I kept debating whether I’d even have time to write a timely Best-Shot entry for this, and I suspect I’ll be returning to this post later to annotate it with additional thoughts. (Aside to readers of the blog: I have not abandoned this space.) Most of you know of my deep love for that other 90s Minghella juggernaut and The Talented Mr. Ripley, though not as highly esteemed, is a favourite of mine. It captures Minghella’s ability to capture the ethereal beauty of the objections of our protagonist’s affections – specifically in his three period heavy films - this, The English Patient and Cold Mountain. There’s the image of Katherine Clifton coming of the plane in The English Patient and then the more striking shot of her by the light of the burning flames as she tells her story. Then there’s Inman gazing on Ada Munroe the first time he sees her. For both those films, the romantic story was the key – for The Talented Mr. Ripley romance seems the wrong word. Desire may be a better stand-in. Like with the previous two films it's a moment where protagonist gazes upon something which he finds desirable. For Ripley it is as much a desire for Dickie the person (I'm not convinced that Ripley is romantically yearning for Dickie, but regardless) as it is a desire for what Dickie represents - affluence, being on the inside, prestige. And in that way it is not unlike a romantic gaze of something beautiful and out-of-reach. So, in keeping with that nature of getting that perfect image of the pursued party our first full image of Dickie is as evocative.
I love how of the three films with the gaze of affection this one is literally an image of a gaze. Tom is scoping his prey out through his binoculars which already adds a synthetic level to the gaze which neither The English Patient or Cold Mountain have. The way the shot is not a rectangle but seems octagonal adds a layer of unusualness to it. It is not really an octagon, but the way the full oval is not shown makes it seem that way. This gaze is atypical. Marge is so caught up in the swimming – completely free and natural but even as the true object of our gaze (Dickie) isn’t placed in the centre our eyes are drawn to him. He emerges from the water like a deity, we’re further drawn in because he’s looking offscreen already evoking that wandering eye nature of Dickie. He’s too magnificent to simply luxuriate in the water but must emerge from it as if performing. He doesn’t know Tom is watching him now, but every fibre of his being suggests a man who knows he has our attention. Whoever is watching. No wonder he envelopes the film even when he leaves it half way through.
Jude knows how to make an entrance, Minghella knows to direct one (with John Seale’s help, of course.)