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Popular Representations

The Talented Mr Ripley (2001)

The Talented Mr Ripley, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, is the second popular representation of Venice that I have analysed, the first being Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. After watching the previous representation it became apparent to me how out of my depth I feel when conducting a strategic analysis. Therefore, I have decided to be less strategic. I feel that if I observe the representation with an open mind, the information will find me rather than I find it. Taking this new approach I found analysing the Talented Mr Ripley slightly less frustrating than my previous attempt.

One advantage of this representation that the previous didn’t have was the setting. The Talented Mr Ripley is set in Italy, quite specifically Rome and Venice. The narrative of Eyes Wide Shut took place in America; hence the analysis of the representation proving difficult as I was finding that there appeared to be no direct ‘links’ due to the narrative taking place outside of the desired setting. Apart from the obvious scenery of Italy, which included blue skies, tall buildings, winding roads and lots of water, I was struggling to find anything that I felt was directly significant to the research topic. That said, there was a line of dialogue that I felt was important, and this line is when Tom Ripley says to Jude Law’s character, Dickie Greenleaf, “can we sail to Venice?” The reason I found this of importance is due to the phrasing. In modern day society and culture it is very rare for anybody to request to ‘sail’ to any destination, due to the technological advancements in transport. However, in this context, the question is completely relevant. Venice is only reachable by boat unless on the mainland in which case Venice can be reached via a two mile bridge by either bus or train. The question asked by Ripley reiterates Venice as a ‘place’ and the thought, consideration and research that needs to be given to this specific area within the research topic. Why is Venice segregated from the rest of Italy? Why is it surrounded by water? These questions, as well as many more, will need to be addressed upon the completion of the project.

As I did whilst viewing Eyes Wide Shut, I was constantly trying to identify themes that are constant throughout this movie and it becomes apparent quite early on within the movie that the theme of identity is crucial. Tom Ripley proudly lists his talents to Dickie Greenleaf as being able to impersonate anybody, adopt their voice and forge their signature; at times, and as seen throughout the rest of the movie, Ripley even adopts an identity to use as his own. From this I conclude that Eyes Wide Shut also dabbled in the theme of identity at times and the way that an identity was concealed and protected was through the use of Venetian masks, a representation of Venice. However, in the Talented Mr Ripley, Venice, the place, is used as a mode of identity protection. Venice allows Ripley to hide his lies and acts of betrayal, enabling him to dispose of the corpses of the people he murders and Italy allows him to manoeuvre around the city to different places to protect his identity.

Venice is renowned for its connotations of love, romance and intimacy. In one scene Dickie is bathing in a bath and Ripley is observing, even asking if he can join Dickie in the bath. Following this request, Dickie removes himself from the bath, nude, and Ripley is seen ogling him, his body presented as an erotic commodity to Ripley; Ripley begins to experience sexual feelings for Dickie, something he continues to struggle with throughout the movie, but feelings Dickie does not reciprocate. The water from the bath tub on Dickie’s body heightens the eroticism of the scene; water acts as a metaphor to convey different feelings and emotions throughout the film.

The next scene that contradicts the connotations associated with Venice is a scene that shows one of Dickie’s past lover’s body being found in the water; she committed suicide, fuelled by her love for Dickie. This scene deals with binary oppositions – love and death. The girl ended her life due to her strong feelings of love for Dickie, which ultimately lead to her demise due to the realisation that Dickie did not feel the same way. Again, Venice embodies a range of different emotions within its hexis.

A later scene is perhaps one of the most famous from the movie, the scene when Dickie is murdered by Ripley. After a heated and violent argument, Ripley bludgeons Dickie to death with the oar from the boat that they are on. The scene is actually quite harrowing and graphic, but the setting of the scene brings into question the assumptions associated with Venice. When Dickie is murdered, he dies alone and at sea; the boat is in the middle of the sea, isolated and segregated, just like Venice itself. Ripley swims to shore and leaves the boat to sink with Dickie on board. Here the water of Venice is used as a metaphoric mask to hide Ripley’s crime and conceal Dickie’s death. By this point the hexis of the city appears to consist of pain, betrayal, death and deceit and these feelings are also what appears to be directly experience by Ripley and others around him.

By the finale of the movie it is quite clear that death is another key theme. The final scene of the movie involves Ripley murdering his lover on board a cruise ship and it is at this point that I am able to draw my thoughts to a conclusion. Although it appears that Ripley has managed to adopt different identities, kill innocents on his journey and deceive everyone that he comes into contact with using his ‘talents’, everything eventually catches up with him. Whilst on board the cruise, he meets a woman he has met frequently throughout the rest of the movie and who inadvertently threatens to unravel all his lies, leading Ripley to murder his lover in order to prevent this.

A key aspect of Venice is the water; Venice is surrounded by water and runs directly through Venice; Venice can only be accessed by boat or bridge, due to the magnitude of water separating Venice from the mainland. This theme materialises in the movie to surround Ripley. Two of the three murders he commits are executed on water and water is ultimately used to conceal his deeds. The irony is that, just like water has the potential to suffocate, Ripley’s lies ultimately suffocate and consume him and he cannot escape it, just as the water surrounding Venice cannot be escaped.

The analysis of the second popular representation has allowed me to develop further the connection between real-life Venice and fictional Venice, based on my preliminary research. I have also been able to draw upon information I have been gaining from lectures, such as the theory of habitus and hexis. Although these notions are rather vague to me, I feel I can grasp a basic definition of what they are and I have attempted to identify aspects of each within the second representation. From this I now intend to develop areas I have touched upon, such as habitus and hexis, so that I can succinctly apply the theory to Venice when the field trip occurs. It will be interesting to see exactly what I define as the habitus and hexis of Venice and compare that to what I directly experience, taking into consideration what I have seen from popular representations.

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