29 Nisan 2017 Cumartesi

A Jungian Perspective on 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'

This paper aims to illuminate the actions of various characters in Anthony Minghella’s film “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by examining the causes and consequences of problems arising in the inner-self of a young man called Tom Ripley. This will be undertaken with regard to the concepts of “archetype” and “persona” as posited by Carl Gustav Jung. It will be argued that the balance between the self and the persona is essential in the individualization process and that Tom is actually hiding behind others’ persona by not recognizing or exposing his true self.

Carl Gustav Jung 

Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Jung or Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.[1] His work has been influential not only in psychiatry, but also in anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy and religious studies. Although the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was 19 years older than Jung, they were very good friends and worked together for many years. However, their friendship later ended due to their different opinions in psychology as well as their personal competition in the field. Most of their ideas are similar; but Freud attaches considerable importance to sexuality, whereas Jung sees religion and universal symbols as more significant in the formation of an individual’s “psyche”.

According to Jung, “consciousness is the whole of the psychological individual”. Jung calls the centre of the conscious the “ego”. Although there is no great distinction between Freud and Jung’s ideas on the conscious, there are serious differences between their conceptions of the “unconscious”. Freud explains, the unconscious, as the place in which repressed wishes, memories and thoughts are packed. According to Jung, Freud regards the unconscious just as “an egoless function below the threshold of consciousness”. Freud’s unconscious is only caused by repressing wishes and memories from the conscious. Jung’s conception of the unconscious is larger and not only caused by conscious factors. For Jung, there are two branches of the unconscious: the “personal unconscious” and the “collective unconscious”. The personal unconscious is similar to Freudian unconscious; it is the place for forgotten events, repressed wishes and so on. However, the collective unconscious is a totally new idea, which belongs to Jung alone. The collective unconscious is the place in which our primitive, inherited and primordial characteristics are contained. According to him, these characteristics come from our ancestors and we all have personal schemas called “archetypes”. An archetype is an inherited inclination to respond to certain aspects of the world. Like all our organs that have evolved to be maximally sensitive to certain stimuli, our souls too have evolved to be maximally sensitive to certain categories of experience. In Jungian ideology, archetypes are very important and they even determine who we are. The anima, animus, wise old man, hero and shadow are some examples of archetypes. The shadow is both an archetype and a part of the personality. The shadow part of our personality contains animal instincts like sexuality, violence and survival instincts. Jung points out that the balance between the actual self and persona (archetype) should be well assembled. The adoption of persona to ourselves in every aspects of life will be very dangerous since it will cause our real selves to disappear, and we could become so confused of what we wished to create and what we really are.

Talented Mr. Ripley

Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1999 American psychological thriller film written for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella.[2] An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel the film stars Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge Sherwood and Cate Blanchett as Meredith Logue.[3] The movie is about assumed identities, class differences, unrequited love, Americans abroad, dangerous attraction, hide the dead body, love at first sight, self-destructive romance, serial killers and unlikely criminals. The movie is based on the story of a young man who feels himself as a complete outsider and wants to exchange his identity for someone else’s. This is the movie’s core theme.

The problems start when New York’s one of the richest man Herbert Greenleaf’s son Dickie (Jude Law) leaves the house to settle in Italy in order to become an artist. Since his mother is sick, father Greenleaf wants his son to turn back to USA. Meanwhile Dickie is enjoying a seductive life where he spends his days in white-sanded beaches, charismatic drifters and a beautiful fiancée Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Being rich, young and care-free, he lives a fabulous life among the blue waters and calm landscape of sunny post war Italy in the late 1950s, without even caring to what his father says to and wants from him. It is clear to understand that there is something going wrong between the father and son.[4] What we know when the movie starts is about Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who subordinates himself to the places he is in and to the people he is with. He is a man who uses mimicry and fraud frequently in order to survive and rise in the world. Ripley is a Manhattan lavatory attendant who wants to be a musician and more than that he wants to be someone else; somebody rich, somebody suave, somebody who is charismatic, somebody just like Dickie Greenleaf. It is easy to see his desire to become Dickie even before he meets Dickie. He is disappointed with himself, feels inferiority complex and he is at the edge of things. He lived with an unloving aunt and that was the reason why he had a very big hunger for love. Tom is the character who has a lot of talent but no money. He is good-looking and knows the good manners, but he is not charming and charismatic like Dickie Greenleaf.

One day Tom borrows a Princeton jacket to play piano at a garden party. In that party he meets Dickie’s father and Mr. Greenleaf thinks Tom as one of his son’s friends from Princeton. So, the moneymaker Mr. Greenleaf asks Tom to go to Italy, which will be paid by him of course, to persuade his son to turn back to USA. Tom accepts this attractive offer since that is the chance of his life and goes immediately to Italy. Just even before going to Italy, he wears his masks and starts listening jazz music in order to affect Dickie. When he finally meets Dickie and also his compassionate fiancée Marge in Italy, thanks to an intelligent plan he prepared in advance, he became able to affect the young couple. Dickie and Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) like Tom and as soon as Dickie learns why Tom is there, he feels Tom very close to him. So, he asks him to stay longer at their house. Tom admires Dickie’s life and could not have chance to say no to fine clothes, fine wine, fine yachts and to the trips they make to exotic islands. He gets caught up in the high life that he joins Dickie and Freddie -Dickie’s best friend- (Philip Seymour Hoffman) going around to jazz clubs, swimming in Mediterranean and enjoying the blond goddesses around Dickie’s fiancé Marge and a young American lady traveling across Europe named as Meredith Lounge (Cate Blanchett). Ripley reinvents himself to a world that is beyond his means and in the moment that we expect him to steal Marge’s heart, he makes us learn about his little secret. His envy over the money and opportunities that Dickie has causes him to be jealous of Dickie. He wants to be like Dickie, he wants to insert himself into Dickie’s life and forget everything about his working class background.[5]


However, there is something more... Tom desires to be with Dickie. When he is rejected, Tom decides to relieve into Dickie’s identity. So, he kills Dickie. Killing Dickie and taking all the opportunity to live his life is not a hard thing for Tom, since he was also talented in falsification and impressions as well as in lying. At the end, he kills three more people; all three were guilty of discovering the fake Tom Ripley. He wears a mask, he is afraid to show the real self or maybe even worse he would not be able to show his real self. He is poor but wise, talented but mentally problematic. He does not have any identity what he does is to imitate people and make fake signatures.[6] He lies and that is the only thing that he does. He lies. He is not able to control his persona and so he cannot do anything to avoid establishing an over developed persona.[7]

To sum up, Talented Mr. Ripley is a high quality thriller movie that tells us the story of a man without any personality, but many personas -using Jung’s terminology- because of the inferiority complex and poor life conditions he has. Instead of using his talents to survive in the society and to get a good and well-respected position, he lies and kills people and he tries to act like them. What does Jung says about this then?

Jung’s archetypes are believed to be the secret parts of our personality, which has all different roles that forms our character. According to Jung, every person has two different sides, consciousness and unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is the part where all the archetypes exist. Some of his important archetypes are persona, shadow, ego, self, anima and animus. In order to analyze the Talented Mr. Ripley it would be better to use Jungian concept of “persona”.

Persona comes from Latin and it means “actor’s mask”. It is our tool to present ourselves to outside world. Persona is our supporter for being the necessary object to hide our real selves behind. “The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual” (Jung, C.G., 1983: 94). The society we live in, according to Jung, expects us to have at least one persona, which we play perfectly. No man is expected to have more than one persona, for that would be funny, even odd. If a man would have too many personas says Jung, then he would be different. Jung continues by saying; “He would always be suspected of unreliability and incompetence” (Jung, C.G., 1983: 94).

Jung also points out that persona can be affected from the other archetypes like anima or animus. Actually, it can be supported also in the movie since Tom is gay. It can be said that he is gay because inside his unconscious part he also has a woman, which shows itself as another mask that he is wearing. He is a very sensible person; it is easy to hurt his feelings. In that sense, we can claim that in his inner-self there is a young lady who loves and admires Dickie. At a scene in the movie, while Dickie is sleeping Tom tries to kiss him from his lips. This shows his true inner feelings. Tom’s inner world is darker and more complex than a normal human’s inner world. He really has lost his real-self. He kills the possibility to love himself while he is using different masks for making people like him. He also gives up the opportunity -as he always tries to be someone else- and then ends up with someone who would be perfectly happy with Ripley being Ripley, but he cannot be with him.

As a result, we can conclude that what had happened to Tom Ripley is his desire to be a person who is appreciated in the society. This wish caused him to become a liar and a phony person. He starts to act like and -in time- become a person that has nothing to do with his real ideals. After a certain point, he loses the control and transforms into a kind of prisoner in the unconscious part of his own mind. His inferiority feeling against Dickie mixed with his economic problems force him to do more.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ORMECİ

[1] “Carl Jung”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 29.04.2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung.
[2] See; “The Talented Mr. Ripley (film)”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 29.04.2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Talented_Mr._Ripley_(film).
[3] “Yetenekli bay Ripley”, Imdb.com, Date of Accession: 29.04.2017 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134119/.  
[4] Herbert Greenleaf: People say that you can’t choose your parents, but you know you can’t choose your children either.
See; “Quotes from The Talented Mr. Ripley”, Imdb.com, http://us.imdb.com/Quotes?0134119 
[5] Some examples;
Tom Ripley: If I cold just go back… If I could rub everything out… Starting with myself.
Tom Ripley: You’re the brother I never had. I’m the brother you never had. I would do anything for you, Dickie.
Tom Ripley: I could live Dickie’s life for him.
See; “Quotes from The Talented Mr. Ripley”, Imdb.com, http://us.imdb.com/Quotes?0134119 
[6] Tom Ripley: (Imitating Dickie’s father) To me, jazz is noise. Insolent noise.
Dickie Greenleaf: Wow! Cut it out! It’s so spooky, my hairs on end.
See; “Quotes from The Talented Mr. Ripley”, Imdb.com, http://us.imdb.com/Quotes?0134119 
[7] Dickie Greenleaf: Everybody has got to have a talent, what’s yours?
Tom Ripley: Telling lies, forging signatures and impersonating almost anybody.
See; “Quotes from The Talented Mr. Ripley”, Imdb.com, http://us.imdb.com/Quotes?0134119 

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