Quoth The Raven


We went to see The Raven on Sunday. I’m a long-time John Cusack fan, and I’ve been an Edgar Allan Poe fan longer than that. Cusack and Poe seemed a natural fit. The film has gotten bad reviews and the theater was mostly empty. I didn’t see that as a negative, I’d seen Harold and Maude, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Willie Wonka (Gene Wilder), and Fight Club in theaters. It’s a Wonderful Life, Serenity, Donnie Darko, Boondoack Saints, The Big Lebowski, The Shawshank Redemption, Army of Darkness all had disappointing runs in the theater—hell, even The Wizard of Oz didn’t meet the expectations of the studio. Industry reviews, and empty theaters mean nothing.

I like Poe, I’ve read everything he wrote (yes, including the essays and reviews, I am that double-dome), much of it before John Cusack was born; I like Cusack, seen every movie he’s been in– what could go wrong?

By “the theater was empty,” I mean that there were eight of us: Ian, Jamie, Ryan, and me, and then two couples, one older, one younger. But, like I said, empty theaters mean nothing. The older couple seemed tense, like maybe they’d not agreed about which movie to see and the stronger personality won out (obviously the Poe/Cusack fan—obviously, I’m not sure why the other would even argue there). The younger couple was—how shall I say this?—interesting. They looked like they were perhaps recovering, or maybe wannabe Goths. She had the sulky walk and posture I have come to associate with the high school Goth movement, but she looked to be a natural blond (not dyed black), and was wearing nice, spring pastels. He looked fresh from the farm. And well, my family is fairly…eclectic. Everyone arrived before the previews.

You can usually tell a lot about a movie by the previews. Not so much here. Men In Black III, ok. The Hatfields and McCoys—I don’t think I’m interested in that. The Expendables looks interesting; the boys want to see that. There were others, but I can’t remember what they were. I couldn’t get a read on what the preview trailers were saying about The Raven. We pulled the sodas and Smart Food popcorn out of my big purple handbag (my Mary Poppins bag) and settled in.

Cusack captures Poe—despite Ian’s objection that he didn’t look like Poe (Ian is the intellectual snob in the family – and in our family that takes work). Cusack radiates the melancholy genius—the wounded artist—the narcissist—the brokenhearted widower—Griswold’s drunken madman—and the amazing linguaphile that blend into what was the real Edgar Allan Poe. Merely this, and nothing more.

The story is a mystery that involves murders, but I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery. It’s a who-done-it sort of film. Being the dorky family we are, we focused on the other aspect—each crime was based on a Poe story and we all worked to name the story before the movie named them. (Not in any particular order…) The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of the Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders at Rue Morgue, The premature Burial, The Tell Tale Heart…

Several times throughout the course of the film, Jamie and I both responded with a, “Wait! What?” There were good twists and turns, I found myself wishing I could pause, rewind and look and listen again. It was like reading a Poe story. Stop, retrace (once you understand), and continue happily with the story. That sounds off-putting, but it’s actually what I liked best about the film. It’s what I like about literature, good writing plays with the mind, engages and tantalizes. I had to think about this movie, in the way I have to think about a good book, or short story. Poe would be proud, Mr. Cusack, proud of the job you did.

I liked the poetry analysis (so Poe!), and the allusions to the real Poe’s life in every scene. I liked that half way through I was asking, is it him? or him? or maybe him? I loved, Loved, LOVED that Griswold doesn’t survive to decimate Poe’s character. Imagine having your obituary written by your worst enemy, as Poe did…

Griswold is the main reason we paint a picture of Edgar Allan Poe as a madman (ok, his stories kind of encourage us to believe that, but still…). Griswold’s death in the film is poetic, if only to a select nerdy few. Well-played, very well played.

As with a good book whose pages are worn from repeated reads, I find myself wanting to re-watch this movie, to pick up the breadcrumbs I missed along the way. If I weren’t planning to see The Avengers next weekend, and Dark Shadows the week after, I would see this again (one has to budget). I will purchase the DVD. It will sit on the shelf beside Harold and Maude, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Willie Wonka, and Boondock Saints. And like its shelf-mates if will be played again and again and I’ll see different nuances each time.

I imagine Poe watching from some ethereal realm, smiling at how his work has been reintroduced to a new generation, how his character has been redeemed by the quality of acting. I imagine Poe laughing, and saying to Griswold, Nevermore.

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9 thoughts on “Quoth The Raven

  1. Wonderful post, Mel. And much needed. Our family is more along the geek lines than dork, so we’ll probably wait for the DVD version so we can use all our gadgetry to view and review the film. I have everything by Poe and my anthology is signed by Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabus Collins of Dark Shadows (dating myself!). He used to do fantastic readings of Poe around Hallowe’en. I may sneak away from the fambly to see both in empty theatres and will love every second. Thanks!

    • I know Frid did readings, I saw one, once upon a time…

      I am looking forward to Dark Shadows and will do a review of it as well :).

  2. I’ve been wanting to see this. Any bookish person should want to see this, I think. I love how you describe the people in the theater – nice personal touch. You put me there.

    • I think that the viewers of a film tell you a lot about the film, like the preview trailers (usually) do.

      I really enjoyed the film–and I didn’t even mention all of the Poe story references!.

  3. Thanks for this review! I had recently seen that trailer in the theater. The premise looked intriguing, and I do like Poe, but I don’t do scary very well. Reading your review makes me want to go back and re-read some of his stories. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll muscle up the courage to see the movie…if for no other reason that because John Cusack’s in it.

  4. You know, I’m so out of touch that your review was the first time I heard about the movie. Then I got all excited about it till I looked at the R rating! Now I think I’ll wait for the DVD. I’m too big a coward for that raw in the tooth stuff. My most favorite Poe and the first one I learnt is “Silence, a Fable.” Can still recite it by heart.

    • There’s some blood — none of it surprises though, lots of warning so you can avert your eyes. The R rating, I think is for the Poe-like suspense… I took my 19yr old son (Ian), and my 15yr old grandson….

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