A murder mystery thriller, The Pale Blue Eye follows detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) as he investigates the killing of a cadet at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York in 1830. He eventually teams up with an eccentric cadet with a disdain for the military, Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).
It is based on the eponymous 2003 book by Louis Bayard.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
The Pale Blue Eye opens in 1830 and introduces detective Augustus Landor. He is called in by the higher-ups of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York to deal with an urgent matter.
The matter is the death of a young man named Cadet Leroy Fry, who was found hanging from a tree the night before. Furthermore, his heart was carved out by an unknown person in the morgue later.
Landor begins investigating and quickly discovers that it is a case of murder. He also finds a part of a note clenched in Fry’s right hand, but cannot decipher what it says. Next, he speaks to the cadet, who was guarding the body the previous night, and gets to know that he was relieved by a mysterious officer wearing an improper jacket at 2:30 AM.
Eventually, Landor is introduced to another cadet, Edgar Allan Poe. They start working together and decode the fragment, which hints that Fry was lured out of the academy to his death, likely by the same man who ripped out his heart.
Soon after, a cow and a sheep are found mutilated nearby with their hearts ripped out, and panic spreads. Landor inclines toward ritualistic practices and asks Poe to meet him in the ice house where he discovers wax on the floor and a satanic pattern.
Landor consults with an expert in such symbols and rituals, his friend Jean-Pepe and is told that the pattern is potentially linked to renowned witch hunter Henri Le Clerc. He had decoded a ritual for guaranteeing immortality, but all copies of his book about it are either lost or destroyed.
As the investigation moves forward, Cadet Fry’s mother gives Landor his diary. Unfortunately, another cadet named Randolph Ballinger is soon murdered in a similar fashion before Landor can decipher who the killer is.
His colleagues are suspicious of Poe because he had once publically threatened to kill Ballinger. The reason for that was the latter attacking Poe for spending too much time with another cadet, Artemus Marquis’ sister, Lea.
The detective goes through Fry’s diary and learns that he was good friends with Ballinger. Furthermore, they were close to another cadet named Julius Stoddard, who goes missing.
The Pale Blue Eye ending explained in detail:
Who carves out the hearts?
Artemus and Lea are the children of Dr. Daniel Marquis, the academy doctor and the man responsible for examining Fry’s body. While attending a dinner at their place, Landor chances upon the improper officer’s jacket that the guard had seen on the night of Fry’s defilement.
Also, he notices a portrait of Henri Le Clerc in Dr. Marquis’s study. Upon questioning him, the doctor confesses that Le Clerc is his great-grandfather and he also owns a copy of his book, Discours du Diable.
He reveals that they used the heart for a ritual to help Lea, who suffers from terrible seizures. Ironically, since the family used the heart, Lea had started recovering from a fatal condition.
What happens to Poe?
Elsewhere, Poe is infatuated with Lea, who intoxicates him for another ritual. Landor senses something is wrong and goes to check on him. He finds Poe in a semi-conscious state with Lea, Artemus, and their mother, Julia, about to kill him for his heart.
Landor interferes with the ritual, and a scuffle breaks out. Unfortunately, a candle gets knocked over, setting the house ablaze. The detective manages to save Poe and Julia, but both her children are crushed under falling debris.
With the case solved, Dr. Marquis resigns from the academy, but the magistrate spares Julia, stating that she had suffered enough. It is concluded that the deceased siblings killed Fry and Ballinger for the ritual while their third friend Stoddard fled before he could become the next victim.
What is Landor’s secret?
After recovering from severe blood loss during the ritual, Poe visits Landor, and some shocking revelations come to light. He expresses that he knows Landor lied about his daughter, Mattie running away earlier in the film.
He snooped around and found that two years ago, on her way back from the Academy Ball, Mattie was raped by three anonymous men. She could never recover from the trauma and committed suicide.
Furthermore, Poe confesses that he compared Landor’s handwriting on the note inviting him to the ice house to the one on the fragment found in Fry’s hand. Turns out, it was almost identical.
Finally, it is made clear that the detective trying to solve the murders was responsible for luring Fry out and killing him. Lea and Artemus just pounced at the opportunity of procuring a heart when the body was brought into the morgue.
Landor knew Fry was one of the assailants as Mattie had snatched his dog tag during the assault. Once he discovered that the heart had been carved out, he misled the investigation towards satanic practices and put the entire blame on the Marquis siblings.
He was also the one responsible for killing the sheep and the cow to make it more convincing. Furthermore, upon reading Fry’s diary, it became clear to Landor that the other two perpetrators were indeed Ballinger and Stoddard.
He murdered the former, but Stoddard did run away. Landor expresses that he hopes the cadet spends the rest of his life fearing death. Poe is still confused as to why Landor asked for his help when he wanted to mislead the investigation.
The detective replies that he always intended to give himself up to Poe, who is startled to hear this. However, he doesn’t turn Landor in for his crimes and burns the evidence.
He then bids the detective farewell and leaves. The film ends with Landor standing over the cliff where Mattie jumped to her death and lets go of her ribbon.