The Raven ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Raven ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The new movie, The Raven, is a fictional and highly speculative account of the mysterious final days of Edgar Allan Poe. Nobody has ever been able to figure out exactly why Poe died at the relatively young age of forty in Baltimore in 1849, so it’s a subject that lends itself to invention and speculation. He was found on a park bench, critically ill, and died a few days later in a Baltimore hospital.

John Cusack plays Poe. He was, to paraphrase an editor of a newspaper that published some of his work, a man to whom God gave a great gift, with more than his share of misery thrown in. His genius as a poet and inventive creator of murder stories is entirely at odds with his private life. He was plagued his whole life by what was in the nineteenth century called melancholy. (The truth is he probably suffered from some kind of undiagnosed mental illness.) He was also an unregenerate drunk who never seemed to have any money—he lowered himself to cadging drinks from the local saloon whenever he was short of funds.

In the movie, Poe is in love with a young woman named Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), whose father (Brendan Gleeson) violently disapproves of Poe. Emily might be the only thing that can save Poe from his demons. He has already lost one young wife and longs to marry Emily, but her father would gladly kill Poe if given the chance.

A “serial killer” (a phrase that wasn’t a part of common English usage in 1849) is at work in the city of Baltimore. The killer, whoever he is, is using methods of killing described by Poe in his stories. A twelve-year-old girl and her mother are mutilated for no apparent reason. A literary critic who unkindly criticized Poe’s work in the past is sliced in half by a pendulum, as in the story The Pit and the Pendulum. A murder victim’s tongue is sliced out and replaced with a pocket watch. The police suspect at first that Poe is behind the murders, but he is soon found to have had nothing to do with them. He can, however, assist police in finding the murderer. He is especially motivated to help the police when the murderer kidnaps Emily and keeps sending Poe cryptic messages about the horrible things he might be doing to her.

The story is neatly wrapped up at the end, with a conclusion that seems as logical as any conclusion might have been. It’s not a happy ending, but we find out who the murderer is, and, in a neat twist at the end, the police detective (Luke Evans) who befriended Poe in the course of the investigation exacts a satisfying revenge.

The Raven is a mainstream movie and is not a serious examination of the life and work of Poe. It is lightweight entertainment and would not be nearly as interesting if not for Poe. If you like a fast-paced cinematic mystery with lots of period touches and atmosphere (not to mention an interesting music score), however, it’s probably going to be well worth your time and effort to see it. You could do a lot worse.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp

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