“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore — While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door”. These are the first few lines of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, which we had to study as a part of our American Literature syllabus for the partial fulfilment of the Masters Degree in English Language and Literature. Even as I found the process of doing seminar about Emily Dickinson more fascinating in this particular paper, my favourite work of that one paper was undoubtedly this poem about this black creature. Later in the poem, we have a better sight of the magnificent dark bird: “In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door — Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door — Perched, and sat, and nothing more”. The poem created such a great supernatural environment with the raven’s unexpected visit to a man who is mourning over his lost love.
Even as this movie takes the title from the same poem, and carries over the same darkness which the poem had in itself, the movie is not directly related to the poem, as it rather fictionalizes the final days of Poe’s life until his mysterious death instead of taking the poem’s imagery forward, and at the same time, gives our poet the powerful image of a crime solver. The use of the image of a literary figure can always be interesting, and as this one poet is considered, he was that big an influence in our question papers that it was quite difficult to take a decision to skip his poems – for that would leave us with not much to score in the exams. There might be many differences between a crow and a raven even as they look the same; as we consider the two movies The Crow and The Raven, they also belong to two different worlds, united only be the presence of murders, deaths and the dark side in both the movies. As the 1994 supernatural action movie is concerned, it remains one of my favourites, but I can’t say the same about The Raven with its investigative thriller atmosphere even as I have my own reasons for liking it.
The story takes us back to the nineteenth century, when Poe (John Cusak) lives his life filled with alcohol claiming to have used up all his literary abilities, and the only other thing he is interested in is the love for one woman, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve). He is loathed by the lady’s rich and influential father (Brendan Gleeson) though. Meanwhile, a group of cops find two dead bodies of a woman and her daughter, and detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) finds out that the crime resembles a murder in the short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue written by Edgar Allan Poe. As more incidents follow, Poe is called to the police station and is asked to help the cops in solving the strange case. At the same time, Emily is kidnapped by the killer who asks Poe to publish a new story. The murderer keeps leaving Poe clues until he gets to that one final clue which would reveal what has lead to this situation, and also that mystery behind the killer should be removed. But as Emily is buried under the ground in a coffin and time keeps running out, Poe is left with less to think and more to act.
I might have to agree that this didn’t work as well as I supposed it would, even as John Cusack and Luke Evans have come up with very good performances and so did the villain who shall not be revealed here. Cusak plays the man who invented the detective genre and blessed us with the best of the supernatural, with so much ease, even as the question remains about how much the character in the movie has deviated from the original person except for the mustache. May be the movie tried to bring too much of the characteristics of the man into one movie which is a suspense thriller with an unnecessary romantic background, thus making it a little too much of a mixture. Poe might not have liked it, but as an admirer of his work, I do; and there is no suspense about it. Alice Eve once again gives her best along with being out of the league, making her way towards the character as she should have. She plays more of a lover of Poe as a poet and his ideas, and plans to marry him despite of the disapproval of her father; and this is one love story which doesn’t have a good beginning or a happy ending.
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! — Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted — On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore” – the lines from the poem matches with the depiction of Poe in the movie too, as he accepts his dark imaginations in the movie, and asks if imagining is also a crime. He is shown as a man with no money or fame left, even as The Raven remains one of the most famous works. He finds solace in alcohol as well as his love, and attempts to publish articles instead of fiction which both the editor and the admirers want, and would be something which can bring him fame and fortune again. As he says “Nevermore”, we can see that his character mostly reflects the same man who is the protagonist in his most famous poem. He is there to prove his lines, “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted – nevermore”! So as the title is concerned, we can identify the man more with the protagonist of the poem of the same name, which is more Poe than anywhere else.
The Raven has its own collection of blood and gore, with even a huge mechanical axe-like device used by the murderer to cut a man into two halves, as the machine swings to and fro like a pendulum coming down towards the victim second by second – from Poe’s another work, The Pit and the Pendulum. The whole atmosphere is full of shadows and darkness creating the much needed creepy world. The villain is someone who knows Poe’s imagination more than he himself does, and his characters and stories too well. There is even that question about Poe inspiring those murders. The inspiration for the movie might be many slasher movies which came earlier, that is for sure. There lies the agony, and the sadness which arises due to the fact that this is just a random fictionalized story with lots of areas which could have been better. There could have been further logic and strong connections, but The Raven has taken the easy way out, with three of the skilled leading actors and an addition of the dark atmosphere supported by blood and gore, trying to work the mystery of a literary figure and his works. It does work in parts most of the time, but as a movie which requires that standard of the poem whose title has been taken, there should have been a lot more.
Coming from the man who directed V for Vendetta this is surely a let-down. May be the movie confuses itself a bit about what it tries to achieve, but this is still a good flick for the literature enthusiasts, especially fans of this one poet and his works, even as there can be disappointment about the changes in depiction of the poet, and the lack of anything amazing in the story that made him a crime solver. There was a lot more scope to this idea of the fiction which has been explored here. I liked this movie because I could connect it with Poe’s works which I had to study and it was easy to remember more about him with this movie, even as it would have helped me much better if the movie had released in 2011. This movie is my nostalgia, of my time reading Poe at college. I can’t say the same about others though, and for those who don’t know Poe or haven’t read any of his works, this is better to be avoided. The other choice for you is to read his works, something which might be a tough ask in a world which is ruled by fiction of no real quality. Still, I would suggest you read the poem The Raven, about which I managed to write a lot in my exam, and a reading of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel with it might prove further interesting.
Release date: 9th March 2012
Running time: 111 minutes
Directed by: James McTeigue
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Kevin McNally, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, John Warnaby, Brendan Coyle
@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.
Cusack does what he can, but this one was just too dull. Even with all of the grisly killings and whatnot. Good review.
Thanks. I expected a lot more, but was glad enough to see a movie based on Poe and his works even in the form of a fictional thriller.
It would have helped if they showed more of the killings, but after a second watch I liked it more. I would give it a C+. I am a Poe fan so anything with his influential tendrils in it is going to be watchable for me. I thought Alice Eve played a terrific part 🙂
I thought the same; and that kidnap of Alice Eve’s character could have come late, and before that they should have showed a little more of the killings and solved the mysteries behind them – plus also get a lot more of the black bird 😀