The Ninth Gate  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Ninth Gate is a 1999 Spanish/French English-language mystery film based on the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It was co-written and directed by Roman Polanski, and stars Johnny Depp. The film was a critical and commercial failure in North America, but managed to turn a profit with a worldwide box office gross of $58,401,898 (as of 2008).


The Ninth Gate premiered in San Sebastián, Spain on August 25, 1999. On its opening weekend in North America, the film debuted in 1,586 theaters and grossed $6,622,518. While eventually only making $18,661,336 in North America, it went on to make $58,401,898 worldwide, well above its budget of $38 million.

Most critics felt that the film fell short of Polanski's best known supernatural thriller, Rosemary's Baby. The Ninth Gate holds a 40-percent rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes (and a 26% among the "Cream of the Crop" critics). In Roger Ebert's review for the Chicago Sun-Times, he felt that the film's ending was lackluster, "while at the end I didn't yearn for spectacular special effects, I did wish for spectacular information–something awesome, not just a fade to white." Elvis Mitchell in The New York Times criticized the film for being "about as scary as a sock-puppet re-enactment of The Blair Witch Project, and not nearly as funny." However, Philip Strick's review in Sight and Sound magazine was more sympathetic, recognizing that it was "not particularly liked at first outing – partly because Johnny Depp, in fake grey temples, personifies the odious Corso of the book a little too accurately – the film is intricately well-made, deserves a second chance despite its disintegrations, and in time will undoubtedly acquire its own coven of heretical fans."

Plot outline

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a rare-book dealer in New York whose only motivation is financial gain. Wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires Corso to authenticate The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book by 17th century author Aristide Torchia, one of only three surviving copies, now in Balkan's possession. The book contains nine engravings which, when correctly deciphered and the interpretations properly spoken, are alleged to raise the Devil. Balkan suspects the book may be a forgery, and hires Corso to travel to Europe, assess the other two known copies, discover whether any are genuine, and if so, acquire them for Balkan at any cost.

Balkan's copy of The Nine Gates had previously belonged to Andrew Telfer, who committed suicide shortly after selling the book to Balkan. Telfer's widow Liana (Lena Olin) wants the book back, as Telfer originally bought the book for her. Liana seduces Corso in a failed attempt to reacquire her book. Corso's business partner and book store owner Bernie (James Russo), whom Corso had asked to hide the book, is murdered in the style of one of the engravings in The Nine Gates. Like The Hanged Man, Bernie is found hanging by one foot upside down.

Corso travels to Toledo, in Spain, and talks to the Ceniza brothers (Jose Lopez Rodero), twin book restorers who show him that some of the book's engravings are signed "LCF." Prompting Corso to guess who the initials refer to, the Cenizas agree when he responds with "Lucifer." Corso next goes by train to Sintra, in Portugal, and visits Victor Fargas (Jack Taylor), whose copy Corso compares with Balkan's, noting several variations in the engravings. The next morning, Corso is awakened by a mysterious young woman (Emmanuelle Seigner) with whom he has been crossing paths; she then leads Corso back to Fargas' home to find him murdered and the engravings ripped out of his copy of The Nine Gates. Later, the unnamed woman displays supernatural ability when she rescues Corso from an attack by Telfer's bodyguard (Tony Amoni).

In Paris, Corso tracks down the third surviving copy owned by Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford). He records additional differences in her copy before she is killed and pages from her book are removed. Corso, now believing each copy of The Nine Gates to be genuine, suspects that the secret to opening the nine gates can be found in a combination of all three copies. Telfer steals Balkan's copy out of Corso's hotel room, and he follows her to a mansion to witness her using it to lead a Satanist ceremony. Balkan suddenly interrupts the ceremony, kills Telfer, takes the torn out engravings and his own intact copy, and drives away believing that Corso is correct and all three copies are genuine.

Realizing that Balkan is responsible for the deaths of Victor Fargas and Baroness Kessler, Corso locates Balkan and witnesses him preparing to open the gates himself. However, because one of the engravings he uses is a forgery, Balkan's invocation fails and he dies consumed by flames (before Corso finishes him off by a bullet in his skull using Telfer's own gun). The mysterious girl has sex with Corso and directs him back to the Ceniza brothers' shop. There he discovers the final authentic engraving, which includes a likeness of the mystery girl herself, thereby allowing Corso to identify the correct location and travel through the ninth portal, to an unestablished fate, at the film's conclusion.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Ninth Gate" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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