gcther. Worse, Ripley’s proposal hintsrnthat his love of Diekic’s life may extend tornhis person, despite Dickie’s involvementrnwith a yonng woman named Marge.rnDickie recoils in disgust, hurling an irrevocablerninsult: “Yon [arc] a leech and it’srnboring.” Ripley reacts impulsively, strikingrnDickie with an oar. hi the furiousrnfight that ensues, Ripley kills him unintentionallv.rnA talented forger and mimic, Riplevrneasily assumes Diekic’s identity andrnfunds so that he can live comfortably inrnRome. His idyll is short-lived, howeer.rnAs su.spicions mount, he’s forced to jugglernboth identities to avoid detection. yfterrna series of grotescpielv comic cjuickchanges,rnhe is left at die conclusion inrnstraits that are at once hideous and ambiguous.rnThe film tells its story entertainingh’rnenough with a plot enlivened by severalrnclevcrl)’ contrived hvists and by performersrnwho are all up to their tasks. As the enviousrnand demented outsider. Matt Damonrnstrikes just the right balance.rnBehind owlish black-rimmed glasses andrnan ungainly manner, he exudes watchful,rnreptilian cunning. Judc Law playsrnDickie as one possessed of all the self-assurancernand irresistible charm privilegerncan buy. He is arrogant and cruel goldenrnyouth incarnate, romancing Marge whilerncarelessly impregnating a Neapolitanrnworking-class girl. As Marge, GwynethrnPaltrow looks imderstandably wistfulrnabout her tenuous status in Dickie’s mercurialrnaffections.rnYet the film never rises above its nielodramatics.rnLike Rene Clement’s farrnduller adaptation of the same novel, PurplernNoon (1960), it goes out of its way tornfurnish a supposedly “moral” ending,rnsomething Highsmith eonspicuouslvrn(and correctly) eschewed. We’re leftrnwith a fairly conventional murder storyrngraced with a few portentously unorthodoxrnflourishes. As a consequence, thernfilm is haunted by an aura of so-whatness.rnEven if you haven’t read Llighsmith, yourncan’t help feeling a bit cheated.rnMinghella’s departure from Highsmithrnis nowhere more evident than inrnthe words his Ripley speaks at the film’srnopening: “If I could just go back andrnerase everytiiing, including myself,” hernmutters remorsefully as he emerges fromrnunder a black screen that is being peeledrnaway in diagonal strips. ‘I’lic ending returnsrnto this moment. As we hear Riple’rnsay these words once again, the blackrnstrips are replaced one by one, sealingrnhim in darkness. This visually cleverrnframing device betrays fiighsmith’s conception.rnSuch remorse is nttcrlv foreignrnto her Ripley.rnhi the novel, Ripley is a eonscieneelessrnsociopath whose sense of authentieit)’ hasrnbeen erased long before the stor’ begins.rnRipley was orphaned in early childhoodrnand raised grudgingly by a guardian aunt.rnAs a consequence, he never developed arngenuine self By the time we meet him atrnage 25, he has become a moral and psychologicalrncretin. Although he doesn’trnseem to realize it, he clearly despisesrnhimself He displaces this self-hatred byrndetesting all tiiat is eonventionallv normal.rnAlthough he conforms outwardly tornsocial expectations, he harbors a sulfurous,rnif inchoate, cynicism. He enjoysrnfooling people with his normal appearancernand cleverly mimics officialdom inrnorder to gain leverage over otiiers. Afterrnlosing a job at the hiternal Revenue Service,rnhe uses the agency’s letterhead torndun people on false charges of tax underpayment.rnHe preys upon their guilt,rnshrewdly assuming tiiat few Americansrnarc entirely honest when filing their returns.rnAlthough he cannot cash thernchecks they anxiously send him, he takesrnpleasure in proving that no one is asrnstraight as he pretends. It’s as though hernneeds to demonstrate to himself that officialrnsociety is as much a fraud as he is.rnWhat Riplc}- doesn’t realize is that hisrnlittle ruse weirdh’ parodies the practice ofrnhis miserly aunt. She sends him checksrnat irregular intervals, made out in oddrnamounts —S12.95, S6.48 —much likernthelargeramounts —$119.54, $253.76—rnhe puts down on his bogus bills. He compensatesrnfor his aunt’s niggardly supportrnb^ getting others to pitch in more generously,rnat least on paper.rnRipley is a wounded narcissist whorntiiinks he is entitied to have all the worldrnnurture and indulge him. At tiic samerntime, his narcissisin isolates him fromrnothers. This is, in part, why he is so profoundlyrnconfused about his sexualit}’. Hernis attracted to a young lady with whom hernshares a taste in art preciseK- because sherndoesn’t expect him to make a pass at her.rnHe socializes with a young man whornworks as a window dresser but is repelledrnby homosexual advances. At bottom, hernis hopelessly trapped in his own self-embrace.rnAlthough he wants to escape, he isrnprevented by his inabilit) to understandrneither himself or others.rnAll of this comes into focus wlienrnHighsmith’s Riplev, unlike Minghella’s,rndeliberately decides to murder Dickie.rnHis violence is triggered as much by tiiernlook in Dickie’s eyes as by his insult. InrnHighsmith’s words, Dickie’s eyes are:rnshining and emph’, nothing but littlernpieces of blue jelly with a blackrndot in them, meaningless, withoutrnrelation to him. You were supposedrnto see the soul tiirough therneyes, to see love through the eyes,rnthe one place you could look at anotherrnhuman being and see whatrnreally went on inside, and in Diekic’srneyes Tom saw nothing morernnow than he would have seen if hernhad looked at tire hard, bloodlessrnsurface of a mirror. . .. It struckrnTom like a horrible truth, true forrnall time, true for tiie people he hadrnknown in the past and for those hernwould know in the future: eachrnhad stood and would stand beforernhim, and he would know time andrntime again tiiat he would neverrnknow riieiii, and tiic worst was thatrnthere would always be the illusion,rnfor a time, that he did know them,rnand that he and they were completelyrnin harmony and alike. Forrnan instant the wordless shock of hisrnrcali/ation seemed more than herneoidd bear. . . . He felt surroundedrnby strangeness, by hostilih”.rnThis is nodiing less than a descriptionrnof Hell. Ripley’s warped self is locked inrnits own Stygian chamber. Some commentatorsrnhave made Ripley a inartT tornmisunderstood homosexuality, a manrnsuffering for his difFercnee in the contextrnof the intolerant 5()’s and therefore dri’enrnto pathological extremes. As evidence,rnthey adduce Highsmith’s admission ofrnher own youthful bisexuality and herrnpseudonymously published lesbian novel,rnThe Price of Salt. No doubt her proclivitiesrnand her reportedly horrendousrnupbringing colored her fiction. (Herrnmotiicr informed her tiiat she had tried tornabort her bv drinking turpentine, jocularlyrnobserving that tiiis might explain wh}’rnHighsmith liked its aroma as a child.)rnNevertheless, Ripley cannot be explainedrnso rcduetively. Highsmith’srnMarge comes much closer to tiie truthrnwhen she implores Dickie to drop him.rn”He may not be queer. He’s just a nothing,rnwhich is worse. He isn’t normalrnenough to have any kind of sex life, if yournknow what I mean.”rnOther than his aunt’s endless re-rn48/CHRONICLESrnrnrn