In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for The Pale Blue Eye, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
- Christian Bale – Augustus Landor
- Harry Melling – Cadet Edgar Allan Poe
- Lucy Boynton – Lea Marquis
- Simon McBurney – Captain Hitchcock
- Timothy Spall – Superintendent Thayer
- Toby Jones – Dr. Daniel Marquis
- Harry Lawtey – Cadet Artemus Marquis
- Fred Hechinger – Cadet Randolph Ballinger
- Joey Brooks – Cadet Stoddard
- Charlotte Gainsbourg – Patsy
- Robert Duvall – Jean-Pepe
- Gillian Anderson – Mrs. Julia Marquis
The themes and meaning of The Pale Blue Eye
The inability to cope with death
Death surrounds the characters of The Pale Blue Eye. Lea is stricken with a terminal disease for which her father cannot find a cure; Poe falls for a woman who lives on the brink of death; Landor lost his daughter to suicide. With the imminence of death taunting some and the memory of death torturing others, the precariousness of mortality takes center stage.
For Lea and Poe and Lea’s entire family, they’ll do anything to preserve their lives and the lives of those they love. But for Landor’s daughter, Mattie, death became an escape—which leaves Landor in shambles. Death was a respite for Mattie as she moved from the earthly realm to an ethereal realm. But Landor is still stuck in his mortal body, unable to make sense of the cruelness of living. Landor wanted to save Mattie from death, thus he was incapable of allowing Mattie to find solace in her demise. He and Poe and Lea are too concerned with the promise of life to confront the imminence of death.
This entire discussion recalls the quote from the real Edgar Allan Poe used at the beginning of the film: “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” The movie argues that you can’t fully embrace and appreciate life without confronting the inevitability of death—the timing of which lies beyond our control. Until such acceptance takes place, you will constantly be looking over shoulder, unable to look forward where life takes place.
Occult and spirituality
Because Dr. Daniel Marquis cannot find a cure for his daughter’s disease, Lea resorts to communicating with evil forces to revive herself. The promise of such occult entities is certainly attractive: when logic and science fail your organic body, it’s natural to look beyond mortal existence to something spiritual—or, in this case, something satanic.
A similar sentiment could be used for Poe, who believes he communicates with his dead mother in his sleep. Poe claims his poem was dictated to him by his mother. He finds nothing strange in this fact, quite readily accepting it as reality. But if you don’t believe in the supernatural, then Poe clearly has trouble reconciling with his loss. His grief has manifested in a mental vision that provides him with an abstract link with his mother when a physical one is impossible.
Landor sits on the outside of it all. Thanks to the death of his daughter, Mattie, Landor has lost his spirit. Opposed to Poe’s mental connection with his mother, Landor’s only connection with Mattie are physical objects in his house. Landor’s views on communicating with dark forces are plain and simple: it is wrong and inhuman, so he tries to put a stop to Lea’s rituals.
But ironically, the only link Landor attempts to manifest with Mattie is, like Lea’s plight, infused with something immoral and inhuman: murder. He copes with Mattie’s death by killing the boys who defiled her.
On one end, we have the embracement of occult and spirits; on the other, we have dejectedness, the absence of spirit. The Pale Blue Eye provides a rounded view of spirituality and how it manifests or disappears from people.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Pale Blue Eye? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider updating the guide.