Edgar Allen Poe's Final Days Take Thrilling Turn in 'The Raven'
By: Ray Cox, May 3, 2012
Courtesy INTREPID PICTURES - John Cusak stars as a genius with a drinking problem (or is that a drunk with a genius problem?) in 'The Raven.'
We all struggle with our inner demons, but it's obvious from Edgar Allan Poe's writing that he had more than his fair share. The fact that he died at 40 in 1849 in Baltimore of unknown causes (his medical records were lost) is fodder for a macabre tale of murder and suspense.
Hollywood's own version of this tortured soul's history, The Raven, opens several days prior to Poe's death, where we find him in a saloon bargaining for a drink because he has no money. As he puts it, he needs to drown the “dark melancholy, which has followed me my whole life like a black dog.”
You could say hanging with Edgar Allan was not a lot of laughs. Didn’t anyone ever call him just plain Eddie?
As Poe, John Cusack is intense and desperate, yet he suddenly finds the police are in need of his “unwholesome expertise” in finding a serial killer whose brutal crimes are based on Poe’s works.
If you are familiar with Poe’s short stories—and he really was the first American practitioner of this art form, like “The Tell-Tale Heart”—then the methods of the slayings will not surprise.
Director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) immerses the audience in a dark and somber world, allowing in the light of day only when necessary. Complicating the plot, Poe is ensnared by the kidnapping of his fiancée Emily, played fetchingly by Alice Eve, whose role in She’s Out Of My League comes into play here, or at least her overzealous father thinks so.
In a nice turn by Brendon Gleeson (The Guard), Emily's father bullies and intimidates those running the investigation to the further peril of his daughter.
The film offers fine acting, although many of the characters are mere caricatures. The few pictures that remain of the actual Poe are of a sad, dour little man with a forehead too big for his body.
Here he is depicted as a man prone to violent outbursts, almost an action figure, which is certainly a stretch.
The best thing The Raven has going for it is a smart script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. Rarely does the everyday dialogue written for a great author match the quality of his literary talent. In this case it does.
Poe’s jibes are sharp and biting, and they come in droves. He is dismissive to his peers and merciless to the uneducated. When a bar patron asks who he thinks he is to drink on credit, he screams in reply: “I’m Poe!”
“Of course you’re poor if you can’t buy a whiskey,” the barfly says, with the author's enraged response: “Not poor, you moron, I’m Poe!”
Although most scholars believe Poe died of acute alcoholism—and there is no documentation to prove it either way—my guess is he did not spend his final hours pursuing a copycat killer. But until we learn otherwise, it is not a bad story, given the grim nature of his existence.
To be sure, Edgar Allen Poe's tortured life will always be shrouded in mystery, but we know one thing for sure: in October 1849, quoth the raven, Poe became “nevermore.”