When we first saw the movie trailer for The Raven, the film went on our radar as one to see at an actual theater. John Cusack, one of the most interesting and diversely talented actors around, plays Edgar Allan Poe, a writer with whom Rob shares a certain, shall we say, camaraderie.
Here’s the back story on Rob and Poe. At some point in the late 1990s, Rob became sort of obsessed with Poe. He read the short stories, found some strange synchronicities, started taking notes. The notes eventually grew into Romancing the Raven, a wonderful time travel adventure involving Poe, a young New York woman from the late twentieth century, and a romance that spans centuries.
When Rob handed me the manuscript, I think I read it in a couple of days. It pulled at me, the way good stories always do. One of his characters – Uncle Fids – was actually a friend of ours, an eccentric and lovable psychic whom Rob met because of The Rainbow Oracle, a divination book that he co-authored with Tony Grosso.
In the book, there’s a terrific scene at a tribute in Central Park for John Lennon, a spot Fids took us to the last time we saw him. “This man wasn’t just a visionary,” Fids said. “He was a prophet.” The three of us sat in the sunlight on one of the benches, staring at the emblem: Imagine. Rob uses that spot a bit differently in the book, but Uncle Fids is there, just as he was in real life.
So on the afternoon of mother’s day -a hallmark holidays, right? -we buy our popcorn and settle in for the movie. Here’s the IMDB synopsis: When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works, a young Baltimore detective joins forces with Poe to stop him from making his stories a reality.
But that summary isn’t quite accurate. The murders are practically duplicates of stuff that Poe has written and at this moment in his life, he’s broke, drinks too much, and is madly in love with Emily, whose wealthy father despises him. But when Emily is abducted at a costume ball by this serial killer, the story breaks wide open.
Cusack is terrific in whatever role he plays. He was great in the surreal Being John Malcovich, in the romantic comedy Must Love Dogs, the oddball High Fidelity, and now, as the misfit Poe. (And, oh by the way, I love this man’s politics.)
Poe died under mysterious circumstances on October 7, 1849, at the age of 40. Four days earlier, he had been found on a park bench in a Baltimore, Maryland in great physical distress. The film leads you up to those final hours of his life and is a masterfully executed whodoneit.
The screenwriter obviously did his homework about Poe. I mean, you would think this would be a given, but too many movies based on real people tend to bend those facts for fictional purposes. The last word that Poe uttered, in real life, was Reynolds. And it’s on that word that the film ultimately pivots. It’s where speculative fiction must enter in because, in real life, to this day, no one knows who or what Reynolds was to Poe.
Yes, there’s graphic violence in this film. But that certainly fits with Poe’s stories and adds to the general eerie world Poe inhabited, in his own head. Cusack brings that madness to life on the screen.There are some wonderful twists and turns and surprises in the plot. Rob and I kept whispering to each other, He’s the killer, no that guy is the killer…. And we were wrong.
Rob’s only criticism of the movie was that Poe was depicted as being more athletic than he probably was in real life. In one scene, he races through a foggy woods on horseback; Rob leans toward me and whispers, “No way.”
I had read some reviews of the movie. The Palm Beach Post reviewer thought it was too slow and gave it a B. I guess if you compare it with X-Men or to the trailer we saw for the next G.I Joe movie, then yes, it’s slow. One review I read said the film was okay, but “creatively bankrupt.” Huh?
We are all critics. What moves me may not move you. What speaks to me, may not speak to you. But to say that the move is creatively bankrupt tells me that whoever wrote this has never created anything. Every writer, artist, actor, entrepreneur, filmmaker- every person engaged in a creative endeavor – creates from his or her own experience and imagination. Cusack’s interpretation of Poe as a man, a writer, a guy whose lover has been kidnapped by a serial killer duplicating what he writes about in his stories, is pitch perfect.
But if you’re looking for car chases, lasers, shoot outs, and terrorists with nukes, don’t bother with this movie. The Raven is a film that engages you intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but deep within that dark archetypal night of the soul when your worst nightmares whisper, What if, what if…
Cusack did for Poe in film what Rob does for him in Romancing the Raven. Am I prejudiced? You bet. But don’t take my word for it. See the film. Read the book. You decide.