Going back to the source
Friday, May 11, 2012

John Cusack explores the troubled mind of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote that, “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.’’

So imagine how Poe might feel about The Raven, a thriller that casts John Cusack as the legendary — and legendarily tragic — author and poet in a complex tale in which a serial killer commits crimes in 19th-century Baltimore by recreating the grisly, twisted demises of characters in Poe’s tales. The investigating detective (Luke Evans) at first considers Poe a suspect, but eventually is forced to turn to the writer, a 40-year-old lush who will be dead within days, for help. Matters turn even more personal when the killer kidnaps Poe’s fiancée, Emily (Alice Eve), and holds her as a hostage.

“It reminded me of the Jorge Luis Borges story, The Circular Ruins,” Cusack says. ‘’Who’s dreaming who? It had that equation to it, sort of. In a sense Poe has to understand his own mind, or his doppelgänger’s, in some way. It’s somehow his own creations coming to life and consuming him.

“I thought it was like Poe’s writing,” Cusack continues. “It’s a commercial, pulp idea, but then it allows you to get into a lot of very interesting metaphysical conundrums. So the story is both commercial and profound. To have something with both those things in it is pretty cool.

“I don’t want to tell you too much about which Poe stories we use,” the actor adds, “because we want people to go see for themselves. But obviously we’ve got The Pit and the Pendulum, we’ve got The Tell-Tale Heart, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and a few more. I’d have loved it if we’d used Hop-Frog, but we couldn’t fit that one in.”

A great many people have a great many opinions about Poe. He was reportedly brilliant, insane, his own worst enemy, regularly depressed and constantly broke. He either loved his wife, Virginia, who died in 1847, two years before his passing, or he routinely cheated on her, or both.

Speaking by telephone from a movie set in the English countryside, Cusack is quick to jump to Poe’s defense. “As far as what you just said, I think yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and no,” he says. “The no is that I don’t think he cheated on Virginia. My research on the guy led me to think that he was a serial monogamist. I think he loved and adored the company of women, much more than men, and that he needed women around him. He liked to be the subject of women’s infatuations.

“I think he was a libertine, in that he was a drunk and he was always looking for a fight and always ready to flout convention,” Cusack continues, “but I think that he definitely loved Virginia. I don’t think sex was his primary goal. That wasn’t his thing.”

So, given the film’s thriller trappings, how well will audiences get to know Poe? Cusack pauses a moment.

“I think you get to know quite a bit about him,” the actor says thoughtfully, “because what you can always do is express his attitudes and his words and his language, and we do that. Those things are sprinkled throughout the entire film. So, as you start to understand his writing, as Poe deconstructs his own writing to find the mind of the criminal, he’s essentially investigating himself, in many ways, as he’s investigating the murders.”

Like any actor with a major film hitting theaters, Cusack wants The Raven to perform well at the box office. However, he also has an ulterior motive: he’d like to see The Raven lure moviegoers back to the source material. “I think that what was so wonderful about it was just to get into his stories again, and to get into his language and his mind,” the actor says.

“It was an honour to bring one of these great American figures to life. I felt the responsibility and the opportunity of it.

“It was a real privilege to do that, to use his language and ideas and to get into his mind,” Cusack says. “It’s not a mind I’d particularly want to stay in, but it was certainly thrilling to do for a while. He had quite a troubled, haunted soul. He’s always been admired and revered, but it was really fun for me to discover his stories again. I hope people see the film and enjoy it, and maybe start reading his work again.”

— New York Times Syndicate

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