the play of light…I kid). This changes things drastically for Ripley. At a time when queerness was coupled with shame, Ripley doesn’t shy away from showing people’s distaste for Tom’s gay identity rather than his moral character as a whole– which is how it comes across in the film. What I mean is, when you watch the film, despite Anthony Minghella casting Tom in a sympathetic light, I still wonder: did Tom want to be Dickie, did he want to be with Dickie, or did he simply want to emulate the rich man, who seemingly had it all? Now that I think about it, never do we feel like Dickie’s unhappy; he’s got it all, and it really shows. 

Crime Noir, Psychological Thriller, or Romantic Tragedy 

Since the show is in black and white, it really plays into light and shadow, playing out in a crime noir style. When you look up the definition of noir, you’ll see the words “moral ambiguity,” and Tom, in general, is a very ambiguous guy. According to author Patricia Highsmith (help me separate the art from the artist here), “A psychopath is just your regular man, living more clearly than the world allows him” (pardon my colloquial paraphrasing). It seems she really knew her psychopaths, or maybe she thought she was one, but I digress. When you see the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, there’s no way you look at Minghella’s Ripley as a psychopath. He’s remorseful, he mourns his losses, and he cries when he believes he has to kill Peter, his one true friend and possible lover. His romantic interest. 

In an 8-episode show, Ripley kills Dickie barely into the 3rd episode, leaving a lot of room to see him turn into a man-hunting animal. Okay, I’m kidding; it was for dramatic effect. You can’t say Tom is out to kill, but he doesn’t hide from it. He also seems to like it. He keeps mementos. Obviously, this makes the show’s Ripley a more genuine incarnation of the character in the book, possibly how Patricia would’ve imagined him. Yet, I’m more inclined to like the untalented Mr. Ripley in the film. Oftentimes, the first thing I hear about the film is that all the characters are definitely unlikeable, which, for the most part, is true. However, by the end, you’re left feeling miserable for all of them. How? Nobody wins if nobody is good. Though poor Peter didn’t deserve his fate. So, while the show and possibly the book are clearly thrillers—the psychological kind of crime noirs; whatever you’d like to call them—I think the film is a romantic tragedy. This may sound contradictory to what I said earlier regarding Tom’s queer identity in the film, but I still stand by it. 

In Netflix’s Ripley, Tom’s goal is clearly to become Dickie purely for material purposes. He’s greedy right from the start, and when he gets a taste of Dickie’s wealth, both material and knowledge (his love for Caravaggio), he lets his greed take over. In the show, he is a con artist more than anything, changing his identity as he pleases to get away from the heinous crimes he committed with not a smidge of guilt in his body.

Psychopath or Benefactor 

The film and show signal Tom’s mental state through mirrors and light, respectively. In the film, Tom’s plagued by his sins every time he looks at his reflection. The film uses mirrors to show us what Tom might really be thinking, though on the outside, he may appear to be doing something else. In the show, Caravaggio is such a big inspiration for the con “artiste.” Tom starts to think he can play with light himself to get away from people, and apparently, he can. This is clearly a man who loves to live on the edge; it’s got nothing to do with talent. In fact, I think the title is a sarcastic exploitation of the psychopathic character, who is, in fact, just lucky. I’m sorry if that offends you, but it’s true. At the end of the show, Ravini learns what Dickie really looks like from Marge’s book, and it is only a matter of time. Somehow, Tom is conveniently still living in Italy with no fears.

At the end of the day, it’s very clear that, despite Highsmith’s personal limitations (fascinating nonetheless), her character style remains a great inspiration for writers and filmmakers. What’s so enchanting about Tom Ripley? One may ask, and for 70 years, it seems we haven’t gotten a real answer. However, I suppose it’s the ambiguous nature of Highsmith’s work that makes Ripley so easy to mold to time and to personal preference, leading to different outcomes each time. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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