WARNING!! SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOK AND MOVIE
Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith (1957)
Deep Water directed by Adrian Lyne
Patricia Highsmith has a number of novels which have been adapted including Stranger’s on a Train (which was her first novel and the movie was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock) The Incredible Mr. Ripley, and Carol.
Vic and Melinda have been married for over ten years and have one daughter, Trixie. A couple years after their daughter’s birth, Melinda told Vic that she was no longer romantically or intimately in love with him. She then started having one affair after the other, usually with men who were passing through town. She flaunted them about and Vic silently pretended he was fine with all of it.
One night, she brings her latest boy toy-Charlie-to a pool party and when Vic and Charlie are alone in the pool, Vic drowns him. Melinda believes Vic did it, but Vic is respected be the community so much, that no one else suspects him (aside from this one guy, Don, who is a newcomer in town).
Melinda publicly accuses Vic, but as with her affairs, he seems to silently put up with it.
Melinda then finds a new man, and once again, Vic is alone with him and kills him.
Melinda again suspects him, but Vic continues to deny it. She starts to act like she’s over it and no longer talks with the Don, the only other person who suspects Vic.
In the end, Don Vic at the scene of the crime and see Vic acting dubious. From here, the ending from book and movie are very different. I will save the details for later.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the suburban couple who have an unhealthy relationship which leads to murder. It is also one of those stories where in some ways, Vic and Melinda were both so messed up that they belonged together.
Patricia Highsmith seems to have put a bit of herself in both the characters. She was an alcoholic who, according to one of her publishers, liked to start drama at dinner parties-similar to Melinda. She also preferred being alone, bred snails, and enjoyed woodworking and other solo hobbies-similar to Vic. She also never had a relationship last longer than a couple years.
I did feel the book could move slow at times (a snail’s pace one could say-pun intended), but I was always curious how things would end up.
I loved the beginning of this book (and movie) seeing Vic starting the rumor that he killed Martin McRae as a way to scare off Melinda’s latest lover. Right there you see the kind of person he is.
While I’m talking about McRae, real quick a change from book to movie is in the movie McRae is missing and Vic says that he had killed McRae with a hammer. We later hear in the news that McRae has been found and he was shot. Hence, we realize he really was lying.
In the book, McRae was found dead in his apartment and Vic claims he killed him. Later we see that the real killer has been found, much to Vic’s disappointment. Before the killer was found, Melinda’s boy toys had stayed away. But after the news, she starts bringing them around again.
After reading the book I had high expectations for the movie. Then I watched the trailer, and it kind of lowered my expectations. Thankfully, the movie was better than my lowered expectations! Ben Affleck as Vic and Ana de Armas as Melinda are great casting choices. They had great chemistry and their back and forth was amazing. I was surprised how much I truly enjoyed the movie and was engaged despite knowing the plot already.
Grace Jenkins as Trixie was perfect. The first scene we see her in, we see the bond she has with Vic, and how she likes to annoy her mom. She was very much like Trixie in the book and Jenkins was just so cute and a great child actress.
The cinematography of this movie is really beautiful, and as I was watching it I was confused why this was a Hulu release and not in theaters. It is really well made and the director has done some big movies such as Jacob’s Ladder, Fatal Attraction and Flashdance. The cinematographer is Eigil Brylid who also did the movie In Bruges which I recently discussed on The Forgotten Cinema Podcast if you are interested in hearing a discussion on that movie.
In book and movie, Vic prides himself in being different. This is shown even more so in the book. In the book there is a part where he has a conversation with Trixie about the importance of not conforming.
We see in the movie how he bothers Melinda with his attitude and that great scene at the dinner table with Joel. She says how she wishes he was normal, and he retorts, if I was normal Joel wouldn’t be here right now. I also loved in the movie when Vic answers the door for Joel and acts as though it will be just the two of them for dinner, which makes Joel very uncomfortable until Vic tells him he’s joking.
In both, he seems to silently put up with Melinda philandering. In the book he doesn’t seem to mind people bringing it up with him, because it makes him appear to be the long-suffering husband. In the movie, we see his friends mentioning Melinda to him and we see them at a lot of parties and social gatherings. There were even more in the book and Vic has even more interactions with his close friend-Horace in the book but in the movie his name is Grant and played by Lil Rey Howery.
In the movie, Vic is rich because he created a computer chip that goes in drones and is used for bombing. He is now retired and has various hobbies. In the book, he inherited his money, but also has a small publishing company. We do see in the movie that he also prints magazines and such. In the book he is a man of many hobbies and interests and is very smart. One line from the book reading, “The rest of what the psychiatrist had told Vic about the “intolerable situation” and of his heading for a divorce— all that only inspired Vic to prove him wrong. He would show the psychiatrist and the world that the situation was not intolerable and that there would be no divorce. Neither was he going to be miserable. The world was too full of interesting things.”
Vic’s main hobby is snail keeping. The snails are a key part of the book, and I was worried the movie wouldn’t include them, so I was happy to see they were part of the story!
Vic loves the snails, and his main two he has named-one the female and one the male. Sex is alluded to in the book, with Melinda’s affairs, but the only sex scene we have is when Vic is watching his snails’ mate. The movie includes from the book, about how a snail will climb a twelve-foot wall to reach its mate. He sees the snails as having a truer romance than he and Melinda have. He could also see it being symbolic of him, and what he is willing to do for Melinda.
Vic and Melinda
In the book, it says multiple time how Vic “loathes” human touch, including Melinda’s. One scene in particular it says how he loathes her touch, but then watches his snails’ mate and it’s this that touches him emotionally-not the touch of his wife. This is not the case in the movie, because we see them have sex and Vic enjoys it. Vic also seems more in love with her in the movie than he had in the book.
The movie has a great section that shows clips of him with his snails cut in with clips of Melinda having sex.
In book and movie Vic says how he has no interest in trying to control Melinda, which is why he doesn’t interfere with her affairs and her public flirting. In the movie, he is jealous and as she says, he kills for her. In the book, his feelings for Melinda are described as “a combination of loathing and devotion.” When his friend says something bad about her, he gets defensive about her. He does care about her, but as said, he has conflicting feelings.
In the movie, Melinda tells him that if he were with someone else, he would be so bored. He seems to like their toxic relationship because it keeps him interested. This is never stated directly like this in the book.
In the book, I don’t know if it was so much jealousy as maybe him feeling like she was making a fool out of him. She also chooses men that were kind of bozos and he tells her he just wishes she would pick someone smarter.
Death of Charlie
In the book and movie, when he drowns Charlie de Lisle, it isn’t something planned and it just comes out. He had said that when he lied about killing Martin McRae, it was like a release in him. Then the real killer is found, and he gets those pent up feelings again. Until killing Charlie, he feels that release once more. In book and movie Vic seems to be a bit of a psychopath and doesn’t show much emotion until he has these sudden bursts. By the way, a lot of the movie is us seeing Ben Affleck glowering. It got to the point where I would chuckle when we saw him with that look, because it is constant throughout.
Anyway, in the movie, we don’t see Vic killing Charlie. For about five minutes of the movie, we are left wondering, but it is soon revealed that he did indeed do it.
There is an inquest, but Melinda is the only one who says Vic did it. Vic has been living in this community for eight years and is trusted and looked up to. In book and movie we have Don and his wife Kelly who are new to the neighborhood and Don suspects Vic. However, no one puts much stock in his opinion since he is new in town. It even gets to the point where Don moves to a different nearby town because he has basically been chased out for having accused Vic of murder.
After Charlie’s death, Melinda brings another man around who says he is a psychotherapist. Vic doesn’t think he is one of her conquests and is suspicious. He has people over for dinner, including his friend Horace, and Horace says something is fishy about this guy because he claimed to work at this health center, yet didn’t know the names of people he would be working with if it were the truth. Vic sees money has been taken out of the account and suspects the man of being a detective that Melinda and Don hired.
He later sees Don walking in the street with this other guy who was a past lover of Melinda’s. Vic is very threatening and tells him he knows the guy is a detective and demands the name of the agency.
At this point, we don’t know for sure if the guy even is a detective. And if he isn’t, Vic is making himself look like a crazy, paranoid person. I thought this would be the case, however Don breaks down and admits the truth and tells Vic the name of the agency. Vic then calls the agency and tells them to take the guy off the case.
This was a great scene in the book, like I said, as the reader I thought it would turn out the guy wasn’t a detective and seeing that he was and Vic was right was a great moment. This book and movie are funny, because you are kind of rooting for Vic, even though he is a mentally unstable killer.
Anyway, in the movie this is different because he walks to Don’s house and interrupts their dinner with his accusations and in the movie, it is never clearly stated that the man was indeed a detective. However, it definitely appears so.
Vic loves Trixie and is very proud of her, as also seen in the movie. I loved any scene that had her because I felt their bond and Affleck and her were cute together.
In the book, she says how kids at school are saying he killed Charlie and are asking her how he did it. So, she asks him how he did it, so she can tell them. Vic tells her that he didn’t do it and if he did, he would go to jail for the rest of his life. She looks at him conspiratorially and says that she thinks he really did do it and he’s just saying that. He can see that she likes the idea of her dad being a killer and is proud of it. She is too young to realize the seriousness of the accusations and wants to believe her dad really is capable of murder. This scene is captured in the movie, and again, it was really well done.
We also see in book and movie how Melinda doesn’t like being a mom. In the book we learn that she was super back and forth about having kids, before deciding to do it. In the movie, when he mentions Trixie to Melinda, Melinda replies, that was your idea.
We also learn in the book how Melinda didn’t want to get married and Vic had to work to tie ger down basically. However, as said, he doesn’t actually want to tie her down and isn’t interested in controlling her.
Melinda and Vic at odds
In the book, Melinda was talking all over town about how Vic killed Charlie and is meeting with Don, forming their “anti-Vic” group, but it isn’t doing much good. It is just one more thing the people in the town think Vic is having to tolerate from Melinda. At one point, when thinking about the detective they hired, Vic is thinking, “if it transpired that Carpenter was a detective, Vic could say that he realized it all along, that it didn’t bother him, and it would be a particularly gallant attitude to display in regard to Melinda, his wife, who had hired the detective against him.” This line is funny, because he thinks by acting it doesn’t bother him it will make him seem gallant. When really, it makes him seem strange because it wouldn’t be normal to not be bothered by that!
The movie really plays up the whole, we’re both so terrible, we belong together kind of thing. Especially with the ending. And with her liking that he has killed for her and he is drawn to her personality. She is a magnetic person in book and movie, and we see this in particular when she is playing the piano drunkenly, and then later while playing the game with the drinks on their backs. I think the movie makes her even more charsimatic than the book had and eve nVic isn’t immune to her charm.
The book kind of does this. At one point he offers to divorce her, but she says she isn’t through with him yet. But the movie plays it up even more.
In the movie, after the initial inquest, it seems Melinda has stopped trying to get Vic in jail and seems to quickly move on to Tony Cameron.
In the movie, Tony is someone Melinda had known long ago and had dated. In the book, he is brand new in town and they hadn’t met before.
We see he is a contractor and, in the book, when he is done here, is going to do a project in Mexico. He and Melinda have known each other a few months when they go to a party together (Vic backs out at the last minute) and Horace later tells Vic that Melinda was drunkenly telling people that Tony had two tickets to Mexico and she was going to go with him.
They have Vic over for dinner, as seen in the movie, and both have the scene where Tony wants to eat the snails and Melinda encourages it. Even though she knows, as is quoted in the book, that eating them would be like eating his family. Nonetheless, Vic shuts it down by telling them snails have to be starved for three days before eating them.
In book and movie, Vic gets Tony in his car when he sees him in town, takes him to a gorge in the movie, a quarry in the book, and hits him with a rock and pushes him over and then ties boulders to his body so he will sink in the water.
In the book, Vic tries to get Melinda to believe he just skipped town without her. Police get involved, and Vic also tries to get them to believe that. Again, Melinda is telling people Vid did it and that Tony didn’t disappear, that he is dead.
In the book, Melinda starts to be nice to Vic and doesn’t accuse him and even apologized to their friends about what she had said about Vic. Vic is glad, but is also wary about why she is acting like this.
She even calmly asks him to tell her he did it, and that it’s okay, she already thinks he did it anyway so what’s the harm in her knowing. However, he still won’t confess.
They then go on a picnic at the quarry and have a nice time. While there, Vic thinks he can see Tony’s body and so when Melinda later says she forgot her scarf, he quickly offers to go get it tomorrow.
She is later on the phone, and then tells him she has a lunch date and doesn’t need him to get the scarf after all.
He of course still goes, and he sees that it wasn’t Tony’s body after all and was just some rocks. However, he does notice some blood stains on the granite and tried to scuff it with his shoe.
While doing this, Don walks up. He is Melinda’s lunch date and she had asked him to get her scarf. He sees Vic acting odd, but Vic quickly leaves and drives off.
He returns home and see Melinda on the phone. His temper flairs for the first time with her and he pulls the phone out of the wall and then chokes her to death. Don ends up walking up and see and has police with him. Vic is taken into custody, however as he walks to the police car he feels buoyant and free.
“But Melinda is dead and so am I, he thought. Then he knew why he felt empty: because he had left his life in the house behind him, his guilt and his shame, his achievements and failures, the failure of his experiment, and his final, brutal gesture of petulant revenge…He looked at Wilson, walking beside him, still intoning his tedious information, and, feeling very calm and happy, Vic kept looking at Wilson’s wagging jaw and thinking of the multitude of people like him on the earth, perhaps half the people on earth were of his type, or potentially his type, and thinking that it was not bad at all to be leaving them. The ugly birds without wings. The mediocre who perpetuated mediocrity, who really fought and died for it.”
The movie ending is very different. Melinda starts to be nice, but here it seems to be genuine. They go on the picnic at the gorge and he gives her a photo book thing with pictures of her. Before leaving, he sees what he believes to be Tony’s body. She tells him she left her scarf and he says he will get it tomorrow.
He goes back in the morning, and it is indeed Tony’s body floating to the surface. He has a huge stick and is trying to move the body when Don comes up and we see Don was getting her scarf.
(Real quick, in the movie we don’t hear about her asking Don to get the scarf or anything so it seems odd she asked him to get it for her.)
He is talking to Vic and then part of Tony’s body floats up. Don runs to his car, saying he knew it and speeds off. Vic had biked, and he tries to cut Don off by biking through the woods.
He does end up catching up with Don and causes Don to drive off a cliff and die.
Meanwhile, Melinda is looking for Vic and finds Tony’s wallet in with the snails, she then burns it. When Vic returns home, she tells him, “I found Tony” and walks off. And the movie ends.
This book was written in the ‘50s and I’ve read that Highsmith wasn’t as appreciated in her time. This is a story though that really plays to our modern sensibilities. I would say Lyne modernized the end by not having the obvious happening-Vic killing Melinda. I suspected that’s what would happen in the book, but as I was reading, I was second guessing myself. But then that is how things go.
The movie deciding to have Melinda find out the truth for sure and be fine with it seems to be a modern take on the story and a modern take on these toxic relationships.
Random changes from book to movie
In the movie, we see Vic finding out from his bank that Melinda has been paying Charlie for piano lessons and so he goes to see where Charlie is playing.
In the book, the money he sees taken out of his account was for the detective, not Charlie. She also brings Charlie around quickly and Vic is aware of him through her, she wasn’t trying to hide him.
In the book, Vic is publishing a book of poems and has the guy to stay for a few days as they discuss how the book is to be published. This guy has an interest in Melinda and sees her as fair game, since he sees how Tony is with her. He is also there when they want to eat the snails. He later apologizes to Vic privately, saying he didn’t realize and that Melinda had been encouraging the snail eating suggestion. He never sleeps with Melinda though.
After killing Tony, he then goes to a glee performance of Trixie’s and runs into a couple on his way in and they tell him their daughter is sick and he recommends a medicine that is sure to cure her. Showing again, how knowledgeable he is and respected, but also how one minute he is killing a man, the next minute helping people with their sick child.
Book or Movie
I was impressed with this adaptation and it does stay close to the novel up until the end. I loved de Armas, Affleck and Jenkins as Trixie. I also liked Tracy Letts as Don.
I can’t decide what I think of the movie ending though. I like it well enough, but it seems like a rip off of a movie I won’t name because I don’t want to spoil this other movie for you. But it is a movie that came out like ten years ago and people were shocked at the ending. We get a similar ending here and after the hype of this other movie. Here, it doesn’t seem as original.
I don’t know what I think of the book ending either though because it was an ending I had expected. I gave the book four stars, but I think overall I would give the movie three stars. I guess that answers the question right there and I can say the book wins. This was a solid adaptation though.