Little Pieces of Blue Jelly

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Highsmith-Talented-Ripley

Dickie stopped in the road, looking at him. They were arguing so loudly, a few people around them were looking, watching.

‘It could have been fun,’ Tom said, ‘but not the way you chose to take it. A month ago when we went to Rome, you’d have thought something like this was fun.’

‘Oh, no,’ Dickie said, shaking his head. ‘I doubt it.’

The sense of frustration and inarticulateness was agony to Tom. And the fact that they were being looked at. He forced himself to walk on, in tense little steps at first, until he was sure that Dickie was coming with him. The puzzlement, the suspicion, was still in Dickie’s face, and Tom knew Dickie was puzzled about his reaction. Tom wanted to explain it, wanted to break through to Dickie so he would understand and they would feel the same way. Dickie had felt the same way he had a month ago. ‘It’s the way you acted,’ Tom said. ‘You didn’t have to act that way. The fellow wasn’t doing you any harm.’

‘He looked like a dirty crook!’ Dickie retorted. ‘For Christ sake, go back if you like him so much. You’re under no obligation to do what I do!

‘Now Tom stopped. He had an impulse to go back, not necessarily to go back to the Italian, but to leave Dickie. Then his tension snapped suddenly. His shoulders relaxed, aching, and his breath began to come fast, through his mouth. He wanted to say at least, ‘All right Dickie,’ to make it up, to make Dickie forget it. He felt tongue-tied. He stared at Dickie’s blue eyes that were still frowning, the sun bleached eyebrows white and the eyes themselves shining and empty, nothing but little pieces of blue jelly with a black dot in them, meaningless, without relation to him. You were supposed to see the soul through the eyes, to see love through the eyes, the one place you could look at another human being and see what really went on inside, and in Dickie’s eyes Tom saw nothing more now than he would have seen if he had looked at the hard, bloodless surface of a mirror. Tom felt a painful wrench in his breast, and he covered his face with his hands. It was as if Dickie had been suddenly snatched away from him. They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realisation seemed more than he could bear. He felt in the grip of a fit, as if he would fall to the ground. It was too much: the foreignness around him, the different language, his failure, and the fact that Dickie hated him. He felt surrounded by strangeness, by hostility. He felt Dickie yank his hands down from his eyes.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ Dickie asked. ‘Did that guy give you a shot of something?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure? In your drink?’

‘No.’ The first drops of the evening rain fell on his head. There was a rumble of thunder. Hostility from above, too. ‘I want to die,’ Tom said in a small voice.

— Patricia Highsmith

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Books Publishing and Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Little Pieces of Blue Jelly

  1. maidrya says:

    Haven’t actually read the book. Saw the movie, which I gather varies from the book quite a lot. Did you see the movie? How would you compare the two? I’ve only read HIghsmith’s “The Tremor of Forgery,” which I found haunting.

    (Judith from FB, btw)

    Like

    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I don’t remember the movie super well, but I believe you’re correct that it is quite different from the book. For sure the homosexual elements were suppressed in the movie version. In the book it’s pretty clear that Tom is gay, or struggling with gayness, or something. Also, I don’t think Minghella’s talents are suited to bringing the psychological aspects of the novel to life. The book is really an examination of a disordered personality. A faithful movie version would put the viewer into Tom’s head. Maybe Hitchcock could pull it off…

      Rene Clement’s movie version, PURPLE NOON, is quite good, but it also isn’t much like the book. Clement doesn’t bother much with psychology, He’s more interested in maintaining a peculiarly European tone of chic nastiness — and he does it quite well.

      I’ll have to check out TREMOR. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    • Fenster says:

      I have seen all of the Ripley movies and read the books. I like Tom in the way I like Noah Cross I suppose. The rule-bound envious of the sociopath perhaps. Or maybe seeing one’s self as a sociopath in a not-too-distant mirror.

      In the books you can see Tom changing. In the first, The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is young and callow, unsure what to make of the fact that he is a sociopath and coming to grips with it. In that sense Damon was not a bad choice in the Minghella movie but honestly he was just too darned earnest and guilt ridden to pull it off. Too much young Jimmy Stewart there. Jude Law, who played Dickie, would have been the better Tom (and Damon the better Dickie).

      Also I read the film differently than Fabrizio on Tom’s being gay. It lurks in the book but is never fully present, whereas in the movie it is full-on part of his character and the plot. I thought that subverted Highsmith’s angle on Tom, and not in a good way.

      Over time Tom gains more confidence in the books as he gives in to his amoral nature. Highsmith calls him “talented” in the first book but that is meant a bit ironically since he is still a bit of a twerp. Over time he emerges as truly talented, and often charming, as he comes to embrace his amoral nature more fully. He happy lives his quiet life, very well, with his wife Héloïse. And he only gets snared into nasty things when those darned circumstances conspire, the poor boy.

      Tom has been played by Damon, Delon, Dennis Hopper, John Malkovich and Barry Pepper. For my money, Hopper gives the most entertaining performance, and The American Friend remains my favorite Ripley film. But I have to conclude that Malkovich is best suited to play Tom as he is best combining charm, dread, world weariness and a lack of any conscience.

      An earlier post here: https://uncouthreflections.com/2014/05/28/highsmith-redux/

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      • maidrya says:

        I always fantasize Guy Pearce as Ripley when I’m rewatching Minghella’s Ripley. I remember Anthony Layne (I think – maybe John Simon) writing that Damon wasn’t quite quicksilver-ish enough, which I agree with – and Pearce has in spades. As to Damon’s earnestness, that’s in tune with Minghella’s vision of the character – how he wrote & directed the script. That’s what I was guessing would have differed most from the book. “Deprived versus depraved.”

        Again, I don’t know the novel, but yes, the film asserts Tom’s gayness, although I thought it was also attempting to say that what he wanted first and more than anything from Dickie was simple acceptance.

        I’d avoided Ripley’s Game, for some reason thinking it hadn’t been reviewed well, but I see it was, so glad to find out about it. I’ll give it a shot.

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  2. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    I’m probably misrembering the movie if, as you claim, it’s clear that Tom is gay. My memory is that his sexual orientation was a subject of debate after the movie came out. That might be tainting my memory of the movie (which I didn’t care for all that much, and which I don’t remember super well).

    You don’t think Tom’s sexuality is a major element of the novel? I’d have to disagree on that one. The subject comes up constantly — Tom concerned that people will think he’s queer, Tom overreacting when other gays respond to him, other characters speculating about his sexuality. I don’t think you can separate his sexuality from the character.

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