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Ripley: Non-Traditional Review

Media literacy perspective on the new Netflix show

By Lana V LynxPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 6 min read
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Ripley's Official Poster from Netflix

I’m teaching media literacy this semester and a couple of weeks ago we were discussing how useful it is to know that any entertainment content has a potential to work for us, consumers, at four different (albeit often overlapping) dimensions: cognitive, affective, aesthetic, and moral.

A media literate person who can dissect and analyze entertainment content on these dimensions will be both more appreciative of the content’s message, quality, and impact as well as the intent and craftsmanship of the content producers.

Below is my personal selection of Top 12 things I loved about Netflix' new limited series Ripley with Andrew Scott. It’s not a traditional review but rather my “appreciation” points on each dimension, with some spoilers.

Cognitive dimension (What have I learned from the series that I didn’t know before?)

1. I have neither read the original book by Patricia Highsmith nor watched The Talented Mr.Ripley 1999 movie with Matt Damon, so the story was entirely new for me. Call me an ignoramus but I have a valid excuse: I come from another culture and am still catching up with what has become American classics. I am glad that I was a tabula rasa for this story as I enjoyed it tremendously.

2. I have learned a lot about life in Italy in mid-1950s. My son and I were in Italy for Christmas and 2024 New Year’s, so it was nice to have a reference in my head for many places we visited and see them featured in a different time period.

3. As someone who spent her life learning languages, I picked up some more Italian from the subtitles in the first episode that were done in Italian with no translation. I was puzzled by that at the beginning but then realized that it was a brilliant decision by the show writers: Tom Ripley did not know Italian at first so people would sound to him exactly the way it sounded to those who don’t speak Italian. As Tom becomes more fluent in Italian, we also get deeper and better translated subtitles.

Affective dimension (How did the show make me feel, which emotions did it evoke?)

4. I was on edge for most of the show. I binge-watched eight episodes in two days, which I rarely do due to my work, but I just couldn’t stop. Almost every episode ended with a cliff-hanger that just wouldn’t let you go, so you stay emotionally hooked.

5. Acting in the show is remarkable and you connect with each character in a different way. I love Andrew Scott as an actor, ever since I saw him as Prof. Moriarty in the recent rendition of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, even though most people would probably remember him as the Priest from Fleabag. (I have just recently seen Scott in Vanya where he played all characters in a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, including the female roles. I was completely blown away). In Ripley, I was captivated by Scott’s deep portrayal of Tom and his eyes scared me with their depth and darkness and at the same time made me strangely drawn in. I wouldn’t say I was rooting for him as I definitely wanted Tom Ripley to get caught, but I was definitely highly invested.

6. The highest adrenaline rush I received while watching the show was from the boat scene. It was masterfully done, with minimum dialogue and maximum tension through action. I was constantly thinking what it had involved to make that scene and was afraid that Tom would mutilate his important parts when he was getting back into the boat.

Aesthetic dimension (How did the show give you the aesthetic pleasure?)

7. I thought I’d be annoyed that the show was done in black and white. Instead, I loved it. It gave a definite period feeling to it, and in very few instances when blood was shown in color (with the kitty paw traces) it added to the dramatism and contrast of the scene. In a black-and-white setting, light and lighting become even more important for the action and I got a particular aesthetic kick from the bulbs flying off the camera flash after taking crime scene photos.

8. I was absolutely enthralled in the setting where the action took place: the town of Atrani with its winding road along the Mediterranean coast that reminded me of our recent visit to Positano; Rome with its large churches and small and narrow streets; Palermo and Venice with so much water everywhere that slipping and dying is not an oddity, etc. I was also impressed with the medieval sculptures and paintings featured in the show as silent witnesses to Tom Ripley’s dark deeds.

9. I found the secondary plot line of Caravaggio’s story absolutely fascinating. Caravaggio’s darkness, violent expressiveness and clarity are a strong pull for Ripley, and the final episode, Narcissus, is even titled after the painting attributed to Caravaggio. When I was in Rome and Florence, I was set on seeing as many Caravaggios as I could, and my son thought it was a weird obsession until he saw the Medusa with me. In the last Ripley episode, the connection is made clear: both Caravaggio and Ripley are murderers who end up sitting in a chair contemplating a meaningful piece of art in front of them. Mind blowing.

Moral dimension (What moral and ethical lessons does the show teach us?)

10. Live within your means and don’t take what is not yours. “I want this rich guy’s life” is a definite recipe for making a sociopath.

11. Ripley killed two people, albeit in his mind undeserving, lazy, and talentless, and we should not root for him. He is still a killer. I've just watched a panel interview with Andrew Scott and the show director Steven Zaillian where they both kept saying that Ripley is not a psychopath or a professional murderer as he killed two people with no premeditation, almost by accident and all his subsequent actions were to cover up for those crimes. If that is the show creators’ “original intent” for the character, I personally disagree with it. Ripley may not be a psychopath who derives pleasure from killing people, but he is definitely a narcissistic sociopath, a ruthless conman who wouldn’t stop at anything to get what he wants. Therefore, we shouldn’t root for him.

12. Ambiguity is something that we can live with and should learn to tolerate more. Not everything in real life is black and white, and this is a remarkable lesson from a literally black-and-white television show. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the show about Tom Ripley’s sexuality: Is he gay? Is he in love with Dickie and kills him because Dickie decided to cut him off and stay with Marge? In real life, Andrew Scott is gay, and that adds to the ambiguity, at least in my eyes. Those questions have not been resolved in the show, and that is totally OK with me. After all, it’s not my life-and-death issue and other people have the right to their sexuality and privacy. I was also happy to see a non-binary actor Eliot Sumner playing Dickie’s friend Freddie Miles, giving the show an additional level of ambiguity about how posh and flamboyant this character really is. And of course, the main ambiguity of the show – will Ripley ever pay for his crimes – remains unsolved as well, even though the detective’s realization at the very end may give you hope that there will be another round of cat-and-mouse game in the future.

Those were my Top 12, but there were so many more remarkable things about the show, especially acting by Dakota Fanning as Marge, Johnny Flynn as Dickie, and Maurizio Lombardi as a multi-lingual police inspector Ravini. I was also pleasantly surprised by John Malkovich, appearing at the end of the show as a fellow con artist who could see through Tom. And of course, the superb writing and directing by Zaillian is a huge draw for the show. It has been released just two days ago but already got so many reviews and interpretive takes on it that you would think it’s a summer blockbuster released into every movie theater on earth.

If you have seen the show, please let me know what you think about it in the comments.

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About the Creator

Lana V Lynx

Avid reader and occasional writer of satire and short fiction. For my own sanity and security, I write under a pen name. My books: Moscow Calling - 2017 and President & Psychiatrist

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  • L.C. Schäfer21 days ago

    I feel like I've learned some stuff from this. 👍👍👍

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    Lana...I love your format here and you pull me in with your "teaching skills." Cognitive: I learned that tabula rasa means clean slate. I had never heard that before. I haven't read the book, but I think I saw the Matt Damon movie. As I age, I forget what happens in them most of the time if they are too long ago. And what a great idea...to make the subtitles progressively more fluent! Affective: Binging isn't something I want to do right away...I'll bookmark this for later, though. I'm pretty much tabula rasa on Andrew Scott...when I see him in a show, I'll be able to see if he evokes any emotions from me. From the action scene of the boat, I'll have to watch with my sons, who particularly like that. Aesthetic: Wow! Black & White? That's unusual. But done with an Italian setting, I can definitely see it working. Caravaggio...of course...plays on light and dark in his paintings. Moral: Seems like the characters and directors have just seen greys and lost too much light from within? I would probably be hoping that good wins over evil, so I hope I wouldn't find the movie disgusting. Thank you for your story. I will be thinking about and judging movies I see from now on with more appreciation :)

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    I've not watched this show, read the book or watched the movie. The fact that the show is black and white is kinda off putting for me. But you did say there are instances that the blood is shown as red. That's all that matters to me. I should be able to see the blood. Have you watched Human Centipede 2? The whole movie is in black and white. It was the goriest among the 3 Human Centipede movies but I didn't get to enjoy it fully because I couldn't see the red of the blood. It being black and white took away that pleasure from me. Also, you said not to root for Ripley. But I always root for the killers 😅 It's so hard not to, lol. Anyway, I enjoyed your review!

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    I don't have Netflix so the chances of me watching it are slim but your analysis and discussion of it are excellent! I will, however, read the book now. I know the story but you have piqued my interest.

  • Kodahabout a month ago

    Incredible piece! I actually just found out about this show just an hour ago as it came on my recommendation. Now I'll definitely watch it! Nice work!! 💌

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    I have not seen the show but now I want to. I loved the “meat” of your review and the layout. Nice job.

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