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The End Of The Talented Mr. Ripley Explained

Anthony Minghella's star-studded and sweeping 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's murder mystery novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a lush period piece that takes its time unraveling the story of young grifter named Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) as he attempts to claw his way into the upper classes by whatever means necessary. After a case of mistaken identity opens a set of fancy doors for Tom into the wealthy shipping magnate Greenleaf family, the story shifts from New York City to the fictional Italian town of Mongibello where Tom worms his way into the extravagant life of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). However, a series of strange encounters leads to murder and identity theft as the talented Mr. Ripley attempts to hold on to his newfound high-class status. 

Featuring a dazzling array of performances from Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie's put-upon girlfriend, Marge Sherwood, Cate Blanchett's simpering socialite, Meredith Logue, and a powerhouse performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dickie's brash friend, Freddie Miles, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a thriller wrapped in a drama that often feels more like a play than a movie. With all the twists and turns, what happens by the closing credits? Here's the ending of The Talented Mr. Ripley explained.

(Warning — major spoilers below.)

Tom Ripley and the borrowed Princeton jacket

As the title implies, Tom Ripley is a very talented individual who was unfortunately born poor. After filling in as a piano player for a friend's opera recital at a fancy Upper West Side home, his borrowed Princeton coat prompts shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) to approach Tom since his son, Dickie, also went to Princeton. Tom didn't go to college, let alone Princeton, but he goes along with the mistaken identity, seeing a potential opportunity. When Mr. Greenleaf asks Tom to please go to Italy and bring his wayward son back home, Tom agrees, even though he's never met Dickie in his life. 

From the start of The Talented Mr. Ripley, we see Tom's pure yearning for a lifestyle that he'll never be able to access on his own, and the $1,000 finder's fee was life-changing money back in 1958. And then, Tom starts getting into character. Since Dickie is obsessed with jazz, Tom studies it to get an in with the man he's pretending to already know. But from the start, we also see Tom's malignant ambition when he introduces himself as Dickie Greenleaf while meeting socialite Meredith Logue at luggage pickup on their cruise to Italy. Tom pretends to be traveling under his mother's name, as Meredith is, and this connection made under Dickie's name will prove indispensable to Tom's later plans.

Tom Ripley meets Dickie Greenleaf in Mongibello

After arriving in the coastal town of Mongibello, Tom begins spying on Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge, trying to get a sense of how to connect, which he does at the beach where Dickie and Marge sunbathe every afternoon. Obviously, Dickie doesn't remember Tom because Tom never actually went to Princeton, and Dickie is suspicious until Tom reveals that not only is he an exceptional mimic, but that he was hired by Mr. Greenleaf to bring Dickie home. This is an interesting move on Tom's part, revealing almost his entire hand from the get-go, but it quickly ingratiates Dickie to Tom, and they become fast friends. Tom also reveals his other considerable talents of forgery and lying, both of which Dickie finds hilarious and charming ... at first. 

All the while, Tom has discovered Dickie is having an affair with a local woman named Silvana (Stefania Rocca), which he keeps to himself. And just as Tom's welcome is starting to wear thin, he reveals his "jazz obsession" to Dickie, who suddenly doesn't want Tom to leave anymore and invites him to stay in his and Marge's home. Tom and Dickie's relationship deepens, but it's not exactly mutual. Dickie treats Tom like a project, a charity case, and Tom is clearly falling in love with Dickie and truly believes they're best friends.

Freddie Miles arrives and ruins Tom's plans

Dickie Greenleaf is a considerably charming man, and Tom is fully smitten with him. One evening, as they play chess with Dickie in the bath and Tom sitting alongside, Tom makes a significant move to take their relationship to the next level — he asks if he can join Dickie in the tub. Dickie is taken aback, but he doesn't seem upset at the confirmation that Tom is gay. And Tom makes no secret of staring at Dickie's fully nude body. 

But things quickly start falling apart for Tom. They soon meet up with Dick's friend, Freddie Miles, a flamboyant and wealthy playboy who matches Dickie beat for beat in a way Tom never could. Freddie sees through Tom's attempts at social climbing and dismisses him. Needless to say, Tom is fully threatened by Freddie by this point, but things are about to get even worse for Ripley. 

Tom violates Dickie's personal space by dressing up in his clothes and dancing around like a burlesque performer, and worse, Dickie walks in on him doing it. Dickie's patience is officially wearing thin, and the fact that Freddie is downstairs only makes Tom more anxious and upset. The next day, during a boating trip, Marge explains to Tom that Dickie is inconstant with both his male and female relationships, and that he mustn't take it personally. But when Freddie catches Tom watching Marge and Dickie having sex on board, it's the beginning of the end for Tom's time in the circle.

Things take a murderous turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley

During Mongibello's Festival of La Madonna, the body of Dickie's secret lover, Silvana, washes to the surface of the bay. She'd killed herself because Dickie got her pregnant and wouldn't help her get an abortion, which Tom eventually finds out. Tom then offers to take the blame for Dickie, a last-ditch effort to stay ingratiated with his friend, but Dickie is fully over Tom. Also, since Tom doesn't know how to ski, he's no longer invited to Dickie and Freddie's Cortina trip, so as a consolation prize, Dickie invites Tom to San Remo's Jazz Festival, which will be their last hurrah. In the meantime, Mr. Greenleaf — who's been financing Tom's trip — has also written to say Tom's gravy train is over, especially since he never brought Dickie home. 

At the jazz festival, Dickie needles Tom into admitting that he never went to Princeton and has been mooching off the family all this time. Apparently, Dick and Marge had a bet about it, crushing Tom's belief that he had an ally in Marge. The next day, Dickie takes Tom out on a boat trip so he can pick his new digs from the water, and while out on the bay, he reveals that he's going to marry Marge. At this news, Tom begins crying and suggests that it should be him marrying Dickie, not Marge. Their fight escalates to terrible words and blows, resulting in a prolonged and gruesome battle, which ends in Dickie's death after Tom hits him square across the face with a boat oar. After killing Dickie, Tom spoons his body as the boat fills with blood.

Tom Ripley becomes Dickie Greenleaf

After salvaging all of Dickie's things and sinking the boat, a waterlogged and panicked Tom Ripley returns to his hotel with the mind to immediately check out, but that's when the concierge mistakes him for Dickie. Tom had already been practicing Dickie's signature and handwriting, so he takes it to the next level by fully beginning to impersonate Dickie. In Rome, he sends himself letters as both Tom and Dickie to set up a paper trail. Tom goes back to Mongibello with Marge's favorite perfume, as well as a forged letter from Dickie breaking up with her and telling her he's moving to Rome for now and then going north. Marge believes she scared Dickie away by pressuring him to get married, and Tom lets her believe it. 

But it's back in Rome where Tom Ripley's dangerous game gets even more complicated when he runs into Meredith Logue and finds out she knows Freddie and of Marge. Since Meredith thinks Tom is Dickie, he woos her, even as he knows they'll never be able to be together thanks to his lies. Tom accompanies Meredith to the opera — Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, which features a murder very much like Dickie's — where they run into Marge and her friend, Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport), who has an instant connection with Tom. But thanks to Tom's double dealings with Meredith, Marge fully believes that Dickie is alive and in Rome, and Tom has to scramble to keep the ruse going. Things get so complicated that the next day, he invites Meredith for coffee at 10:15 AM as Dickie, and as Tom, he invites Marge and Peter to the same spot at 10:30.

Tom Ripley gets deeper into trouble

By inviting Marge (under the guise of Tom) and Meredith (under the guise of Dickie) to a coffee shop, Ripley manipulates the two women into accidentally meeting and discussing their lives, which convinces Marge that Dickie is still alive, setting up a perfect alibi for Tom's future machinations. But in the meantime, Freddie Miles is suspicious of Tom and thinks he had something to do with Dickie's disappearance and erratic behavior. After Freddie discovers that Tom is pretending to be Dickie, Tom bludgeons him to death and then dumps his body out in the countryside. After Freddie's body is found, the theory gets floated that Dickie is the one who killed Freddie and some even suspect that Dickie might've killed Tom, too, and was traveling under his passport. That is, until Marge and Peter see Tom again in Venice. 

Because Tom Ripley has been as elusive as Dickie Greenleaf, the police want to question him, and Peter accompanies Tom as translator. But it's also clear they're romantically interested in each other, and Tom's entire demeanor changes when he's around Peter. The police end up bullying Tom quite a bit, but they ultimately reveal a suicide note from Dickie (in actuality, forged by Tom) that implies Dickie killed himself and Freddie. Things take another positive turn for Tom when Marge comes to confront "Dickie" and talks to him through the door of Tom's apartment. Here, she confronts Dickie and tells him how badly he's broken her heart and that she wants nothing to do with him ever again.

Marge confronts Tom Ripley in Venice

Tom cashes the last of Dickie's money that he can safely withdraw and sets himself up in an incredible villa on Venice's Grand Canal. Marge comes to stay with Tom since he has more space, and Tom gives Peter a key so he can let himself in later after Marge has gone to sleep. But Tom's plans are foiled when Marge finds all of Dickie's rings and jewelry in Tom's bureau. Caught, Tom puts a straight razor in his bathrobe pocket and plans to murder Marge, when Peter shows up much earlier than expected. 

The moment Peter shows up, Tom's demeanor changes once again, and he fully gaslights Marge, who now believes that Tom killed Dickie and Freddie both. At the same time, Mr. Greenleaf himself has journeyed to Venice with a private investigator, Mr. MacCarron (Philip Baker Hall), to get to the bottom of the sordid Dickie business. When Mr. Greenleaf wants to meet Tom alone, Tom thinks he's been found out. Instead, the PI informs him that Dickie once almost killed a classmate at Princeton, and this is why his dad sent him away to Italy. The PI also brings up Silvana's drowning as motivation for Dickie disappearing, and that he believes Dickie killed both Freddie and himself. Better still, Mr. Greenleaf plans on leaving Tom some of Dickie's money. Tom appears to have gotten away with it all, except Marge doesn't believe him, attacking him before leaving Venice back to America.

Tom Ripley's almost happy ending

Tom and Peter have fully begun dating, and Peter invites him to Athens by boat. Tom looks so happy and relaxed with Peter, and while they have separate rooms, they're visiting each other every night ... until Tom runs into Meredith Logue. She's still smitten with Tom/Dickie but also angry at the mess he left behind that she got dragged into. Tom kisses her, and both her family and Peter witness it. When Peter confronts him, we see Tom make a choice. Meredith is with her entire family. Peter is alone. The choice is simple. 

Near the end of the film, Tom asks Peter to tell him the things he loves about the talented Mr. Tom Ripley, and his list is lovely and long. Tom responds, "I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody," and Peter reminds Tom that he's not nobody. Still, Tom strangles Peter, killing the only person who's ever loved him fully just for being regular old Tom Ripley. Tom is devastated by the end, cursing the Princeton jacket that he borrowed that got him three murders deep and fully enmeshed in a stolen identity. 

There's also an implied suggestion by the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley that Tom will have to kill Meredith Logue and maybe even her family at some point in the near future, lest he be discovered as Dickie Greenleaf's murderer and impersonator, unraveling the intricate tapestry he'd woven from the moment he met Mr. Greenleaf in New York.

Homophobia and homoeroticism in The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley takes place in 1958, a time when it wasn't allowed or safe for men to be openly gay in the United States and many other countries. Tom Ripley, as a young gay man who grew up in poverty, has none of the protections of wealth that could keep him safe from society's prejudices. For example, one shocking scene of homophobia comes when the detective from Rome confrontationally ask Tom if he's homosexual. Still, Tom's fascination with men — in particular, Dickie Greenleaf – is explored beautifully and compassionately in the movie through long camera glances, as well as the nuanced performances by Matt Damon and Jude Law. 

Today, we might label Dickie Greenleaf as bisexual or pansexual since he's involved with women but also has very close and intimate relationships with men that border on sexual. The movie doesn't shy away from these underlying, homoerotic themes, such as the moment when Tom asks if he can get in Dickie's bathtub and Dickie fully considers it before saying no. Dickie even preens for Tom as the bathtub scene wraps, fully playing into Tom's crush and creating the foundation of a narrative that would later force Tom to confront Dickie about his sexual feelings. And androgynous-voiced Chet Baker's version of "My Funny Valentine" — a recurring song throughout the film — fully plays into the homoeroticism that drives The Talented Mr. Ripley.

1950s class consciousness in The Talented Mr. Ripley

While the homoerotic and homophobic themes of The Talented Mr. Ripley are certainly a huge focal point of the story, this is also a movie about a young man desperately trying to break into the upper classes and using his various talents to get him there. "The Greenleaf name opens up a lot of doors," their driver tells Tom on his way to the boat that'll take him to Italy. But what Tom doesn't realize until the end is that he'll never fully be part of that world. Even as he impersonates Dickie Greenleaf, he'll never actually be Dickie, and ultimately, that's what he wants — a full social and economic rebirth into a wealthy family. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley is also about the kind of mental illnesses that can emerge as a result of poverty and desperation. "I've gotten to love everything about the way you live," Tom tells Dickie. "It's a love affair." He covets Dickie romantically, but he also covets Dickie's financial security. 

In contrast, how the rich folks take their wealth for granted is a loud counterpoint to Tom's humble background. Meredith luggage-shames Tom for his small suitcase and tote bag, and Freddie comments on Tom's ugly corduroy coat, which was his best clothing. Dickie jokes that the privilege of his first-class education has resulted in him being unable to write or spell, and that he doesn't need to worry about it. Ultimately, Dickie sums up his perception of Tom saying, "Who are you? Some third-class mooch," a comment that pushes Tom over the edge to kill Dickie.

The fragmentation of self in The Talented Mr. Ripley

One of the visual motifs in The Talented Mr. Ripley that's also gorgeously explored through director Anthony Minghella's spectacular light and production design is the fragmentation of Tom Ripley's self throughout the movie. We often see Tom's face bisected by objects around him, and he often stares at himself in a mirror as he mimics other people like Dickie Greenleaf and even Marge. When Tom and Dickie take their first trip to Rome, Tom stares at his reflection superimposed over Dickie, noting how similar they look, information that later leads him to steal Dickie's identity. 

By the end of the film, Tom gets into a motorcycle accident while riding down a lane in Rome that's lined with mirror vendors, thinking he's seen Dickie's reflection hiding in a mirror. He later explains his injuries by telling Marge that Dickie had beaten him up, taking the metaphor to the next level. When Tom kills Peter, a mirror features heavily as the murder happens off-screen. Tom at this horrible point only exists as a reflection — he's stopped being real altogether as his crimes escalate. By the closing credits of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley is gone, and all that's left is a monster who's very good at pretending to be human.