Spoiler Warning: This will reveal the entire plot of the film, and by extension the plot of the source material, The Talented Mr Ripley
Purple Noon is a work of amoral art. A rare film that playfully imposes judgement on its characters and events, not even on its central murderer and identity thief, Tom Ripley. Any praise or blame you may direct at Tom is very much your own morality, your own judgement, cast like a pebble to skim on an uncaring sea.
Tom Ripley wants what Phillipe Greenleaf’s got: money, luck, a life of leisure in Italy, and a beautiful, if too forgiving, fiancé, Marge. Of all the men in the world to be so blessed, why did it have to be the self-centered, cruel Phillipe. Tom seems fine, basking in the spillover of Phillipe’s decadence. But then, on a boat trip with Phillipe and Marge, things take a turn. After Phillipe and Marge get into a fight, she disembarks at the docks. Tom and Phillipe sail off alone. Phillipe’s luck runs out. Tom doesn’t just want Phillipe’s money, he wants it all. Tom stabs him in the chest, and throws him to the sea. Tom steps into Phillipe’s emptied life. He forges signatures, passports, and romances Marge. Living with Phillipe’s name and money, Tom gets by swimmingly, until one of Phillipe’s friends, Freddie Miles, realizes the man living at ‘Phillipe’s’ apartment is not Phillipe. Tom bludgeons Freddie with a stone buddha. Even this second murder doesn’t sink Tom. To ensure his good life, Tom steps back into his old identity, but not before sending Phillipe’s ‘suicide note’ and all of Phillipe’s money to Marge, and trying to marry Marge. Tom lays in a deck chair, safe in the knowledge the law has no lead on him. And Tom would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for Phillipe’s corpse getting stuck to the hull of the boat Tom was trying to sell.