The Pale Blue Eye ending explained: Who did it in Christian Bale’s new whodunnit

Christian Bale in The Pale Blue Eye.Netflix

The Pale Blue Eye is a period thriller in which Edgar Allan Poe investigates a series of grisly murders, and where the solution to the mystery is more complicated than it first appears – so, here’s the ending explained.

Based on Louis Bayard’s 2003 novel of the same name, The Pale Blue Eye is written and directed by Scott Cooper, with the official synopsis as follows…

West Point, 1830. A world-weary detective is hired to discreetly investigate the gruesome murder of a cadet. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case – a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe.

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Christian Bale plays Landor, the detective in question, Harry Melling is on scene-stealing form as Poe, while the supporting cast includes Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Toby Jones, and Timothy Spall. You can read our review of The Pale Blue Eye here.

The story is twisty-turny, while there’s lots going on during the complicated climax, so if you were confused by the ending of The Pale Blue Eye, here’s everything explained. Beware of spoilers ahead.

Ending of The Pale Blue Eye explained

The Marquis family did it. Lea Marquis (Lucy Boynton) is ill, with her seizures getting worse, so-much-so that she might have just six months to live.

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She communicates with a dead relative who has experience of witchcraft, resulting in Lea believing she needs a human heart to cast a life-saving spell.

As far as the film is concerned, Lea and her brother Artemus (Harry Lawtey) kill a cadet called Flynn, and use his heart for just that purpose.

Said spell works for a while, seemingly, but when Lea again falls ill, she needs another victim, and sees opportunity in Edgar Allan Poe – and more specifically in Edgar Allan Poe’s heart – telling her strange new suitor “sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love.”

So with help from Artemus and mother Julia (Gillian Anderson), Lea drugs Poe, and sets about cutting the beating heart from his chest.

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Landor arrives in the nick-of-time, a fire starts, and following a brief struggle, the ceiling collapses on Lea and Artemus, killing them both.

The REAL solution to the Pale Blue mystery

Landor killed the cadets. Landor spends much of the film claiming his daughter ran away with a man. But Poe figures it out and the detective confesses – Landor’s daughter was sexually assaulted by three cadets at the Academy Ball, an incident that drove her to suicide.

However, during her assault, she grabbed dog-tags that identified one of the cadets as Flynn, whom Landor then murders after her death. Meaning the Marquis siblings didn’t kill, but rather stumbled upon his corpse, and took advantage of someone who was already dead.

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Flynn’s diary reveals Bollinger as his accomplice, so Landor tortures and murders him too, telling Poe: “I didn’t want them to confess, I wanted them to die.” Landor even mutilates and kills livestock to make the murders look like the work of a cult.

Poe is angry that Landor lied to him, and even more enraged about Lea’s death. But he ultimately decides that Landor has suffered enough, burning the evidence that could convict him, and letting the world think the murders were all the work of Lea Marquis and her brother.

FUN FACT: The Pale Blue Eye opens with Landor washing his hands in a river. These later revelations mean that Landor was actually cleaning Flynn’s blood off his hands in this moment, so he’s shown to be the murderer in the film’s opening scene. Which is one of the many reasons you’ll need to watch the movie twice.

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The Pale Blue Eye is in select cinemas now and releases on Netflix January 6.