Edgar Allen Poe is an iconic figure, and he helped create the modern murder mystery. Writer and director Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye may be a fictional story, but it’s a fascinating mystery with Poe, and one keen detective, at its heart.
Based on the novel by Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye stars Christian Bale as detective Augustus Landor, alongside Harry Melling as the one and only Edgar Allan Poe. Set at West Point in 1830, Landor is invited to the military academy to solve the murder of a cadet, and Poe ends up being his right-hand-man to solve the case.
The heart of the story is how these two men come together, struggle with their demons, and try to discover the truth through secrets and lies.
Preparing for the role of Poe, Melling spent a lot of time reading, and he did a lot of research into the man himself.
“[T]he first thing I did was just to read everything I could; both his writings and also what people wrote about him,” Melling said. “I found actually they were very contradictory in terms of the things that were written about him. You know, people said one thing, another person said another thing. And actually, that was quite an interesting insight into how people perceive him.”
“[He was a] very mysterious figure. So that was the first thing I needed to know. Then I went back to the script and I started to think, okay, what is useful here? What isn’t useful? And the thing I found most useful was this idea [that] he lost his parents when he was very young. He was adopted by John Allen and they moved to England for a bit.”
“They then moved back to the U.S,, and so his life was very nomadic and he must have not had a real sense of what home is or what belonging is. And I think in Landor, that’s what he really, really found, so that was kind of my my hook into certainly this relationship, but also my initial thinking for how to reinvent Edgar Allan Poe.”
For Bale, the role and the character’s relationship with Poe, gave him a lot to work with.
“There was so much to play with, within the dynamics of their relationship,” Bale said.
“The fact that Landau is a detective, he analyzes everybody. He tries to pretend that he’s not as intelligent as he is, through his bearing, through the way he talks, and he finds it advantageous throughout his life to behave that way; pose the opposite. He likes everyone to think he’s the smartest guy in the room, and he is as well. That’s not a lie.”
“But there’s a great shift that occurs… it’s a student master thing. But Landau, the master in your description, ends up probably, learning significantly more from Poe–very surprisingly–than Poe does from Landau.”
“Although it’s a very nice image to imagine; Landau this hard drinking, grumpy, morose detective being an enormous influence upon the Edgar Allan Poe that we all came to know later in his life.”
The film has been in the works, in a way, for nearly a decade, but that was a choice that Cooper made about the character and working with Bale again.
“You know, we’ve worked together for more than ten years over three films,” Bale said. “He sent me the scripts almost ten years ago. We chose to make other things first [and] I think Scott also had a notion that he wanted me to age into Landau somewhat more. So this is actually something that we discussed multiple, multiple times over the years.”
“So by the time we came to the actual film set, we didn’t have a whole lot more to discuss [about the character] except for the nice accidents and opportunities that you find in each and every scene.”
One thing is clear in the story too, “Nobody is as they seem in this film,” Bale added, “we’re all harbouring some kind of secret.”
The Pale Blue Eye is streaming now on Netflix. Watch the full interview above, and watch my interviews with Lucy Boynton and Harry Lawtey, and director Scott Cooper.
All images courtesy of Netflix.
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