3 Stars – Troubling
As a black raven sits on the branch above a troubled Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack), we enter the world of a grieving literary genius. Helping us understand what haunts both him and us, we recognize that his morbid tales are part fiction and part reality. It is this fine line between the two that is the focus of James McTeigue’s film of “The Raven.”
Stating in the opening frame that Poe was found dying on a park bench, the last days of his life a mystery, we enter into the possible madness that brought him to that moment. Like the engulfing sorrows of the man in Poe’s poem who, “once upon a midnight dreary, while [he] wondered weak and weary,” was visited by a Raven rapping on his chamber door who witnessed his descent into insanity, McTeigue’s film is just such a witness.
Recognizing that all of us have an uneasy truce with art that delves so deeply into the darkness of being human, the core of our fears becomes reality when an insane fan of Poe’s actually enacts his gruesome fictional tales. With murders so horrific that we hardly dare watch them on screen, it is clear that the murderer is requiring Poe to face his dark gift and its horrifying impact.
Having suffered the loss of the women in his life, the murderer rightly identifies Poe’s genius as coming from his grief and so he plots to kidnap and creatively kill his newest love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve). Having fallen in love, Poe’s angst is virtually gone and he can no longer write. Recognizing this, the murderer manipulates Poe and forces him to write.
This dramatic mystery is enhanced by the inclusion of the renowned Detective Fields (Luke Evans), as well as the arrogant father of Emily, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleason). The complexity of their characters matches that of Poe, and the use of darkness as a cinematic tool is excellent. For Poe fans, the allusions to his writings are intriguing and the motivation of the murderer is chilling.
“The Raven” is a study of grief, depression and insanity at a level that will haunt the viewer. We do not recommend it for children or the sensitive viewer. This film holds the most interest for those studying the fine line between art and reality, for it clearly demonstrates this as an interactive relationship.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When Poe falls in love, he no longer has the dark thoughts that were the impetus of his writings. What do you believe would have changed about his writing had he lived?
2. It is the nature of insanity to connect with reality in such a way that it makes sense within the world of the psychotic person. Thinking himself the muse of Poe, the murderer saw his actions as justified. Have you ever thought in such a way as to make evil seem justified? How did you escape such destructive thoughts?
3. In Poe’s real life, his death was one of confusion and unanswered questions. He was delirious, repeatedly saying the name of “Reynolds” and he died of unknown causes. This being true, do you think something like “The Raven” could be true? Why or why not?