What I Think People Should Watch, Beefcake Edition
December 18, 2008 in what you should watch
I have been getting myself in a holiday mood by re-reading Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Graham Greene called her the “poet of apprehension,” which has “holiday” written all over it to me. Tom Ripley remains one of the greatest sociopaths ever created. He makes The Joker look like the pussy-faced anarchist he is. The first novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a delicious deadpan story of a man taking what he thinks he deserves without remorse or one tiny pang of conscience. If you have ever thought of faking your own death or are a member of the so-called creative underclass who really just wants to have Ugo fix you that martini while you admire your latest acquisition from a Venice antique shop, Ripley is your man.
There have been several film adaptations, which actually all have their merits (more on the Minghella version soon). A great starter to the visual incarnation of my favorite cool-as-ice nut job is Plein soleil or Purple Noon (1960, dir. By René Clément). Starring a stunningly buff and gorgeous Alain Delon in the role that made him a star with pornographic detail of the Neopolitan coastline and a stunning homage to shirtlessness, even Ms Highsmith was satisfied with this version although she did think the ending was lacking, going so far to call it “a terrible concession to so-called public morality.” Sent by a rich acquaintance’s father to bring his son Philippe Greenleaf back to American bourgeois security form La Dolce Vita with the requisite artsy lady-friend outside of Naples, Tom discovers his talent for forgery and bludgeoning to get what he thinks he should be his.
Movie adaptations of these novels have always been problematic as the getting away with murder so easily and the homo-erotic nature of Tom’s relationships have never sat well with any film-going audience so thoroughly ingrained in Hays Code morality and the Classical Paradigm, (well, maybe not the homo-erotic thing on the French’s part as Clément playfully zooms in on Delon’s crotch!). While a must-see if you are at all interested in any sort of complexity in a film character, I do think this film does muddle up the ending in such as way as to make Tom look like a clever fuck up as opposed to highly functioning, extremely successful man in search of a life surrounded by all things beautiful. Hasn’t anyone at one time or another bemoaned the fact that they have a conscience? Life would be so much easier with out it, right?
And the Bay of Naples? Glorious!