The famous author of psycho-thrillers Patricia Highsmith led a controversial life which, especially nowadays, can be reduced to a slew of sensationalist anecdotes: she was homosexual! A racist! A professional social democrat who supported Palestine! It’s surprising that Highsmith’s anti-Semitic views alone haven’t prompted the undo police to erase him from history — they’re probably too busy focusing on cisgender white male public figures right now. Ahead of the inevitable cancellation, writer-director Eva Vitija’s entertaining documentary Loving Highsmith provides an opportunity to delve deeper into the influential writer’s love life.
Vitija barely mentions Highsmith’s prejudices, hinting that they may have been fostered by a lifetime of repression. Her lyrical film, loosely adapted from the author’s poetic diaries, reveres the author for her stoicism and determination to stay true to herself, as well as her undeniable contributions to contemporary literature and cinema. Most human beings are multifaceted products of their times; it’s refreshing to see a film celebrate the contributions of a great artist rather than aiming to tarnish his legacy. That being said, a lot of things feel unsaid.
The woman behind masterpieces adapted like Strangers on a train, The Talented Mr. Ripleyand Carol — in fact, “almost all of his books have been made into movies” — has spent most of his life in the spotlight. Raised in rodeos, constantly seeking “her mother’s unreachable love,” she equated kissing boys with “falling into an oyster bucket” from a young age. In it, two versions of Highsmith were born: the classy public persona and the one with the “staggering amount of [female] conquests”.
“… worships Highsmith for her stoicism and determination stay true to yourself…”
Loving Highsmith dive into his fascinating life. highsmith wrote Carol (originally titled The price of salt), the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, under a pseudonym. She chaired the jury of the Berlin Film Festival. She wrote until the very end, planning her next book about Ripley as she was riddled with leukemia. Blending archival footage with excerpts from these adaptations, Vitija seamlessly blends historical facts with nostalgic embellishments. When Highsmith escapes to Europe, for example, the filmmaker shows Matt Damon’s Ripley fleeing to Italy, the latter a manifestation of the former’s inhibitions and desires.
Gwendoline Christie voices Highsmith, at the height of her intonations and elegance, whether she speaks of how “the taste of death is sometimes on my mouth on these lonely evenings” or “the deep indignity of being interviewed”. Highsmith’s lovers Marijane Meaker, Tabea Blumenschein and Monique Buffet provide some of the highlights with their vivid, nostalgic and vivid memories. “New York was full of gay bars,” recalls Meaker, “it was the 1950s! She refers to Highsmith’s mother as a “bitch”. Blumenschein speaks fondly of the time she and Pat went to a transgender bar.
“He’ll always pull through,” Highsmith said of his conniving alter ego Ripley in another riveting interview. More than likely, she got away with some things that this cult film strategically avoids mentioning. Vitija’s excuse for not delving into the more radical aspects of her subject’s life might well be: “It’s in the title.” Loving Highsmith is to love Highsmith and all that that entails. As such, it does the job perfectly.