Why is Ripley in Black and White?

Image Credit: Stefano Cristiano Montesi/Netflix

Netflix’s ‘Ripley’ follows the misadventures of the titular character as he finds himself on the brink of having the lavish life he always wanted. Andrew Scott stars as Tom Ripley, who is sent to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf to come back home. However, things don’t turn out the way anyone would have expected them to, and by the end, it becomes a tangled mess that feels impossible to get out of. The eight-episode series works spectacularly on many levels, and one of the intriguing things about it is its choice of color or lack thereof. What does the choice of the monochrome mean for the story?

The Black and White Palette Sets the Tone of Ripley

If one were to think of a story set in Italy, starting from a quaint coastal town to the lavish hotels and museums of Rome, a picturesque vision of the place forms in one’s mind. You’d expect it to be something straight out of the postcard, with the sun-kissed beaches and the cobblestone roads of the city with cute cafes. It’s a colorful version, brought to life by the colors that burst through the picture. To escape this image, writer-director Steven Zaillian decided to make ‘Ripley’ in black and white.

The idea of telling a black-and-white version of Tom Ripley’s story came to Zaillian from the cover of the book ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ by Patricia Highsmith. He revealed that the edition he had had “an evocative black-and-white photograph on the cover,” which stayed in his mind, especially as he started to turn the book into a screenplay. While adapting the book, which he has been a fan of for a long time, he wanted to be as faithful to the source material as possible. The long-form medium of television gave him that freedom, and he used it to create the series in a manner that the author would have approved of.

One of the key things that Zaillian wanted was to give the audience the same feeling they would have while reading Highsmith’s novel. To him, reading ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ felt like watching a noir story. Calling it “the novelistic version of film noir,” the director revealed that the thought of using color in the show felt unreal in context with the story. The colors would present a sunny picture of an otherwise disturbing tale, giving it a levity Zaillian didn’t want it to have. He wanted it to be gritty and bloody, and the black-and-white aesthetic complements that rather well.

Another thing that the black and white palette achieves is to give the show a distinct ’60s look. The show takes place in the early ’60s, and without the use of color, the story feels more dated and establishes for the audience that they are seeing the story of a different time period. It also gives a distinct look to the show, making it more beautiful even with the colors drained out. This way, it resonates better with Ripley’s character, adding more depth to the story.

Read More: Ripley: Why Is Tom Ripley Scared of Water?