The Talented Mr. Ripley (Film)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Film) Themes

Violence and Irrationality

Violence and irrational behaviors are central to the film's plot. Tom's character is excessively violent, as he beats Dickie up in a fit of rage and unintentionally kills him. This is reinforced through numerous close ups on blood throughout the film. Tom cannot control his feelings and behaves irrationally and impulsively time and time again, killing both Freddie and Peter because he fears they will expose him as a murderer. It appears that Tom lacks remorse for his killings. Many critics consider Tom a multifaceted sociopath with deep psychological issues, stemming from his bitterness and resentment regarding his low status in society.

Additionally, Dickie is revealed to have violent tendencies as well, as shown when he attacks Tom for confronting him about his behavior, and when McCarron reveals that he nearly killed a classmate in college.

In centering the thrust of the narrative on two characters who cannot keep control of their anger and violent irrationality, the film focuses on the worst aspects of the human condition. The urge to kill and harm others are also obliquely referenced in Tom's speeches about the metaphorical "dark basement." Tom cannot shake his feelings of violence, even though he wants to redeem himself. Hence, The Talented Mr Ripley is a psychological thriller, as it focuses on extreme violence, bloodlust, and their enduring effects.

Human Flaws

All the major characters in the film are deeply flawed in different ways. Tom's primary flaws are his temper, violence and lack of concern for others. He is hypocritical and self-centered and holds no responsibility for his actions. Dickie is also flawed, as he is egotistical and quickly dismissive of others. He tells Tom "Who are you? Huh? Some third class mooch? Who are you? Who are you to say anything to me?" From this exchange, it is apparent that Dickie takes his wealth for granted and looks down upon people that he considers inferior. Furthermore, Marge is extremely naive and often encourages Dickie's dangerous and harmful activities.

The emphasis on flawed characters ties in questions of ethics, especially contrasted with the strong religious traditions of Italy, by presenting characters with warped moral codes. The film suggests that all people, even those who appear nice and generous, are inherently flawed. By aligning the viewer with Tom, a murderer, the film forces the viewer to evaluate their personal moral standing.


The film explores important ideas about wealth, social class and privilege. Emphasis is placed on the strong divide between the rich and the poor, and how such a division is unfair. This can be seen through the parallel between Tom and Dickie. Dickie is a man born into wealth and luxury, who enjoys a number of benefits without having earned them himself. By contrast, Tom works a number of menial jobs just to get by. This juxtaposition prompts the viewer to question whether it is fair for two individuals to be subject to such different fates, simply due to circumstances beyond their control.

The ways Dickie and Tom contrast highlights this unfairness. Dickie is privileged and wealthy, but less clever and verbal than Tom. The wealthy characters in the film are depicted as wishing to free themselves from what they see as the restrictions of their own privilege. Meredith wishes to not be perceived and defined only in terms of her name and Dickie eschews the world of American wealth in favor of seedy jazz clubs in Naples. When Tom corrects a typo in a letter Dickie is writing, Dickie jokingly says, “I can’t write and I can’t type; that’s the privilege of a first class education.” Tom is a student of the communities he diabolically insinuates himself into, and is surprised to find that its elite natives desire to break out of a world that he has always longed to inhabit.


Desire is a core theme in the film, and individuals' desires often cause them to act irrationally and impulsively. All the characters, despite their level of material wealth, yearn for things that they do not have. Tom's desire is perhaps the greatest, as he desires admiration, riches and to share in Dickie's life. This desire is so encompassing that it drives him to kill Dickie and assume his identity, allowing him to life the life he always wanted. Although Marge and Dickie are extremely rich and well off, they are also characterized by a desire for more, and to experience life more authentically than their wealth would allow. Marge wishes Dickie would commit to her and devote time to their relationship. Dickie craves constant attention and admiration, and yearns for the respect of others, while also being able to do as he pleases.

The film shows the disastrous consequences of maintaining unchecked desires, and the tragedies that excessive desire can incite. Tom's desire for Dickie, to emulate Dickie, and to find belonging in a wealthy milieu drive him to violent lengths with critical consequences.

Identity and Acting

The film explores notions of identity in a number of ways. One way is the link between identity and social class. In the film, the characters' senses of self-worth are directly tied to their social status. This is why Dickie has excessive confidence and pride, whereas Tom is shy and insecure. Furthermore, notions of identity become complicated when Tom begins to see himself as Dickie. By acting like Dickie, dressing in his clothes and spending time with his friends, Tom essentially usurps Dickie's identity. Ironically, it is only when Tom pretends to be Dickie that he feels a strong, positive sense of self.

Tom takes great pleasure in shapeshifting and acting, and relishes getting swept away in pretending to be someone else, even when it is a bald-faced lie. Upon meeting Meredith, Tom inexplicably performs Dickie Greenleaf’s biography as his own. Tom’s excessive identification with Dickie is one of his more unsettling characteristics, as he seeks to meld his identity with the wealthy man he is charged with retrieving. Not only does Tom admire Dickie, he wants to become Dickie. Thus, in a disturbing psychological transference, Tom kills Dickie upon being found out. Tom’s propulsion through the entirety of the plot from before his first murder and throughout is his remorseless ability to lie about his own identity and pretend to take on an identity that does not belong to him. Rather ironically, in the moment when Dickie asks Tom more about himself and about his talents, Tom tells the truth, that he is good at forging signatures, lying and taking on different identities, but Dickie glazes over this baldfaced confession with a detached glibness. When Tom tells the truth, no one believes him or takes him seriously.

Androgyny and Sexuality

Tom’s sexuality is left very vague and ambiguous throughout the film. He appears to admire Dickie to the point of love as they get to know each other, his gaze often settling on Dickie and a grin spreading across his face when Dickie pays the slightest attention to him. Additionally, Tom cannot help but stare at Dickie's naked body when he gets out of the tub and rather boldly asks if he can join him in the bath. Underlying their intimate friendship is the question of the sexual tension they share. Eventually, Tom finds the most stable comfort with Peter, and their affections become romantic. When asked by the authorities about his sexuality, however, Tom denies being a homosexual to the Italian police, a punishable offense.

Androgyny is also a motif from the start, as when Tom listens to Chet Baker for the first time, he cannot distinguish whether the voice is a man’s or a woman’s. His own inability to identify Baker’s gender mirrors his own fluidity. Additionally, he feels equally endeared to both Dickie and Marge, volleying between them playfully. He is able to strike up dynamic friendships with both of them and does not appear especially tied to one gender or the other. Additionally, Tom's most androgynous moment is when he dons Dickie's clothes and dances around the room, singing along with a record and preening in front of mirrors effeminately.

The Power of Names

The Greenleafs are formidable and elite members of society, and Tom’s association with them is what allows him to escape from his tawdry life of poverty. While the power of a family name is a force of mobility for Tom, Meredith and Dickie disavow the privilege of their family name. Meredith tells Tom upon meeting him that she is looking to escape the associations that come from the fact that she is the heiress to a textile dynasty.

Names can also have a more ambiguous meaning. When Freddie taunts Tom for watching Marge and Dickie have sex on the boat, he says his name over and over again chidingly. Tom's own name becomes Freddie's main vector of taunting, combining his name with the stereotype of the "peeping Tom."

Additionally, Tom's willingness to answer to different names mirrors his unstable relation to identity. Throughout the middle portion of the movie, Tom seamlessly shifts between "Tom" and "Dickie," and it is not until the end, when he mistakenly refers to himself as "Dickie" to Peter on the boat, that we see him slip up.

Voyeurism and Appearances

Tom is apart from the elite world that so attracts him, often looking on as a voyeur. At the start of the movie he watches the recital from the hallway through the curtain, and when he arrives in Italy he watches Dickie and Marge through binoculars. He is removed from the world that he longs to be a part of, and always seems to be on the outside looking in. Binoculars and glasses are important symbolic objects for Tom, a consummate observer and voyeur. He is always looking at the world from outside, or through a frame.

Additionally, it is Tom’s appearance that gets him mistaken for being wealthy. Just by wearing the right clothes and appearing to be someone he is not, he is able to deceive others about his status. Tom does not even have to say he went to Princeton; Mr. Greenleaf simply assumes so from the jacket. The shallow signifiers of wealth are what help Tom ascend the class ladder, starting with the Princeton jacket.