The Pale Blue Eye directed by Scott Cooper (2022)
This book is about a retired detective who is hired to solve a murder that takes place at a military academy and is assisted in his search by a young Edgar Allan Poe who is attending the school.
I don’t know a ton about Poe, but I knew enough to catch at least some of the ways this book pays homage to some of Poe’s own stories. I think someone who is more into Poe would appreciate it even more!
have you read much poe and if so, im guessing that helped your enjoyment of book and movie
I really liked the book though. I loved the way it was written, and for the most part it is from the detective’s point of view, but every now and then we get something from Poe’s perspective and Bayard did an excellent job at giving the two characters such distinct voices in their writing.
The mystery is of course a huge part of this book, but honestly the even bigger focus I would say is on the friendship that forms between Poe and Landor. The book is fairly long, so if you are just in it for the mystery, I could see you getting bored, but if you are as invested as I was in their growing bond, then it doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome.
Having said that, there were a couple scenes that the movie left out, and as I thought back to the book, I did think they were a bit unnecessary and could have even been left out of the book.
All in all, though, I would highly recommend this one! I also loved the ending!
First off, we have the actor who played Dudley in the Harry Potter movies in the role of Poe! He is fantastic, as is of course, Christian Bale as Landor. The cinematography is amazing and the movie is just very atmospheric. Has a similar vibe as Sleepy Hollow in some ways, and both take place in upstate New York as cold weather is setting in.
The movie is very faithful to the book even with leaving some scenes out. I will say, the bond between Landor and Poe was felt more in the book in my opinion then the movie.
This movie doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I enjoyed it and think it is worth watching!
From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie!
i read the book first, but since you watched the moive first i am curios to hear what your experience was like doing it in reverse
Leroy Fry’s death
Both begin with Landor being summoned to West Point for reasons undisclosed. Once he gets there, the two men in charge ask for his help in solving a crime. A cadet named Leroy Fry committed suicide the night before by hanging himself, but after the discovery of his body, someone took it and the body was later found with the heart missing. (In the book the took the body and it was found by the icehouse. In the movie, the heart was taken while the body was still in the hospital).
Poe sees Landor and tells him the man he is looking for is a poet, and after discussing this, they also conclude it could be some sort of religious zealot as well.
In the book, Landor goes to the men in charge and tells them he wants Poe’s help, and even though they are skeptical, they agree. In the movie he never asks their permission for the help of Poe.
The first things he tasks Poe with, is figuring out what a ripped note found in Leroy’s hand could have said. By this point, Landor has concluded that Fry didn’t kill himself but was in fact murdered. They conclude the note was someone luring Fry out that night, so they could kill him.
The Marquis Family
Poe goes to a prayer group at West Point, and going with the assumption that this was some sort of occult that took Fry’s heart, he tells a story that gets one of them to tell him that Artemis Marquis is known to be involved in occult things. By the way, in the movie they find a signs of a ritual in the icehouse, the reason Landor thought to look in the icehouse is because to keep the heart in good condition, whoever took it would have to surround it with ice. In the book he looks outside the icehouse for signs of a ritual, since that’s where the body was found.
Poe is able to become friends with Artemis Marquis, whose father is the school doctor. A guy named Ballinger is also a close friend of Artemis’s and they are both invited later to the Marquis home where Poe meets Artemis’s sister Lea.
Poe asks Lea out and begins to fall in love with her. He learns that she suffers from an illness which causes her to have seizures.
Through a series of events, Landor suspects Artemis, and perhaps the others in the Marquis family, were involved with the death of Fry.
Ballinger and Stoddard
Soon after the death of Fry, a sheep and cow are found dead, with their hearts removed. Then, a number of days later, Ballinger is found also dead, heart removed, plus castrated.
Shortly after Ballinger’s death, a man named Stoddard goes missing. He isn’t killed but was seen running away from the academy and it is assumed he was somehow involved and is in fear of being the next victim.
Henri le Clerc
Landor and Poe had been to see a friend of Landor’s who is knowledgeable on the occult and such, and he tells them of Henri le Clerc who killed over 600 witches, until he himself went to the “dark side” and then was burned. Landor realizes that he saw le Cerc’s portrait in the Marquis home.
He goes to the Marquis home and the father confesses that Lea claimed to be visited by le Clerc and through this possession of sorts, le Clerc told her how to cure her illness which involved human hearts. Lea and Artemis claimed that they didn’t kill anyone and would only have taken a heart of someone who was already dead.
The climactic moment in book and movie is when Landor realizes they are doing their final ritual and that it involves Poe. He rushes to the icehouse and long story short-he saves Poe but Lea and Artemis die in the process. In the book, Lea dies because in the drama, she ate Fry’s heart and ends up choking on it. Artemis tries to save her but to no avail and stabs himself. In the movie, there is a fire and a beam hits Lea and while Artemis is holding her, more of the building falls on them as well.
The second ending
It seems like all is solved, but after Poe recovers, he meets Landor at his cottage and tells him he knows about Landor’s daughter.
Landor claimed that his daughter Mattie ran away with a man but turns out she had died. She had been to a ball and returned home late and had been attacked and raped by three cadets from West Point. She had the chain of one of the men, with the initials L.F. (there was also a middle initial in the book, but I don’t remember what it was).
Mattie doesn’t recover emotionally from this and ends up jumping off a cliff in front of Landor.
Landor finds out that the man whose chain she had was Fry’s, and he writes the note that lures Fry from the barracks and kills him. Artemis finds out about the death of Fry, and he uses that opportunity to take the heart.
Landor plans to kill the other two involved-Ballinger and Stoddard, but now realizes he will need to cut their hearts as well to make it seems like Satanists did it. That is why he kills the sheep and cow, to practice cutting hearts.
He learns who the other two were by reading Fry’s cryptic journal. He kills Ballinger, but Stoddard runs off after seeing the way Landor stares at him one day. (This detail isn’t in the movie, just that Stoddard ran off).
Landor tells Poe he doesn’t have the strength to go after Stoddard. Rather than turn in Landor, Poe says he won’t say anything.
Later, Poe leaves West Point and one day an article is sent to Landor saying Stoddard had hung himself. Landor doesn’t know if this is true, or if Poe killed him. This detail isn’t in the movie.
Knowing the reveal
It was interesting to watch the movie already knowing the twist with Landor, and I’m sure when you read the book knowing the end, you catch different clues. For example, his wariness at being called to the academy the morning after he kills Fry.
We also have the poem Poe writes, thinking it was told to him by the ghost of his mother. It has a clue in the poem about Mattie, which Landor catches early on and tries to get Poe to change the words so Poe won’t realize it. We find out in the end that the poem was told by the dead Mattie, not Poe dead mother.
Speaking of Poe’s mother, the movie leaves out a part where he tells Landor his mother’s name and that she was an actress. Landor realizes he saw her perform and tells Poe about it which is a special moment between the two of them.
The movie also leaves out a scene where they find the cow heart in Artemis’s room, a sword fight type scene that happens in the closet of Artemis when Landor finds the officers uniform, another dinner party scene at the governors house where Poe shows up in disguise as someone else, as well as a scene in the pub where they think an officer is coming so the get Poe out so he won’t get in trouble. After this, Landor has a scuffle with someone in a priest’s uniform, and Poe is later approaches by Artemis who asks if Poe is a virgin and seems to make a pass at Poe. Some of these scenes, seemed to serve just to make us suspect Poe as being involved. I never really thought Bayard would have Poe being the killer though, so these red herring scenes just seemed like a waste in retrospect.
In the book we also have a time when Landor is said to no longer use Poe, and Landor tries to turn Poe against him and says some mean things. We later learn he did this so Poe wouldn’t be so partial to him and could realize Landor’s involvement in the killings.
At the end of the book, Landor asks Poe to shoot him because being hung is a long painful death. However, Poe won’t do it and leaves.
Landor starts to see the ghosts of various people he had known in life-mainly those he captured and sent to death.
Also, after Lea and Artemis die, Lea seems to stand up amongst the rubble before Landor gets out. I guess this was the spirit of le Clerc or something, but this wasn’t in the movie.
There is also a part where Mrs. Marquis tells Landor, in front of everyone, that he would be a good match for Lea. This makes Landor uncomfortable of course, because Poe is right there and Poe is very much in love with Lea in the book.
Book vs Movie
This is a close call; I love the writing of the book. I forgot to mention, Landor comes across as an unreliable narrator in some way, but he’s honest about it. Like he will say someone said something, then go back and be like, actually he didn’t say that, and then say what really happened. In the end though, we realize he was unreliable all along because he was keeping the truth from the reader. I also like seeing how close he and Poe become, the movie leaves out that Poe would go to Landor’s room for a time and they would sit up for all hours of the night talking about whatever came to mind. In the end, when he tells him he wished Poe had met Mattie that night and how they would have bonded over their love of poetry and then Poe could have been family-this is such an emotional part in the book! It is in the movie as well, and I will say, even though we don’t see their bond quite as well, it is still a powerful moment in the movie. Like I said, the acting is also wonderful by the two leads, and I loved the movie vibe. The book definitely has that eerie, gothic, winter vibe too though and Bayard was able to capture the writing styles of the 1830’s which I think is harder to do then it may seem.
In the end, even though I think the book is longer than necessary, I will still say the book wins.