The Pale Blue Eye Stumbles in the Snow

by Connor Pugh ‘24

Despite an impressive cast and a fairly well known director, The Pale Blue Eye received little fanfare on Netflix, possibly due to the much more popular murder mystery Glass Onion releasing on Netflix only 2 weeks earlier. The film is a detective story based upon a novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, following the hardened detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) and a young Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling) as they attempt to solve some unusual murders at West Point Academy in the winter of 1830. A fascinating premise and a great cast set up The Pale Blue Eye to be a great film (if not very well known); however, it remains frustratingly inconsistent throughout its runtime, becoming a movie not without its merits but stumbling over key points that prevents it from being truly fantastic.

The Pale Blue Eye is most definitely not incompetent, it understands and replicates how good mysteries function on a surface level. Everything at least feels earned and built up to. What the film’s approach to a murder mystery fails to achieve is in its relation to the audience and the world. Unless the viewer would for whatever reason know obscure occult history or is a die-hard Poe fan, the audience has no tangible connection to the setting and—avoiding spoilers —the details and circumstances of the murders. The film has no time to immerse the audience in the world, it’s too busy establishing the characters and overarching plot, meaning the historical setting continually keeps the viewer at arms length. Without the somber and frigid mood the story needed to properly sell its mystery of unsavory murders and mutilations, the story rings hollow, which most definitely wasn’t what the film was going for.

Fortunately, once the mystery really gets going in the last third of the film, the empty parts become less pronounced and the clever writing and raw catharsis of the detective mystery is able to take center stage. It would be spoiling the entire movie to explore the themes present with any depth or substance, but the film is able to explore its themes fairly well. The themes present in the film are deeply intertwined with the plot and story, so talking about them would be a major spoiler. However it can be assured there is ample substance to be had, and the film does not stray away from exploring heavy topics with emotional maturity.

While there are great ideas present and some fun is to be had from the film, The Pale Blue Eye keeps the viewer at arm’s length, not committing itself to the setting and atmosphere in the way the film needed to truly excel.

Grade: B-