The Pale Blue Eye (2023) Ending Explained – Who killed the West Point cadets?

‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Plot Synopsis

Directed by Scott Cooper and adapted from the novel by Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye visits a part of Edgar Allan Poe’s life about which little is known.

When a West Point cadet is discovered dead in 1830 and his heart is later carved out of his chest, military leaders of the academy ask Detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) to uncover who is behind the gruesome act. Seeing promise in one of the academy’s own, Landor enlists a young cadet for help: the poet Edgar Allan Poe (Henry Melling).

Is ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ based on a true story?

The Pale Blue Eye is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by a real time in Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Poe actually did enter West Point in 1830, and The Pale Blue Eye imagines that Poe’s stories and poems were inspired by the murders that take place at the military academy in the film.

Who is murdered in ‘The Pale Blue Eye’?

One morning, Cadet Leroy Fry is found dead, hanging from a tree. It’s presumed that he hanged himself–until Detective Landor finds signs of foul play, as well as a note inside Fry’s hand indicating that someone asked Fry to meet them that night.

Later, Cadet Randolph Ballinger is also found hanging from a tree. And his heart is already missing. Being close to these two young men, Cadet Stoddard runs away from the academy, fearing he is next.

Is the Marquis family involved in Satanic rituals?

Through a man named Jean Pepe (Robert Duvall), Landor and Poe discover the rumor that a copy of witch hunter Henri Le Clerc’s book still exists. In it, Le Clerc details a ritual that claims to give immortality. The ritual requires a heart from a hanged man–just more evidence that the cadets’ deaths were the result of foul play.

Signs point to the Marquis family being involved. The daughter, Lea (Lucy Boynton), is extremely sick. Their son, Artemus (Harry Lawtey), was close to the murdered cadets. And the father, Dr. Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones) suspiciously did not find evidence of murder in his autopsy of Leroy Fry.

Eventually, Landor has enough evidence to confront Dr. Marquis, and he admits that they are responsible for carving out Fry’s heart. He couldn’t find any way to cure Lea from her ailment. He only allowed her and Artemus to pursue Le Clerc’s findings because he was afraid Lea would die. But he says his children insisted they wouldn’t kill anyone, only that they would find an already-dead body. Now, with two cadets dead and now Poe suddenly unaccounted for, he’s not so sure they were telling the truth.

How do Artemus and Lea Marquis die?

After spending so much time with the Marquis family, Poe falls in love with Lea. He tells her he would do anything for her. And according to Lea, sacrifice is the greatest form of love.

To further the ritual, Artemus prepares to stab a drugged Poe while Lea and their mother look on. When Landor rushes in to stop them, Lea knocks over a candle, and fire overtakes the room. Landor is able to save Poe and Julia Marquis (Gillian Anderson), but Artemus and Lea perish in the fire.

Who actually killed the West Point cadets?

When Detective Landor shares his findings with the military leaders, the case is believed to be resolved. However, Poe then confronts Landor with new information he’s obtained. Poe accuses the detective of killing the cadets himself.

Landor slipped up. He left Poe with the note from Fry’s hand (which was assumed to be from Lea). But Poe noticed that the handwriting on the note matches a note that Landor once wrote to him. This means that it wasn’t Lea who lured Fry to his death, but Landor.

Poe also discovered through a woman close to Landor that Landor’s “missing” daughter was raped by three West Point cadets on her way home from the academy ball. This then drove her to suicide. The cadets who raped her were Fry, Ballinger, and Stoddard–giving Landor a motive for killing them.

Landor not only killed Fry, but he was summoned to West Point to solve the mystery he created. He accepted the job, which gave him the chance to frame someone else (the Marquis family) for the cadet’s murder and presented the opportunity for him to murder Ballinger as well.

How does ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ end?

Poe has all the information he needs to turn Landor in. But he doesn’t, and instead burns the note that would have convicted the detective. Landor tells him he wishes that his daughter could have run into him on her way home from the academy ball. Perhaps they could have truly been family.

The Pale Blue Eye ends with Landor standing at the same cliff his daughter once fell from. He turns his back to the edge of the cliff. That’s where the film ends. Whether he falls back and dies as his daughter did, we don’t get to see.


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7 thoughts on “The Pale Blue Eye (2023) Ending Explained – Who killed the West Point cadets?”

  1. Landor decided to live by releasing his daughter’s ribbon and telling her to rest. Letting go of the ribbon at the site of her suicide was symbolic of his letting go of his pain, his grief, and his need for revenge.

    As for some questioning the need for multiple hearts stolen by the Marquis, it is simple. They took the first one after the autopsy of Fry. Landor took Ballenger’s heart and penis! And Stoddard ran away, so no heart taken. The Marquis used Fry’s heart for the ceremony to “cure” Lea, but she continued to have her (epilepsy) seizures. This meant they needed to conduct another ceremony or even as many ceremonies until they got it right and “cured” her. So as long as a hanged person was found, this family was determined to take their hearts for the health of Lea.

  2. Nicks, thank you very much for that tidbit. I won’t confirm it, but I do hope it’s true. Either way, thanks for the closure.

  3. Reluca – the heart of the man who was in love with Lea was worth more to help cure her. The ultimate sacrifice.

  4. He releases her hair ribbon while saying – rest my love. The ribbon was symbolic of him releasing his anger and finding peace now, thus telling his daughter the same. That’s why he doesn’t even need to go hunt Stoddard down. It was more than enough that fear follows the 3rd man for rest of his life. Finding peace and love from Poe not turning him in helped resolve so many of his guilt and pain.

  5. I dont understand what were the Marquis going to do to Poe in the end? Stab him? And why? They already had a heart.

  6. I agree he did not committ suicide.
    He let his daughter know ,she could be at peace now as he would be too.

  7. The author of the book, Louis Bayard, made it very clear Landor releases Maddie’s ribbon, saying “rest now Maddie” to show he let go of the grief. Hence … WALKING AWAY from the cliff, having let go of the grief snd the ribbon.

    “He realized there was more life ahead of him” – Louis Bayard, CREATOR of the ending

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