Catching 'The Raven' in the Realm between Fact and Fiction

Manila Bulletin, May 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Catching 'The Raven' in the Realm between Fact and Fiction


MANILA, Philippines - The problem with a movie being named after a real work of a literary genius, and putting said genius-who, in real life, also happens to be considered as the "inventor of the detective fiction genre"-in the middle of an anachronistic reality/fiction mild-melding suspense thriller is that it is setting itself up for criticisms. Divisive, it is, with critics who are up in arms about how the movie has failed to deliver whatever it is they are looking for on one side; and regular moviegoers who seem to have found the movie entertaining enough on the other.

The James McTiegue-directed "The Raven" follows Edgar Allan Poe's last few days in a fictionalized account wherein a serial killer has taken inspiration from Poe's dark works and the author has to help solve the mystery and find the madman. While in real life, Poe is said to have been found delirious in the streets of Baltimore and died in the hospital after a few days, in this movie, he sits at a park bench taking his last few breaths. In both real and reel instances, he is not able to explain how he has come to be in that state. Many theories later surface in real life about Poe's cause of death; in the movie, though, the filmmakers have spun a tale of romance and bloody murders culminating in Poe's final moments.

The movie goes on to show the murders, the first of which is that of a mother and her young daughter inside a locked room with the windows shut. Police Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), apparently a reader of Poe's work, recognizes the disturbing similarities of the crime to those described in one of the author's stories. While Poe (John Cusack) was initially regarded as a suspect, soon enough he is recruited as a consultant to the cases, which by now are clearly patterned after his published works, one being a gruesome enactment of "The Pit and the Pendulum," with the victim being Poe's literary nemesis, Rufus Griswold (who, in real life, by the way, didn't die a gruesome death by way of Poe's imaginings; but he is said to have a passionate dislike of the former).

Juggling his responsibilities with romance, Poe is also seen nursing a covert relationship with Emily Hamilton (Alice Evans), daughter of a rich retired colonel (Brendan Gleeson), who harbors a dislike for Poe as well. How Emily, a fan of Poe's poem "Annabel Lee" and who recites it starry-eyed even, is enamored by a penniless alcoholic writer/critic who seems bitter over lack of acknowledgment and can't even buy his own drink (there's a scene in a pub where Poe challenges people to recite lines in his poem "The Raven" in order to secure his favorite poison) seems to be a question to some.

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