On the day of his death, Edgar Allan Poe was discovered in an incoherent state, and his whereabouts and activities on the days leading up to his demise remain unclear. I’m quite certain this is where the screenwriters of The Raven abandoned any attempt of historical accuracy, and instead turned to fabricating a nonsensical tale of mystery and intended intrigue. Please note my use of the word intended.
When a grisly murder in Baltimore seems to be a bit too reminiscent of one of Poe’s short stories, Detective Fields decides that the only way to catch the culprit is to enlist the help of the down-and-out poet. Poe, who is struggling with a bout of writer’s block paired with a passion for opium-infused alcohol binges. Poe begrudgingly agrees to the task. However, it is not until Edgar’s half-witted bimbo of a fiancée (Emily) is kidnapped by the murderer that Edgar truly becomes interested in stopping the carnage. What a strikingly original concept for a film (dear readers, I hope by now I do not need to indicate when my comments are drenched in sarcasm).
Together, Fields and Poe piece together the clues to locate Emily, but time is running out – although, apparently it’s not that dire of a situation, since the two encounter at least thirty-two dead ends before finally pinning down dear Emily’s location. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the conclusion to this never-ending and pointless whodunit. Suffice it to say that you will indeed be shocked by the identity of the murderer, mainly because he appears so briefly in the early moments of the film that you’ll probably have no idea where the hell he came from in the first place.
In spite of the plethora of issues that The Raven has to offer, John Cusack presents an entertaining and sympathetic portrayal of the now-famed poet. Quirky and self-deprecating, Cusack’s Poe is troubled and world-weary due to a life full of tragedy; in all actuality, the performance probably reflects the state that Poe was legitimately in at that point in his life and his career. Nevertheless, no amount of witty one-liners and cracks about alcoholism could save this movie. Fans and readers of the actual Poe are likely to be disgusted by the murderer’s interpretation of the stories – not because of gruesomeness or gore (although there is a bit), but because the representations are so reductive. Don’t get me wrong, Poe’s writing is absolutely macabre and dark, but behind the “scary story” motif, there is a genuine undercurrent of sadness and even beauty. Cusack comes close to conveying a man living a life consumed by nothing but anguish, but the presentation of the stories themselves comes across as almost disrespectful since they capture nothing but the shock value. I get that this is sort of the point of the film, but Poe’s work is deserving of something better.
Finally, no matter how much of a forlorn addict Poe was in the remaining years of his life, I doubt he would have ever resorted to seriously contemplating marriage to an ignoramus such as Emily. I mean, he did marry his first cousin, Virginia, but even an incestuous marriage seems preferable to any sort of relationship with this simpleton Emily person.
To wrap this up in a nutshell, The Raven is a long, drawn-out, meandering tale about a man we initially like (or at least we initially want to like him), but by the end would like to see him killed off as soon as possible in hopes that such a gesture would put an end to the miserable experience that is this movie. Perhaps Poe himself best summarizes the end result that this film has on the human soul:
“And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted – nevermore!”