Is The Pale Blue Eye based on a book by Edgar Allan Poe?

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The Pale Blue Eye is a famous movie released in 2022 in theatres, available on Netflix since January 2023. Starring Christian Bale as detective Augustus Landor and Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe, the film tells a mystery story that spins around the murder of Leroy Fry, a cadet in West Point’s military academy, around 1830. Since the atmosphere definitely matches Poe’s works and he’s even present as a character in the movie, people have wondered what the film is based on: is there a true story behind it? Or is it based on a book? And which works by Edgar Allan Poe gave the inspiration? In this article, we will provide all answers.

You can watch the official trailer for The Pale Blue Eye here on Youtube.

What is the movie based on?

Let’s immediately exclude the obvious answers: The Pale Blue Eye is NOT based on a true story. It’s also not based directly on a book or story written by Edgar Allan Poe; there is no novel, poem, or story written by Poe that tells the story of detective Landor and the murder of Leroy Fry. The truth is that The Pale Blue Eye is directly based on the book of the same title written in 2003 by the American writer Louis Bayard.

However, Edgar Allan Poe is a massive inspiration for many aspects of the movie (and Bayard’s book), as his character in the film confirms. The influence of Poe in the movie is evident already from the title, which is mentioned in the poem recited to Lea and represents a direct reference to two works by Edgar: the poem Lenore and the short story The Tell-Tale Heart.

And that’s not it: let’s discover the references The Pale Blue Eye makes to Edgar Allan Poe literature.

The Pale Blue Eye: the references to Edgar Allan Poe literature

Let’s start with detective Landor: he’s a character born by Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination, and you can find him in Landor’s Cottage, the short story he wrote in 1850. It’s interesting that in one scene of the movie, Edgar Allan Poe says to detective Landor that he will “write something about him.”

The Military Academy in West Point? Well, Edgar Allan Poe really enlisted in the United States Army as a private in 1827, and he entered West Point in 1830. It didn’t last long, though: he was court-martialed and discharged in 1831. The reason is not well documented: among the theories, you can find his drinking habits, his inclination to engage in fights, and even a theoretical murder he committed.

The movie The Pale Blue Eye spins around the concept of death and illness, which are recurrent topics in Edgar Allan Poe’s works. They are also important components of his private life: his elder brother Henry died in 1831, and his wife Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. The quote you can read at the beginning of the movie is taken from his 1844’s short story The Premature Burial:

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?”

Although he’s mostly known for his horror stories, Edgar Allan Poe was one of the main pioneers of detective, murder, and crime stories. Conan Doyle, the other father of crime fiction as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, said about Edgar Allan Poe: “Each of his detective stories is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” Poe also had his recurrent detective, Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, who solved the mysteries in his short stories The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and The Purloined Letter. In particular, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841, is considered the first detective story ever written in history. Among other mystery stories written by Edgar Allan Poe, we also have The Black Cat and The Gold-Bug, two of his most successful works.

Death, illness and gothic atmosphere, crime and mystery, a direct quote for the title and West Point: basically, you can breathe Edgar Allan Poe in everything inside The Pale Blue Eye.