The Talented Mr. Ripley

"Tell me some nice things about Tom Ripley."

The depraved homosexual trope (cousin to the psychotic transsexual trope), understood in the wider context of cinematic trends, preys on the fears of the straight world (embedded there by the ruling class). We are depicted as killers, motivated often by desires and lusts and jealousies. We are depicted as subversive, hidden dangers. The patriarchy built the closet then uses it against us in a typical display of insidiousness. Films like this cannot be seen without that context, not even when based on Patricia Highsmith's work.

But. But there is an undercurrent of genuine feeling from Tom, genuine desire not just for affection from his male companions but also for the validation of their lifestyles. That he falls for rich men, men who live outside even the strictures of their own high class societies, indicates a desire for something more than just appreciation and understanding. He wants the freedom they live. And that, despite the toxicity of this portrayal, resonates with anyone who has lived a life in the closet. The closet is not just about being hidden; it's about observing a world you can't be part of. That is Tom Ripley. He wants that world and he wants the validation it provides. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Which is a sympathetic stance, even as he commits violent acts, for someone clearly locked deep in the closet.

From a class perspective, it's hard to be sympathetic to the rich playboys he targets, even if the film does its best with both Dickie and Peter. This creates a situation where a dangerous killer is more sympathetic than the film wants him to be and more sympathetic than his victims. It creates a strange dissonance to watch this homophobic trope play out this way. Adding to that the fact that the queerness is superficially buried makes it even more surreal--and more offensive, as it becomes easy for an audience to equate the queerness with the creepiness.

It creates a mess of a film, but not one without power. Living in the closet is a mess, emotionally speaking, so at times it kinda works, kinda hits home in ways too uncomfortable to explain. It's not that the closet makes us homicidal (for many, it's suicidal, not homicidal), but that it can evoke desperation. That is what Tom Ripley feels in his worst moments. He wants what he cannot have--wealth, freedom, truth--and it can easily be taken from him by the whims of these privileged man-children. That precarity is not an unfamiliar feeling.

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