quarta-feira, agosto 23, 1995

Alles zu verstehen, alles zu vergeben: "Ripley's Omnibus" by Patricia Highsmith

(Original Review, 1995)

I remember trying to follow a DVD of Mr. Ripley one evening many years ago. I was at the time dazed by antibiotics and kept drifting in and out of semi-consciousness, so I managed to catch only the odd isolated scene with the angelic-looking cast, a golden trio swanking around a sunny, shimmering lotion. Matt Damon looked like a bespectacled, goofy nerd who had probably began his acting career in commercials playing the Milkybar Kid. Jude Law was, well, just Jude Law, an arrogant, petulant brat. Gwyneth Paltrow was at a stage in her career when she was still being given parts in films that at least had the potential to be very good, though I never understood why so much effort and money was invested in promoting her as she always has had only mediocre acting talent and could never hope to become an actress of Cate Blanchett's calibre. I see her as Sandra Dee in a remake of Greece, but only in the early parts of the film, while Jude Law should be cast as Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited.” I must have missed Cate Blanchett altogether, but I do remember that Philip Hoffman was there and reminded me of Roberto Leal (a blond Portuguese singer). Is it any wonder then that even I in my semi-conscious state detected a distinct sense of eeriness lurking beneath the glossy images? They were all very blonde, blue-eyed and had these wide white smiles which brought to my mind the close-ups of Jack Nicholson in the 'Here's Johnny' scene in the “The Shining.”

After having read the omnibus with 4 volumes, a few ad-hoc notes:

The movie is not entirely unfaithful to the first volume book but doesn't making Ripley choke out his gay lover; it ultimately ease Ripley back into the comfortable moral framework that Highsmith wants to break out of? What profits it a man if he gains the world and loses himself? Well, Ripley gains a country estate and a sexy wife and always gets away with it. Occasionally, he feels bad about Dickie Greenleaf, usually before killing someone else.  On the other hand, Ripley has been portrayed by John Malkovich (in Liliana Cavani's 'Ripley's Game') and by Dennis Hopper (in Wim Wenders' 'Der Americanische Freund'), which are much better films. I think it's also Tom's neediness- at least initially- which is disarming. He really only wants a life with genuine friends and a little comfort, but no-one in his life is prepared to make the emotional commitment to him. He's surrounded by people who either use him or barely tolerate him. Of course, he makes himself dependent upon them as well. Ripley's sexuality is also an interesting part of the novel, I think. He initially takes Greenleaf for "a pervert"- i.e., a man looking to proposition him- and throughout the book recalls a number of previous situations where he has been considered homosexual, though he doesn't actually appear to have a preference for either sex. Though there is initially a hint that he is attracted to Dickie, this gets quickly subverted; it's really the image of his future self which he is in love with, as when he tries on Dickie's clothes. So, in a sense, Marge is correct in her intuition, though she never connects the dots in realising that Tom has actually absorbed Dickie in a predatory sense. "Sissy" didn't have to mean homosexual - usually it just meant that in your case homosexuality wasn't ruled out by your appearance or behaviour. It was a shame-inducing word and it was far better to get beat up by the bully who called you one than to stand there and take it - take it as Tom had to with Aunt Dottie because only sissies hit girls. Whatever sissy did or didn't mean, if a fellow male called you one and you didn't immediately hit him, he was proven right forever.

It is an interesting exercise in “alles zu verstehen, alles zu vergeben” as a narrative mode. It's a compelling hypothesis: if we could just get an accurate subjective sense of the state of mind behind genuinely infamous behaviour, the sense of infamy would dissipate into the commonplace, sending a burst of particles off into the ionosphere. How long, you think, before somebody calls it noir?