A pivotal scene from the 1999 movie The Talented Mr. Ripley, screenplay by Anthony Minghella, novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Plot Summary: In late 1950s New York, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy, named Dickie Greenleaf. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.
INT. RIPLEY'S SITTING ROOM, VENICE. NIGHT. Marge is leaving, coat on, as Ripley comes out of the bathroom. RIPLEY Marge? Where are you going? MARGE (like a creature caught in headlights) I was looking for a needle and thread. I wasn't snooping. I was looking for a needle and thread to mend my bra. RIPLEY The scent you're wearing. I bought it for you, not Dickie. The thing about Dickie. So many things. The day he was late back from Rome - I tried to tell you this - he was with another girl. I'm not talking about Meredith, another girl we met in a bar. He couldn't be faithful for five minutes. So when he makes a promise it doesn't mean what it means when you make a promise. Or I do. He has so many realities, Dickie, and he believes them all. He lies. He lies, that's his... half the time he doesn't even realize. A SMALL RED STAIN is appearing on the pocket of his robe. As he speaks the stain spreads. He looks at it absently. RIPLEY (cont'd) Today, for the first time, I've even wondered whether he might have killed Freddie. He would get so crazy if anybody contradicted him - well, you know that. Marge. I loved you - you might as well know - I loved you, and because he knew I loved you, he let you think I loved him. Didn't you see, couldn't you see? I don't know, maybe it's grotesque to say this now, so just write it on a piece of paper or something, and keep it in your purse for a rainy day. Tom loves me. MARGE (as if she'd heard nothing) Why do you have Dickie's rings? His hand goes to his pocket. HE'S GOING TO HAVE TO DO IT. RIPLEY I told you. He gave them to me. MARGE Why? When? RIPLEY I feel as if you haven't heard anything I've been saying to you. MARGE I don't believe you. RIPLEY It's all true. MARGE I don't believe a single word you've said. Marge is shivering. Ripley, ominous, advances, she retreats. RIPLEY You're shivering, Marge. Can I hold you? Would you let me hold you? Marge panics, backed up against the door. She screams and turns straight into the arms of a startled PETER who's come back to visit Ripley, and is unlocking the door. MARGE (sobbing uncontrollably) Oh Peter! Get me out of here. Ripley storms off. His hand comes out of his pocket COVERED IN BLOOD from the razor. Peter notices, appalled. PETER Tom, are you okay? RIPLEY You try. You try talking to her. PETER (calls after him) Tom. Tom! Tell me, what's going on? RIPLEY (not turning around) I give up.
Here is the film version of the scene:
The movie is tied closely to what’s in the script… with the exception of the individual shots. Coverage by the director of both actors, then cut together in post. But the dialogue is almost word for word the same in the movie.
I would like to make this point. The script provides yet another example of a so-called ‘unfilmable’ which are supposedly — according some mysterious screenwriting ‘gurus’ — unacceptable. But there’s this right there in the script:
His hand goes to his pocket. HE’S GOING TO HAVE TO DO IT.
He’s going to have to do it.
This is the screenwriter going inside the character’s mindset, his inner world to convey what is going on in the moment. It is not dialogue. It is not action. It is ‘unfilmable.’
And yet the screenwriter felt fine in using it, indeed, CAPITALIZING it to underscore the point. Why? Because it is the best way to convey the tone and atmosphere what is transpiring between the two characters.
We should be judicious when we editorialize like this, but the simple fact is screenwriters do have the right to do this… as long as we do it well… as here.
One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.