The Pale Blue Eye – Comparing the Novel and Netflix Movie

Edgard Allan Poe is known in the literary world as the imagination behind some of the creepiest stories in history. From “The Pit and the Pendulum” to “The Raven,” Poe’s legacy as one of America’s great poets and authors of horror fiction is firmly established. But Poe enters the spotlight Scott CooperNetflix adaptation of The pale blue eyea historical novel by Louis Bayardo.

Set in the 1830s, during Poe’s brief time as a cadet at West Point, Bayard’s novel follows retired detective Gus Landor (Cristiano Bale) as he struggles to find a killer roaming the snowy grounds of the academy. He enlists a young cadet named Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling) to be his eyes and ears among the soldiers. As the mystery unravels and Poe and Landor get closer to their prime suspects, the Marquis family, we discover that no one is quite who they appear to be.

Cooper perfectly captures the cold terrain of the Hudson Highlands and fills the twisted story with a gothic feel fit for the poet walking through the pages. Unfortunately, due to a limited runtime and a few punches thrown, Cooper’s adaptation fails to fully consume the heart of Bayard’s Dark Tail.

Melling is the film’s highlight as young Poe, with his charming Southern drawl and dizzying love of books. The British actor does a tremendous job bringing Bayard’s expansive text to life, but the film’s two-hour runtime can’t hope to contain all the joyous interactions with Poe that Bayard stuffs into his story. The novel’s shifting first-person narrative provides us with accounts from both Landor’s and Poe’s perspectives, providing insight into the young man’s impressive psyche.

Having fallen in love with the young girl Lea Marquis (Lucia Boyton), Poe is constantly enthusiastic about his beloved and plans to flee with her to a foreign land. In addition to a dreamy moonlit rendezvous between the two lovers in a decorated sleigh, Bayard’s novel gives us a delightful scene in which Poe sneaks out of the academy barracks to accompany Lea to a nearby dinner party. Wearing his uncle’s old uniform and fake mustache, Poe indulges his dramatic tendencies with a French accent and tales of battlefield bravado, even daring to ask guests if they’ve heard of a young poet named Poe. When his mustache begins to slip, he refuses to leave Lea’s side and vows to continue with the ruse even if it means a sure discovery.

Poe’s Lady Love (a nod to Poe’s famous muse Lenore) is another character described more fully in Bayard’s novel. Plagued by a disease that would now be called epilepsy, Lea lives with the ever-present possibility of her own imminent death. She is drawn to Poe’s macabre charm and the two form a close bond in both versions of the story. Because of the limited interactions in the film, it’s possible to believe that Lea is simply feigning affection for Poe in preparation for a gruesome sacrifice, but their long courtship in Bayard’s novel alludes to a deeper connection.

Like the mirror of Landor’s deceased daughter Mattie (Hadley Robinson), Bayard also develops the relationship between the old detective and Lea, transmitting a paternal affection for the young woman even though he suspects that she may be responsible for the theft of the missing heart. Bayard’s novel includes an extended sequence in which Lea begs Landor to stop investigating her brother Artemus (Harry Lawtey) before tumbling off a cliff in the midst of an attack. Landor falls with her and narrowly saves the young woman from falling to her death. Lea’s insistence that she shouldn’t have saved her reveals the depth of despair and the gravity of her plight, adding empathy to her actions more sinister than hers.

Both versions of the story show Landor discovering Leah as the culprit as she prepares to sacrifice Poe. Following the advice of her ancestor, a witch hunter named Henri le Clerc, Lea is attempting to heal herself through diabolical rituals and has stolen the heart of a hanged man according to le Clerc’s ancient writings. While Cooper implies that she is preparing to cut out Poe’s heart as well, Bayard’s Lea is seeking virgin blood and has targeted Poe because of her romantic naïveté. While Cooper’s Lea doesn’t survive the final sacrifice, Bayard gives her a much more gruesome end. The film shows Lea holding her stolen heart as the burning ceiling of the academy’s icebox collapses on top of her head. Rushing to her side, Artemus is also crushed as the fiery beams land in a heap on top of the devoted brothers. Having been discovered midway through the ritual by Landor, Lea of ​​Bayard attempts to eat Fry’s heart. Rotting muscle lodges in her throat and Artemus is forced to perform a tracheotomy on the battlefield to save her life. Not being a skilled surgeon like his father, Artemus cuts in the wrong place and Lea bleeds to death as he, Landor and Poe watch in horror. The ceiling of the icebox does indeed fall on Artemus as he cradles her body, but only after this horrific scene of a brother’s desperate attempts to save her sister.

Netflix Movie Pale Blue Eye

The novel begins and ends with the narrative of Gus Landor as he contemplates the end of his life and this looping scene foreshadows the tortuous path of the story itself. The final scenes reveal that Lea and Artemus didn’t actually kill anyone. They simply came across a dead man and took the opportunity to use his body in their rituals. Landor was the killer all along, killing the two cadets as revenge for assaulting Mattie. In both versions of the story, the narrative picks up on the morning after the first murder. When Landor is summoned to West Point, he believes he’s been arrested for the crime. While Bayard doesn’t say it outright, you can see Landor’s discomfort with the first-person narrative structure. Internal dialogue while unknowingly interviewing for the position and his instinct to say “Gentlemen, I’m your man” when he supposedly agrees to investigate the crime suggests his guilt. In the absence of a narrator, Cooper is forced to rely on his actor’s performance and while Bale is a master at finding the nuances of a character, it’s not as apparent to the viewer that he may have a darker connection to crime.

This intimate perspective also gives us a window into Landor’s motivation. While Cooper’s Landor avoids mentioning his daughter, Bayard’s version of the character spends a lot of time describing his love Mattie to Poe. Cooper does an admirable job of portraying Landor’s longing for his lost daughter, but his recollections of her are limited to glimpses of the young woman whirling around in a beautiful ball gown as well as Landor treasure a ribbon from her hair and attempt to to comfort her in her last days. Bayard describes earlier memories such as their walks by the river, his tendency to cry while reading poetry, and the first time he held the screaming baby in his hands. We feel Landor’s love for his daughter, making her devastation at her death and her dedication to vengeance all the more painful.

While Landor and Mattie’s relationship is heartbreaking, it’s his friendship with Poe that provides the story’s emotional core. Cooper’s characters get along well, but the novel recounts multiple evenings spent as the two men drink, laugh, and discuss thoughts about the larger world. By the time Landor realizes that both have ceased formalities to address each other as “Mr.” it seems to cross a threshold into a warm friendship. Particularly poignant is Landor’s knowledge that he once saw a performance by Poe’s mother, the famous actress Eliza Poe. The young man’s desire to hear every detail about the woman who died as a child shows both Landor’s affection for the young man and Poe’s longing for parental love.

The two are also visited by another family member, Mr. John Allen, Poe’s adoptive father. He is an unpleasant man and cruel to Poe, a true detail of the poet’s life. Landor meets him after the two friends have fallen out over the discovery that Poe has been lying about his past. We feel sorry for Poe as Landor lashes out at him, detailing a tragic life, and we understand why a sensitive young man would want to invent a more exciting past. Shortly after this discussion, Landor virulently confronts Mr. Allen, finally providing a caring father figure that we wish the author could have in reality.

Pale Blue Eye Review

Cooper’s Poe realizes that Landor is the killer due to similarities in the old detective’s handwriting to that of an incriminating note, but Bayard’s Poe has a much more complex awakening. Making amusing use of Poe’s literary catalogue, Bayard references “The Tell-Tale Heart,” reminding his fictional poet of the absence of a second heart in Lea’s possession. This sheds new light on his intentions and it is his pale blue eye that then falls on Landor. In a poem purportedly dictated to him by his mother, Poe notes that the letters that begin each line spell the words “Mathilde is dead.” This lead leads him to investigate the poor girl’s disappearance and he discovers that she didn’t run away as Landor claims, but that she threw herself off a cliff in the aftermath of a vicious assault.

While both versions of Poe confront Landor about his deception, Bayard’s characters have a far more heartbreaking exchange. Cooper ends their partnership with Poe burning the incriminating note to protect his friend. Bayard’s Landor instead hands Poe a gun and asks him to end his life. Fearing a lingering death on the gallows, Landor turns to his friend for help, but Poe refuses to kill the detective he has come to see as a father. Landor notes that if Mattie had found it, they could have been a family and this, while poignant in the film, hits much harder given the complexity of the novel’s central relationship. Bayard’s story concludes with Landor following Mattie’s path to the cliffs, implying that he leaps into the frigid waters to meet her, while Cooper’s Landor simply releases her tape in a passing breeze. It’s a bittersweet ending to what was an extremely dark coda.

Scott Cooper’s version of The pale blue eye he touches this darkness, but is unable to fully delve into the depths of tragedy within the pages of Louis Bayard.

The pale blue eye it is now streaming on Netflix.

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