‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Ending, Explained: Who Killed The Cadets? Did Edgar Poe And Landor Remain Friends? 

It is almost comical how good Christian Bale is at elevating anything he is a part of. “The Pale Blue Eye,” adapted from the novel of the same name by author Louis Bayard, explores poet and author Edgar Allan Poe’s time as a member of the United States Army. The work is entirely fictional and takes liberties in its explorations of his brief time as a military man and surrounding some of his work. Although an extremely interesting story on paper, we’re not quite sure it’s as poetic as expected. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the works of Mr. Poe, there is no denying his affinity for the macabre and death as a whole, and so a horror-murder mystery seems to be the perfect place to interpret his early 20s. “The Pale Blue Eye” is highly charged in its first forty minutes, only to later become almost banal at times and even confused about what it is trying to convey. A decent attempt still for a murder mystery set in West Point in the 1830s (definitely not something everyone would find interest in).

Spoilers Ahead

What Happens In ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Film? 

A cadet of the United States Military Academy at West Point has hanged himself, but mysteriously, his heart has been carved out of his body at the coroner’s office. The military calls upon detective Augustus Landor to help solve the mystery. As he arrives, he immediately notices that it’s not a suicide but a murder. The doctor, who also happens to be the coroner, mentions he’s already inspected the corpse but ends up finding truth in Landor’s claim. Landor is a widower who prefers beer over coffee, even during the day, and has a daughter who ran away. The military invites him to solve the murder, and he agrees reluctantly. He begins his investigation by asking questions to the cadet who found the body. The cadet observed that it was strange that the body’s legs were touching the floor even though he hanged himself, almost like he was sitting.

Later, a cadet comes up to Landor and discloses some conclusions he himself came up with, and Landor thanks him. At night, Landor meets the same cadet at the pub, and he introduces himself as E.A. Poe. Poe gives Landor another clue in his drunken state. Landor decides to take Poe’s assistance to get more information from within the military Academy for his investigation. Poe agrees immediately, even excitedly. A cow and a sheep are killed and have their hearts carved out too. Landor decides that this is the work of someone interested in the occult. Landor finds the crime scene, i.e., where the heart was used after mutilation inside a ritualistic circle. He takes Poe to see a professor who knows all about the occult. There they find a ritual created by a witch hunter that involves using the heart of a hanged man for immortality.

In the meanwhile, we find out that Landor is haunted by the thought of his runaway daughter. Poe infiltrates the group of people that he now knows, which includes the man that everyone believes is into black magic. Artemus Marquis, who is also the son of the doctor-coroner. Poe makes an impression on Artemus with his humorous poetry and is invited to their home. There, he is enthralled by the beauty of Artemus’ sister Lea. Seeing this, one of the other men, Ballinger, threatens Poe to stay away from a beauty like Lea. Landor happens upon them at this point and saves Poe from being strangled to death. Ballinger is later found dead with his heart carved out too. The academy heads believe it is Poe who has committed the crimes because of his feuds with both dead men. Landor believed Poe had nothing to do with the first man who died but confronted him about it, to which Poe replied that they did know each other. Landor and Poe are invited to the Marquis’ home for dinner. That’s when the mystery starts to unfold itself… 

What Happened To Lea And Artemus Marquis?

When Landor is investigating the first murder, the cadet who was placed in charge of guarding the corpse is dismissed by an officer with a coat that is missing bars from his left shoulder. After dinner at the Marquis’ house, Landor goes in search of this coat and finds it in their home. Another man goes missing, and the officers are more impatient to put the man responsible for these murders behind bars. Landor then visits the professor and asks him for the author of the book that the professor had mentioned to him but of which only a few copies hadn’t been burned. Landor asks him if the author of the book, the witch hunter, was a priest, and the professor confirms it.

Landor confronts the doctor, and it happens to be that the priest is an ancestor of their family, and Lea is speaking to the dead in order to survive her chronic ailment. The doctor says his children would never kill anybody and that the man was already dead, which is why they could steal his heart. Landor is quick on his feet and realizes Poe could be in danger. He finds Poe in a drugged state right before he is about to be stabbed by Artemus. Artemus, Lea, and their mother would perform the ritual to save Lea, but when Landor arrives and tells them to stop, Lea accidentally topples over some candles, and the room is set ablaze. Still so, the mother and Lea continue to chant while Landor’s man handles Artemus. Lea is knocked over by a piece of the burning wood from the roof, and Artemus runs to her. It is very clear she has died immediately, but Landor wastes no time in saving Poe and then the mother. While doing this, the two siblings are engulfed in the fire. 

‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Ending Explained – Who Had Actually Killed The Cadets? What Happens To Landor?

In his first attempt to find out if Poe was worth befriending, Landor had given him a small piece of a letter from the hand of the corpse to solve. Poe also received a handwritten message for him to meet Landor at the crime scene later on. Using these two pieces of writing, Poe is able to piece together the true story behind these murders. Poe deciphers, with the help of a woman at the pub (who has close relations with Landor), that his daughter was sexually assaulted by three cadets from the Academy. She later succumbed to her trauma and jumped off a cliff. Landor, burning with anger, then decided to kill the three men. He had evidence from a necklace his daughter had brought back from the scene and had killed the first man using this evidence. Before killing him, Landor made him confess who else had been with him; he had later killed Ballinger the same way and made it appear like this was the work of a satanic cult so no one could suspect him. The third man had run from the Academy because he knew he was next.

“The Pale Blue Eye,” ends with a lackluster melancholic scene where Landor tells Poe of how he wished it was he who had met Mattie that night; then, they may have truly become a family. Poe, terribly disappointed for being made a fool by a man he looked up to, tearfully burns the piece of paper which would be evidence to convict Landor for murder and leaves with a final goodbye. Poe did not think Lea was a bad person and could never forgive Landor for somehow causing her to die the way she did. Poe always talks about his dead mother being a presence in his life and coming to him in his dreams to tell him things. He had a poem narrated to him by her in his sleep once, and Poe believed that poem was a prophecy for him and Lea, for her to come close to him, so he truly loved her from there on. We hope Landor got his closure even after losing a close companion, his only one in the last few years.

Landor releases’ his daughter at the end of the movie as a sign of closure after killing the two men and with the hope the third will suffer from the thought of someone on his back for the rest of his life. By letting go of the white ribbon he kept near to him at all times, Landor shows a sign of acceptance as he stands in the same position where his daughter did when she leapt backwards from the cliff, giving us the haunting idea that he may do the same until the last minute. It is true Landor is grief-stricken and lonely, but he has come to terms with his sorrowful life after meeting Poe and passing his judgment on the terrible savage men who hurt his daughter. Does Landor kill himself? Although it may seem that he has been living only for the sake of his revenge up until now, with his grief and rage lifted, he is able to live again. Maybe he will return to being a detective. We’d hope he rekindled his friendship with Poe and got his forgiveness somehow. As Poe says, “the reason the dead haunt us is because we love them too little.”

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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