Netflix’s ‘Pale Blue Eye’: Edgar Allan Poe, cadavers defined

Scott Cooper and Christian Bale wish to push their viewers into difficult areas.

“The great danger is doing safe work,” says Cooper, the writer-director-producer of the elegant whodunit “The Pale Blue Eye,” streaming Friday on Netflix. “And Christian is on that ledge with me [to] explore the darker corners of the human psyche.”

After the elegiac crime-thriller “Out of the Furnace” and masterful western “Hostiles,” the shrewd Louis Bayard adaptation marks the duo’s third collaboration, persevering with their joint curiosity in risk-taking cinema of disquieting themes. It’s one which rewards consideration, defying what Cooper calls “the most impatient of ages” with regards to media consumption outlined by immediate gratification. “I stand against that,” he provides. “A film shouldn’t be like an enema [you want to get over with] quickly. You should be transported somewhere.”

Christian Bale, left, and writer-director-producer Scott Cooper on the set of “The Pale Blue Eye.”

(Scott Garfield / Netflix)

Transport the viewers someplace, “The Pale Blue Eye” does. The setting is West Level within the 1830s, the place Bale’s Augustus Landor — a cagey, grief-stricken veteran detective — is employed to unravel the ugly killing of a cadet whose coronary heart had been brutally excised. Co-star Harry Melling performs an eccentric pupil with literary sensibilities unwelcome on the inflexible navy academy: a younger and fictionalized Edgar Allan Poe. The mild but opinionated loner — not the “Master of the Macabre” simply but — groups up with Landor for the investigation.

Bayard’s ebook was really useful to Cooper by his dad, a former English and literature teacher with a wealthy assortment of Poe’s writings at their residence in Virginia, the place Cooper spent his youth, like Poe himself. Cooper has been considering the chief questions of “The Pale Blue Eye” since studying it after directing his first movie, “Crazy Heart.”

“What drives someone to madness? What causes morality to erode in decent people? The film uses fiction to explore a truth that’s familiar to anyone who’s turned Poe’s pages, which is, real horrors seldom have easy explanations,” he says.

Bale’s lifelong appreciation of Poe was formed in a different way.

“Watching TV in England when I was growing up, [I’d see] films that I didn’t know were Edgar Allan Poe [adaptations],” Bale stated. “When I started to look at his work with more intention, it was a surprise [to discover] how much he has infiltrated culture and my brain without me even knowing that it was him doing so. I love ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ and ‘The Raven.’”

A man in a long coat stands along a snowy river bank.

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor in “The Pale Blue Eye.”

(Scott Garfield / Netflix)

To Cooper, it was a danger to adapt a detective story unfolding across the very man who bequeathed detective fiction to the world. Consistent with the supply’s rhythm, he stored a detailed eye on how a lot data he would open up to the viewers, revealing neither an excessive amount of nor too little so as to make it a satisfying expertise for cautious viewers. Sustaining that meant a detailed collaboration together with his editor, Dylan Tichenor, in addition to star-producer Bale, who crafted a layered efficiency that will play slightly in a different way in repeat watches.

“There’s sometimes no way of knowing how something is going to land. So [I was] open to giving Scott and Dylan different choices in [key] scenes,” Bale says. “And I actually found that to be a lot of fun. It’s not that it changes who Landor is. But hopefully, people will understand more on a second viewing.”

Cooper provides, “Christian’s performance is of great precision and restraint. [Landor] is a legendary constable. To become legendary, you have to be a keen, invisible observer and not be a part of the story, which Christian did beautifully.”

Bale additionally crafted a deep backstory for his character, alongside persona traits that got here to each outline and confront the person Landor is.

“He’s someone who’s maintained control his entire life. [But] he’s beginning to lose his grip on that, breaking every rule that he’s lived by,” Bale says. “I think that’s why Poe comes to resonate so much with him. He is learning a great deal [from] this irritating young man who nobody likes or trusts but ends up being the most trustworthy character in the whole story.”

Two men in a room with a chandelier and bookshelf

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor, left, and Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in “The Pale Blue Eye.”

(Scott Garfield / Netflix)

Bale perceived Poe and Landor’s unlikely relationship as akin to that of father and son, one which develops after the lack of Landor’s daughter Mattie, launched within the movie by means of considerate flashbacks.

“Somebody as intense and masculine as Landor is realizing that he’s missed a great deal in assuming that he has time,” Bale says. “It brings in regret because he wasn’t living every moment with regard to the people within his own life. [There are] things he should have said that he never said. What if Poe had been introduced into his life earlier? Would that have made him a better father?”

As Poe, Melling was a revelation to each Cooper and Bale from Day 1, with Bale calling him “as good as it gets.”

“Harry really understood that we were creating a character that defies what we think of Poe,” Cooper provides. “He approached him as someone warm, witty and humorous, prone to poetic and romantic flourishes, looking for a connection.”

In bringing the wintry story to life, Cooper crafted visible aesthetics with gothic hues, ensuring that interval particulars (decidedly freed from nostalgia) receded into the background and that the main focus remained on story and ambiance.

Alongside his longtime cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi, he drew inspiration from such masters as Caspar David Friedrich and Rembrandt, in addition to Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” for the candlelit interiors.

The profiles of a woman and man sitting on a couch together

Lucy Boynton as Lea Marquis, left, and Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in “The Pale Blue Eye.”

(Scott Garfield / Netflix)

“We wanted it to feel bare, unforgiving and brutal, with a very narrow color palette, almost shooting the film in black and white,” Cooper says. To that finish, his trusted manufacturing designer, Stefania Cella, designed the units and furnishings in blacks, and costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s blue cadet uniforms supplied important distinction, pops of colour in opposition to the muted panorama of frosty western Pennsylvania, the place the manufacturing befell.

Elsewhere, Canadian make-up artist and prosthetics designer Adrien Morot was tasked with creating the spine-tingling corpses.

“The most authentic cadavers that I’ve ever seen,” says Cooper. “So lifelike that I would look over at one of the actors looking at his cadaver, and you could see them having an unsettling out-of-body experience. [Adrien] would painstakingly re-create every hair on their body, which was hand-sewn in.”

“He no doubt had to go through airport security [with those],” Bale provides with a chuckle.

In the meantime, the location shoot’s subzero temperatures have been one thing to behold.

“It was a brutal shoot,” Cooper says. “But I take great pleasure in it. Whether Christian and I are shooting in monsoonal rains at 10,000 feet above sea level in ‘Hostiles’ or the unforgiving cold, the elements recede from me [while] watching him build those characters.”

“It made it memorable,” remembers Bale. “Imagine this film in summertime. That wouldn’t work at all. That amount of cold sharpens your brain as long as you’re not going into hibernation mode. Your survival instinct kicks in. [We saw] the most incredible sunrises and frosted lakes. Nobody who makes films ever wanted to work in an office.”