Tom Ripley’s many immoral acts, namely, murder, forgery, and deceit could be perceived as insane. Tom’s irrational mind allows for him to achieve his primary goal: Dickie Greenleaf. His shrewdness however, is not powerful enough to allow him to function as solely Dickie Greenleaf—he can only function as a combination of Dickie’s outer-self, with his own inner-self.
To understand Tom Ripley, it is of most importance to analyze the root of his irrationality. He appears intimidated by those who possess more than he. Tom has a desire to leave his current life in order to be better accepted by society. When Mr. Greenleaf proposes for Tom to take a free trip to Italy, Tom sees it as a window of opportunity, and he gladly accepts his offer. Dickie Greenleaf and Italy become his escape from loneliness and destitution.
Once Tom arrives to Italy and is introduced to Dickie Greenleaf’s rich style of living, he realizes the need to become part of it. The only way he sees himself achieving higher status is by physically and mentally becoming Dickie Greenleaf. Elements of Tom’s irrationality are first seen when Tom helps himself to Dickie’s wardrobe. This is Tom’s first effort in changing his physical appearance to match Dickie’s. He feels a need to not only function as Dickie, but to become him. He spends hours trying to understand Dickie’s thought processes. This is evident in Tom’s disbelief in Dickie’s interest in Marge upon seeing the two of them embracing. Tom doesn’t understand intimacy and the need for Marge in Dickie’s life. He wants all of Dickie’s attention to himself, and feels threatened by his relationship with Marge.
His jealousy of Dickie eventually escalates to a level of hatred. He feels an utter need to become Dickie as each day passes. As Dickie and Tom enjoy taking trips, Tom finds a man who offers him a ride. When Tom introduces Dickie to Carlo, Dickie regards him with very little respect. Upon observing Dickie’s reaction to this innocent man, Tom suddenly sees himself in Carlo. He imagines Dickie thinking the same way of himself and irrational, yet justified thoughts of hate overwhelm him. At this point in the movie he realizes the absolute need to kill Dickie.
Tom kills Dickie unmercifully, yet the viewer still feels compelled to sympathize with him and not accidentally. The character of Tom Ripley is to be an irrational man, with reason behind each action he takes. Tom is not insane; he is determined to make life better for himself. If he sees murder as the only way of achieving such, then perhaps he is justified. Tom’s second murder, of Freddie Miles is a little more on the irrational side, but again purposeful. He sees Freddie as a threat to his plan, so he takes action to eliminate the problem. He again does this in a tactful way so that the death of Freddie Miles remains a mystery to the world. The very fact that Tom spends time regretting his actions shows that he is in fact sane. He feels pain and remorse for taking the life of an innocent man, but at the same time, that man isn’t so innocent if he interferes with Tom’s plans of living the lavish life of Dickie Greenleaf.
Tom is the happiest man in the world, believing that he is finally Dickie Greenleaf. Perhaps outwardly he is. As Dickie he can now act as Dickie. His inner self remains Tom Ripley throughout the movie. The very fact that he thinks of doing things to be perceived as Dickie is a thought only Tom Ripley would have. Greed, jealousy, envy, hatred, all emotions that Tom experiences, are not characteristic of Dickie Greenleaf. For instance, even as Dickie Greenleaf, Tom still needs to carry with him both passports. The very fact that he has possession of two passports, suggests the essence of his dual-life with Dickie Greenleaf as the skull and Tom Ripley as the brain.
Tom Ripley is a man of his word. He promises himself to live the life of a wealthy man, and he achieves such. His drive and motivation is inspirational. While his tactics appear insane, each step of his plan is thought provoking and can therefore be reduced to irrationality. He only fails to realize one aspect, that is, to outwardly become another person can be done, but to think as another person, is impossible.