Tom moves into a beautiful new apartment in Rome. We see him opening expensively wrapped presents under a Christmas tree next to a blazing fire, as momentous choral music plays. He unwraps a sculpture of the head of Hadrian that he has gifted himself for Christmas and places it proudly on the mantle. As the holiday coral music shifts into a piano solo, the scene shifts to Tom playing piano in the apartment alone one evening. Interrupted by a knock, Tom answers the door to find Freddie Miles asking after Dickie. Freddie is confused to find Tom in the apartment that he believes belongs to his friend Dickie, and when Tom says Dickie is at dinner, Freddie does not believe him, suggesting that it is too early. Bemoaning Dickie’s disappearance to Tom, Freddie stares for a moment at the fancy slippers Tom is wearing and makes a snobbish face. Tom continues to deny that Dickie is there and only laughs off Freddie’s statement that the landlady told him Dickie was in the apartment. Slipping away into the bathroom, Tom runs soapy water over his hands to get Dickie’s ring off his finger, as Freddie questions Tom about the fact that Dickie was supposed to come skiing for Christmas. Tom makes excuses for the deceased Dickie, insisting that he has been focusing on his music, and that he has needed to shut himself up in a cocoon before he can become a butterfly. As Freddie examines the saxophone, suggesting that it looks barely played, Tom asks him how he found such an out-of-the-way apartment. Freddie tells Tom that he looked it up and fiddles with the keys of the piano, before bluntly asking Tom if he is living in the apartment, which Tom denies, as Freddie bangs the keys recklessly.
Undeterred, Freddie questions whether Dickie furnished the apartment himself, describing the decorating scheme as horrible and bourgeoise. Covering up his dismay and fear of being found out, Tom laughs at Freddie and does not respond, but when Freddie picks up the Hadrian statue carelessly, Tom becomes visibly upset, asking him to put it down. Growing more and more suspicious by the minute, Freddie says to Tom, “You know, the only thing that looks like Dickie is you.” Freddie collects his coat, as Tom gives him directions, which prompts Freddie to observe that Tom is a “quick study,” with a skeptical sneer. As Freddie leaves, he runs into the landlady, who insists that Dickie Greenleaf is upstairs and that he plays the piano, while Tom watches the exchange from above. Catching sight of Tom upstairs, the landlady waves and identifies Tom as Dickie, confirming Freddie’s suspicions that something is amiss. When Freddie goes back up to the apartment to confront him, Tom surprises him at the door by smashing his head with the statue of Hadrian. Bludgeoning Freddie’s head, Tom loses hold of the Hadrian statue and watches it roll a ways down the corridor, covered in the blood of the now dead Freddie.
Tom must now dispose of Freddie’s body and cover up all evidence of the murder. Carrying Freddie’s limp corpse to his fancy red convertible, Tom runs into some Italian villagers walking in the street at night. Fearing his discovery, Tom pretends that Freddie is not dead, but outrageously drunk, to the amusement of the passerby, even doing a vocal impersonation of Freddie to add to the lie. Tom disposes of the body as the scene transitions into the following day, when the police knock on Tom’s door accompanied by his disapproving landlady. Answering to Dickie Greenleaf, Tom answers questions from the police, affecting shock at the news of Freddie’s death, and telling them that he and Freddie had gotten drunk the previous evening. Dickie insists that he went to bed after Freddie left, and Inspector Roverini requests that Dickie stay in Italy until further investigations have taken place. When Roverini says they suspect that Freddie was killed no later than 7 the previous evening—Tom having told them he left at 8 or 9—Tom insists that Freddie was not dead when he left the house the previous night with a conviction that convinces the police.
Tom is now stuck in Rome, unable to leave until investigations have been completed. Later, Tom rides a vespa through the streets of Rome, and passing by a wall of mirrors, thinks he sees Dickie’s reflection. Bewildered by his hallucination, Tom falls off his vespa, and as he stands, realizes that it is a similar looking stranger whom he mistook for Dickie. After paying for a meal in a Roman courtyard, Tom is approached by a visibly anxious Marge, who asks, “did he kill Freddie?” Admitting she was looking for Dickie, Marge bemoans the fact that whenever she is looking for Dickie she finds Tom. When Marge notices a bruise on Tom’s face, he lies that Dickie hit him when he was standing up for Marge and confronting him about the way he is treating his friends and acquaintances. Tom invites Marge onto the vespa, telling her he will take her to Dickie. Riding through the city, Tom averts his face when they ride past Inspector Roverini, who would reveal his assumption of Dickie’s identity to Marge, ruining the entire con. Parking a few blocks away from his apartment to avoid running into the police, Tom tells Marge to go visit the apartment without him because the police do not even know he is in Rome and he does not want to incriminate Dickie. He tells Marge not to mention anything about the bruises on his face to the police because it would only incriminate Dickie further in Freddie’s murder.
Tom arrives at his apartment before Marge and finds Roverini there. He runs upstairs through a throng of reporters who take pictures and ask for questions, believing him to be Dickie Greenleaf. Rushing upstairs, Tom scolds Roverini for giving out his address. Back in the apartment, Roverini questions Tom—whom he believes to be Dickie—about “Tom Ripley” and their trip to San Remo. When Roverini questions him about whether Tom stays in this apartment, Tom denies it, peaking at Roverini though the crack in a door. Roverini outlines that they have found a pattern in their investigation, that mere days after finding Freddie Miles dead, police found the sunken boat in San Remo filled with rocks, and that the boat was stolen on November 7th. The inspector then tells Tom that he has looked at the hotel records and that the concierge remembers two men staying there. Tom dismisses this evidence as a coincidence rather than a pattern, before the men are interrupted by the arrival of Marge at the apartment. Tom laughs to himself, defeated, and tells them to let her in. As the officer goes to collect her, however, Tom changes his mind and requests that they ask her to come back later.
Roverini questions Tom, whom he believes is Dickie, about Tom Ripley. Roverini asks the counterfeit Dickie Greenleaf why he agrees to speak to his friend and not his fiancé, to which Tom responds that Ripley is handling a business matter for him, and does not pressure him to get married as Marge does. Still puzzled, Roverini asks to see a photograph of Tom Ripley, but he says he does not carry photographs of his male friends, visibly upset, and insulting Roverini’s coarse English. When Roverini tells him that no one has seen Tom Ripley since San Remo, Tom insists that he and Marge have seen him, and that Tom is staying at the Goldoni. Finally Roverino backs down and agrees it was all a coincidence, and tells Tom that the couple that saw Tom bringing Freddie’s body to the car need to identify Tom in a line-up the following day. Tom reluctantly agrees and Roverini takes his leave, as Marge waits expectantly at the bottom of the stairs. Undeterred by the discouragement of the police, Marge comes up the stairs to the apartment to confront Dickie. Tom watches at the peephole as Marge calls to Dickie, crying and telling him she will not count on him anymore, and saying, “no matter what it is you’ve done or haven’t done, you’ve broken my heart.” She leaves brokenhearted and all the more confused.
In the following scene, Tom writes a letter from Dickie to Tom, an admission of his having murdered Freddie and a suicide note in one. Tom characterizes Dickie as remorseful about the death of Freddie and Silvana, and details that no one ever understood him like Tom, as we see Tom packing a suitcase and affectionately touching Dickie’s fine clothes. Tom keeps Dickie’s rings for himself in a small box and brushes his hair, before smudging out Dickie’s face on the identification card. The letter, read in voiceover by Tom, implies that Dickie has killed himself, and Tom puts Dickie’s belongings in the dark basement of the apartment building, watching as the blue lights of police cars approach the apartment. Tom watches from around the street corner and rushes away with a suitcase.
Tom makes his escape on a boat to Venice, having donned his glasses and reassumed his identity as Tom Ripley. From the docks of Venice, Peter Smith-Kingsley calls to Tom and Tom waves. The two men meet in the pigeon-filled Piazza San Marco, and Tom thanks Peter for agreeing to take him to the Italian police. Peter says he is relieved to learn that Dickie has not killed Tom and gone traveling with his passport, as he is rumored to have done. At the police station in Venice, Tom observes an angry man fending off the police, and Peter tells him that the police have sent for someone in Rome to come investigate, which alarms Tom, who says he believed that each region of law enforcement is separate. An inspector who is not Roverini enters, much to Tom’s relief, and Tom is brought in for questioning.
Tom speaks with Colonnello Verrecchia, the Roman inspector brought to Venice to question him. He explains that Roverini was dropped from the case for letting Dickie slip away when he was the only suspect in the murder of Freddie Miles. With Peter acting as translator, the inspector asks Tom if he is a homosexual, which Tom denies confidently. Cheekily, Peter explains that homosexuality is criminalized in Italy, which “makes Michelangelo and Leonardo very inconvenient.” Tom deflects the question of his sexuality by telling the inspector that he and Dickie both had fiancés, and that “Freddie Miles probably had a string of them,” which makes the inspector laugh. When the inspector directly asks if Tom killed Freddie Miles and then killed Dickie Greenleaf, Tom becomes distraught and defensive, and Peter advises him against becoming volatile. Presenting Tom with the letter he forged to himself from Dickie, Tom pretends to read it for the first time, and becomes angry at the fact that the inspector questioned him after having already read Dickie’s suicide note.
In the following scene, we see Tom staying at Peter’s apartment. Tom mournfully plays the piano while Peter asks whether Tom believes that Dickie actually left the suicide note. When Peter wonders how anyone who committed a murder could possibly continue to go about their lives, Tom pontificates on the fact that no one believes that they are actually a bad person, and that everyone has a reason for their actions. He uses the metaphor of a locked basement to represent a person’s relationship to his or her past, before admitting to Peter, when he is in the other room, “and then you meet someone special, and all you wanna do is toss them the key.” When Peter reenters, Tom backpedals on his desire to let someone in on his past, insisting that one can never show anyone how ugly their past is. Peter grabs his shoulders affectionately, attributing Tom’s bleak outlook to the sad tone of the dirge he is playing on the piano. Tom echoes his statement from the beginning of the film, “If I could take a giant eraser and rub out everything, starting with myself.” Tom visits a church, where Peter plays the organ, accompanying a boy soprano with a string group, who sings a sad song. Peter smiles at Tom, who waves from the pews below.
Tom continues to get himself into a deeper mess in this portion of the film, enacting yet another murder and clumsily attempting to maintain two identities at the same time. Just when Tom seems to find the quiet and monied life he always dreamed of for himself—playing the piano in a beautiful apartment—he is apprehended by the meddling Freddie Miles. Freddie is onto Tom from the moment he realizes Tom is staying there. Freddie’s enduring suspicion that Tom was too invested and entangled in Dickie’s life to begin with is made all the more eerie in this palatial apartment, with Dickie nowhere in sight. Freddie knows too much as soon as he sets foot in the apartment, and especially when he consults with the landlady, who demonstrates her belief that Tom is Dickie. Tom stands at a crossroads in this particular moment of the film, and instead of admitting his guilt, he embarks on a journey deeper into a life of crime, killing Freddie and complicating his plight further.
Tom continues to be at risk for being found out, not only as a murderer, but as a striver and a poseur. Just as Dickie’s disparaging words about Tom’s lower class position are what sets him off in the motorboat in San Remo, the viewer observes Freddie’s judgment of Tom’s bourgeoise decorating scheme in the apartment getting under Tom’s skin. Tom’s fraud and acquisition of Dickie’s money is not enough to earn him a position in the upper reaches of elite society, and the way that Freddie questions the taste of the apartment and belief that the design decisions were not Dickie’s, perfectly symbolizes Tom’s exclusion. Furthermore, the deeper Tom gets into the lie that he is Dickie, the more isolated and cut off from society he must become. Ironically enough, even though at the start of the film wealth and distinction represent the promise of Tom’s connection with society and the finer things, his fraudulent wealth comes to represent his alienation from the world, and his incompatibility with society.
In positioning Tom as the protagonist of the film, the director puts the viewer in a complicated moral position, asking us to empathize with a character who is capable of grisly and cold-blooded murder. When Freddie confronts Tom, we are both worried that Tom will be found out for his crimes, but simultaneously hoping that justice will be served and that Freddie will be able to sniff out the truth. While Freddie once teased Tom and represented a villainous presence, his meddling into the mystery give him the potential to avenge the untimely death of Dickie Greenleaf. At the same time, however, having seen the psychological trials that Tom has gone through up until now, and fearing the consequences, the viewer worries about Tom’s ability to keep up the ruse. Director Anthony Minghella creates an ambivalent moral universe, and the viewer has a difficult time knowing who to root for.
In this chapter of the story, we also see Tom displacing all of the blame for his actions onto the absent figure of Dickie, and re-assuming his real identity, with an opportunistic flare for the dramatic. The irony of Tom’s incriminating Dickie comes when Peter tells Tom about the rumor that Dickie killed Tom and is traveling with his passport, as indeed the opposite was taking place for a large part of the narrative. Tom manages to kill Dickie and Freddie and still pass the blame off on Dickie. When questioned by Verrecchia, Tom makes a dramatic performance of reading the suicide note and his despondency at having been accused of Dickie’s murder when it is clear that Dickie killed himself. Tom’s performance is so skilled and studied, the viewer gets a sense that he himself has lost grasp of the truth, and that part of his genius as a criminal is his ability to believe his own web of lies. This belief in his own machinations enables him to pass off the blame time and time again, through virtuosic strategic maneuvering and lying.
Another trend of the film that continues in this section is the fact that every time it seems as though Tom will be found out, luck turns out in his favor and he is redeemed. At times it feels as though Tom’s crimes and their justification happen to him, rather than by his own agency. While Tom is undoubtedly also a cool-headed and opportunistic con-artist, he is also dealt some unlikely good fortune. When it seems as though Roverini is about to sniff him out, the inspector unexpectedly back pedals and agrees that the story of Freddie’s death and the discovery of the sunken motor boat are coincidental rather than evidential. When Tom finds out that authorities have been brought from Rome to Venice to question him, his fears of being discovered by Roverini are assuaged by the revelation that Roverini has been dropped from the case. Tom Ripley is both an opportunistic criminal, as well as startlingly lucky, time and time again.