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Dark Triad

Keeping the Fascination With Psychopaths on the Screen

Netflix's "Tom Ripley" is void of color and brilliant but not enviable.

Key points

  • The point of view of Adam Scott's Ripley a dispassionate observer.
  • Psychopaths in film have always provided free and safe access to our darkest longings and fears.
  • Many world leaders are psychopathic.

Stephen Zallian's Netflix eight-episode series Ripley, starring Adam Scott, is filmed entirely in black and white and invites a different perspective than the 1999 full-length color film The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon. The lack of color is not the only difference. The two Ripley characters are markedly distinct psychologically, though both are based on Patricia Highsmith's first Ripley novel.

'Black and White' can also suggest an explicit, uncompromising mindset—the point of view of Adam Scott's Ripley, a dispassionate observer. We join him in his studied observations of Dickie and Marge and their world, which includes paintings, architecture, and books enough that would fill an entire H.W. Janson's textbook History of Art. The idea of becoming a murderer and stealing Dickey's identity comes sooner than it does for Matt Damon's character in the 1999 film. It resembles Highsmith's take on Ripley in the 1955 novel.

Damon's Tom is desirous of Dickie's companionship and love. Tom is thoroughly entranced with Dickie. Only when he is belittled and rejected for his expressed wish to live with him and share a life does violence emerge. Dickie disparages him for his absurd fantasy and tells him he will marry Marge. After Tom finally kills him, he lies next to him on the bottom of the boat, exhausted, with Dickies arm draped over his shoulder. Damon's Ripley is more nervous and kills Dickie in a panic.

Ripley, played by Andrew Scott in 2024, arrives in Italy, already a low-life grifter, short on style and savoir-faire. He is not as naturally entertaining as Matt Damon's character. He is smart. He learns Italian quickly and shapeshifts into the role of a cultured killer with great ease. He is a quick study. He is not particularly likable. We note that Dickie and Marge are not as life-affirming as in the 1999 film. It is as if life generally turned downward from bright color to gray. No one is happy or satisfied. It reminds me of the present, when aspirations for a happier time are hard to take seriously—Caravaggio's paintings further this descent into darker emotions.

Where in the film Dickie had more tolerance for Tom's misbehaving, such as his dressing in Dickie's clothes, merely being brushed off, this is not so in the series and precipitates Tom's plan to kill him. Comparing the 1999 murder of Dickie to the 2024 remake, we can see Tom's differences. He is not ambivalent. He is organized and businesslike. He gets the job done with minimal emotional fuss, even when his own life is threatened by the out-of-control boat.

The intention to murder. The coldness with which it was done by Andrew Scott, compared to Matt Damon's anxious, nervous, slightly regretful act, speaks to a ruthless psychopath who coldbloodedly murders whoever is in the way of his agenda. He is very cool, with no accelerated pulse. He is the evolution of the psychopath from the Talented Mr. Ripley to the Strictly Business Ripley. Tom lubricates Dickie's finger with blood to remove Dickie's prized ring. He doesn't break a sweat.


Lane, Anthony: Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker. New York: Random House, 2002.

Lane, Anthony: Killing Time Dec 27, 1999. The New Yorker

Intrator, Joanne: Patricia Highsmith: How Sublimation Creates Great Psychopathic Characters Oct 7, 2022

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