The current pandemic has brought many industries to a standstill, moviemaking included. Scott Cooper might tell you as much considering he has several projects on the backburner—two nondescript movies with Christian Bale and another with Elisabeth Moss—yet he isn’t sure which will get made next in the current climate. Even his last movie, horror-thriller Antlers, was supposed to be released already. Yet it was while talking about that latest one, alongside producer Guillermo del Toro, during a virtual Comic-Con@Home panel that Cooper revealed his dream project: a movie about young Edgar Allan Poe’s time at West Point.
To be clear, Cooper doesn’t necessarily view the concept as a traditional Poe biopic, nor as a purely historical endeavor. The logline for the idea he shared with del Toro and Comic-Con audiences at home sounds, in fact, more like the type of chiller that would appeal to one of American literature’s greatest Gothic scribes.
“I’ve written about a series of murders that take place at West Point in the year 1830,” Cooper said, “and they surround this young cadet who is unlike all of the other cadets. He is poetic; he’s irrational; he’s at times fanciful; he’s extremely passionate, and the world would come to know this young cadet as Edgar Allan Poe.”
It was an instantly intriguing premise. So much so, del Toro appeared to suggest he’s already interested in producing the project.
“We should make sure you make it,” del Toro said. “I will produce it.”
It’s a tantalizing concept, not least because of the pedigree of filmmakers pitching the project. Also despite his critics, Poe is largely credited as being one of the foundational writers of American horror literature, and certainly one of the greatest American poets of the Gothic and Romantic era in the 19th century. He authored many famous works that have endured for nearly 200 years, including short stories and novellas like “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” as well as poems like “Annabel Lee,” “The Haunted Palace,” “Lenore,” and “The Raven.” Still… Poe’s checkered military career is often overlooked.
Before finding marginal success as a poet and literary critic in his lifetime, Poe entered the U.S. military under a false identity. He enlisted, in part, to get away from his estranged foster father—his biological father abandoned his family when he was one-year-old and his mother died the year after that. Poe briefly rekindled a relationship with his foster father in Virginia, particularly after Poe was accepted to the elite West Point military academy.
However, Poe’s estrangement from the patriarch soon became permanent with Poe being disowned, and Poe’s literary career finding fledgling success when his anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published. Already having accrued severe gambling debts, the young Poe lost interest in a military career and decided to pursue writing after he got himself intentionally court-martialed for gross negligence and insubordination.
One imagines Cooper’s take on Poe’s life would be a different affair with “fanciful” encounters involving murders. While playing fast and loose with Poe’s biography for a murder mystery has been done before with the rather rote thriller, The Raven (2012), which starred John Cusack as the tragic writer, one imagines talent like Cooper and del Toro would offer something more substantial.
Remember other films to Cooper’s credit include Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), and Hostiles (2017). The latter was a rather underrated drama about the bloody grievances and animosities between U.S. Cavalry soldiers (with an officer played by Bale) and Cheyenne leaders, including a chief played by Wes Studi. Cooper’s emphasis on craft and historical authenticity—but also obviously the weird and macabre, considering he just made a horror movie about the Wendigo—could prove fertile ground for an Edgar Allan Poe film.