The Talented Mr. Ripley (TBI’s Luke Preece) (Part 1 of 3)

Most film buffs will have heard of the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring Matt Damon, Gwenneth Paltrow, Jude Law and other young stars on the rise. The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards (but didn’t win any). Still, the overall critical reception was very positive. 

Tom Ripley is a poor young man struggling to make a living in 1950s New York City using his “talents” — forgery, lying and impersonation. He meets the father of a rich American youth, Dickie Greenleaf, who has gone missing in Italy. Dickie’s father, Herbert Greenleaf, employs Tom Ripley (the “talented” Mr Ripley) to go to Italy and try and find his prodigal son. Instead, Ripley eventually befriends Dickie and becomes infatuated with the opulent lifestyle which Dickie shows him. He eventually decides to murder Dickie and steal his identity as a way of maintaining himself in the luxury to which he has become accustomed.

There are many parallels with Luke Preece, a surfer dropout who ended up as an ESL teacher in Indonesia around the year 2000, earning a meagre Rp 3.000.000 a month in his early days working for TBI. At first he probably didn’t bother to put on airs, but eventually he came to like the freedom of Indonesia and wanted to stay there. Without any qualifications or formal education, he probably felt jealous of the other teachers and wanted more power and prestige. He smiled and pretended to be one of the boys, but Luke Preece, the Tom Ripley of Bandung, was a cold-blooded sociopath who thought he was better than the rest of humanity and nursed ambitions to “rise above the herd” and assume power.

He made his first move in 2002. When news came that the old TBI branch Di Pati Ukur was in danger of closing down, he went to Ibu Nining (the head of USG) and suggested that she fire all 5 other teachers instead and allow him to teach all the classes and manage it himself. He passed it off as the last hope for TBI Di Pati Ukur and boasted that he had “saved the school”. This was one way to look at it. Another way was that he had ruthlessly got rid of 5 other colleagues by advancing his own cause with complete selfishness. 

After that point he was a manager without a degree. He did at least manage to turn a profit at this school, but dozens of other managers have managed this. What really set Bandung’s Tom Ripley apart was his freedom to act without conscience. An expert con-man, Luke would pass himself of as “one of the boys” with straight men, inviting them over to watch the footy. With gay colleagues passed himself off as a sensitive soul who felt misunderstood in Australia and who “understood it felt like to be an outsider.” To women like Lilies, he said he understood her too, and she readily believed that the two of them were deeply intimate on multiple levels and that she was closer to him than his own wife, Ika Preece. The truth was that all of these identities were masks: none of these people knew the real Luke Preece. Luke Preece, like Tom Ripley, was just a chameleon who studied people and put on different masks to win people’s trust. He knew that his real self- a sociopath who won people’s trust, used them and then abandoned them when they had outserved their usefulness- was too loathsome for most people to accept.

The longer he stayed in Indonesia, the more he learned to value the opportunities for corruption it afforded. He was known to help Reza Suriansha (the current director) “deliver” student payments to Jakarta in a suitcase, and when he took over TBI Dago 2 billion rupiah was embezzled by the Finance Director, who started buying houses around Bandung, and yet Preece claimed to know and suspect nothing. But as he lapsed ever deeper into criminal conspiracy with TBI’s crooked elite, he kept up his “Aussie bloke” routine in the schools. He also played sick game with his subordinates, getting enough people fired for Indonesians to start to fear him. His whole life was an evolving series of lies. The fact that expat teachers came and left every 12 months made it especially easy for him to take advantage of them. Every so often he could reinvent his identity, and make up a whole new series of lies to the next set of teacher recruits. By 2009 he was already well-versed in the arts of deception and he was ready to make his big move against rival Chris Needam and attain real power inside TBI.

(To be continued…)

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