The Pale Blue Eye Ending, Explained: Who is the Killer?

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

Based on the eponymous novel by Louis Bayard, Netflix’s murder mystery film ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ revolves around Detective Augustus Landor, who is assigned to investigate the death of the United States Military Academy cadet Leroy Fry, whose heart was mysteriously removed from his dead body. Landor teams up with a young cadet and poet named Edgar Allan Poe to unravel the mystery behind the same, which leads them to another murder that happens in the vicinity of the Academy. Starring Christian Bale as Landor and Harry Melling as Poe, the Scott Cooper directorial progresses through the discoveries the duo makes that change their lives as well. The engrossing film ends with a startling twist and if you are up for a detailed take on the same, you are at the right place! SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Pale Blue Eye Plot Synopsis

‘The Pale Blue Eye’ begins with Captain Hitchcock of the Military Academy bringing Augustus Landor to the establishment to investigate Leroy Fry’s mysterious death. Hitchcock and his superior Superintendent Thayer let Landor know that Fry was hanged and brought to the academy, only for someone to cut his heart off. Landor doesn’t take long for finding out that Fry was murdered. He also discovers a piece of paper in one of the hands of the dead cadet. Landor teams up with a cadet named Edgar Allan Poe to investigate the murder and they both theorize that Fry was called to the murder spot by an anonymous person, possibly the killer.

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

Meanwhile, several sheep and cows get killed in the vicinity and the remains of the same are found without their hearts. The discovery leads Landor and Poe to investigate the religious or occult practices that could be connected to Fry’s murder and cattle mutilation. After encountering a symbol amid the investigation, Landor meets one of his friends, who connects the symbol and the theft of hearts to the occult practices detailed in ‘Discours du Diable’ by Henri le Clerc, which instructs the readers to conduct practices for the sake of gaining immortality. Meanwhile, Poe befriends Artemus Marquis, the son of the Academy physician Daniel Marquis.

Soon, Poe gets together with Artemus’ sister Lea Marquis, who is suffering from a mysterious ailment that threatens her life. From his interaction with fellow cadets, Poe finds out that the Marquises are involved with non-Christian practices, which he informs Landor of as well. During a dinner with the Marquis family, Landor encounters a rare copy of ‘Discours du Diable’ in the library of Daniel. He then leaves for upstairs and finds a coat that belongs to Artemus, which was used by the individual who stole Fry’s heart. Daniel comes clean about extracting Fry’s heart for his daughter Lea’s sake since the latter believes that an occult ritual involving human hearts may grant her immortality.

Meanwhile, another cadet named Randolph Ballinger is found dead in the vicinity of the academy, with his heart cut off from his dead body. While Landor investigates the murder, Lea takes Poe into an isolated room in the establishment and sets out to cut his heart open as part of the occult practice. The detective arrives at the scene before Artemus and Lea could kill Poe. While Landor saves Poe, the barn where the practice is conducted catches fire, killing Lea and Artemus. The detective convinces Captain Hitchcock and Superintendent Thayer that the sister and brother killed the two cadets.

The Pale Blue Eye Ending: Who is the Killer?

Detective Augustus Landor is the killer of Leroy Fry and Randolph Ballinger. After Lea and Artemus’ deaths, Landor presents them as the killers. It doesn’t take much effort for the detective to convince Daniel that his children killed the two cadets, especially since they sought his service to remove the heart from Fry’s dead body. By creating a narrative that two dead people, who cannot dispute his arguments or claims, are the killers, Landor has been trying to cover up the murders he had committed. The detective has been exacting vengeance on Fry and Ballinger for raping his daughter Mattie.

A while before Fry’s murder, Landor found Mattie in distress in the woods. From her, he learned that a group of cadets raped her. Although she couldn’t identify the rapists, she brought home a chain that belonged to one of the cadets with the initials that read, “LF.” The chain led Landor to Fry and the subsequent murder of the cadet. However, the cadet was adamant about protecting his two friends who joined him to rape Mattie. When Landor encounters a dead end as he tries to find the rest of the perpetrators, Fry’s mother hands over the dead cadet’s diary, which leads him to Ballinger. Upon realizing that Ballinger is the second rapist, the detective kills him but only after ensuring that Stoddard is the third cadet of the group.

Landor may have killed Stoddard if the cadet hasn’t realized that his life is under threat after witnessing the deaths of Fry and Ballinger to run away from the academy. Landor hanged Fry with the hope of framing the death as a suicide. What he didn’t know was that Lea and Artemus had made plans to remove his heart from the dead cadet’s body. When Daniel removed the heart and Fry’s death became a matter of mystery, Landor realizes that another door has opened for him to disconnect himself from the murders. He integrated the element of occultism into the deaths by purposefully removing the heart of Ballinger, in addition to the sheep and cows.

The occult practices that have been happening in the Marquis household give him an opportunity to shift the responsibilities of Fry and Ballinger’s deaths to Lea and Artemus. Coincidentally, the siblings’ plan to kill Poe further adds authenticity to Landor’s claims/narrative. The renowned detective fools the legal system but he fails to fool his mentee Poe. The poet compares the note found in Fry’s hand to a note the detective has kept for him to realize that the handwriting in both notes is the same. With the help of Patsy, he learns all about how Mattie got raped and subsequently killed herself. Poe then connects the dots and realizes that Landor wrote the letter to Fry, which led him to the detective and eventually his death.

Does Augustus Landor Die?

After Mattie’s death, Landor lives for avenging the same. He exacts his vengeance on Fry and Ballinger so that he can try to make peace with the haunting memories of his daughter. However, even after two of the three rapists’ death, Landor doesn’t find the calmness he has been seemingly craving, which leads him to the cliff where Mattie fell to kill herself. By releasing a piece of cloth that belonged to Mattie, he asks her to finally rest as he has avenged the tragedy that befell her. With nothing and no one else to live for, the detective may kill himself by falling off the cliff.

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

As a seeker of truth, Landor has solved several high-profile and supposedly unsolvable cases. For such a man, being a murderer is something unacceptable. If Landor managed to make peace with his murderous self, the detective would have killed the third rapist Stoddard rather than proclaiming that he doesn’t have the strength and will to commit a third murder. Landor must be finding it hard to tolerate himself and his actions that severely affected many, including Daniel, who will have to live with the false understanding that his two children were murderers.

Since the film ends with Landor standing at the edge of the cliff while facing the woods, just like Mattie did before falling from the cliff to kill herself, he may follow his daughter to reunite with her in the afterlife. Landor may find death as the easiest to embrace rather than the combined hurt of living as a murderer with the haunting memories of his daughter.

What Does Poe Burn Down? Why?

After finding out that Landor is the real murderer, Poe confronts the detective, who doesn’t even try to deceive the young poet again. When Poe listens to Landor confessing to killing both Fry and Ballinger, he confronts the need for either turning the detective in to the authorities or protecting him by choosing silence. As far as Poe is concerned, Landor hasn’t been a random old man who made him an assistant. The detective has always tried to protect him even when he has been deceiving the latter, which makes it harder for Poe to turn the detective in to the authorities.

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

When Poe discovers the truth, Landor accepts the possibility of prison time and the death penalty. Since he doesn’t have anything to live for, Landor makes it clear to Poe that he should prove that the detective is the murderer using the piece of paper and the note he left for the latter. Landor picks up the note and gives it to Poe so that he can submit the same to the authorities. However, Poe burns the note down, making it impossible for anyone to prove that the detective is the murderer of Fry and Ballinger. Poe may have realized that he doesn’t have the emotional strength to lead his father figure to the gallows, which makes him destroy the crucial evidence.

Ever since joining the Military Academy, Poe has only suffered. He has been an odd one out among his peers and he hasn’t been the brightest soldier to impress his teachers and superiors. But unlike all of them, Landor sees and acknowledges Poe’s potential and skills, which motivates the detective to make the young poet his assistant. Poe may not want to return Landor’s kindness by turning him into the authorities. Still, he bids his goodbye to the detective as a punishment for deceiving him, which may have contributed to Landor’s most likely decision to kill himself.

Read More: Where Was Netflix’s The Pale Blue Eye Filmed?