Friday, October 12, 2012

Film Friday: The Ninth Gate (1999)

Hollywood loves evil. . . cartoon evil. From sulking cannibalistic serial killers to Al Pacino’s devil screaming about being a lawyer, all of Hollywood’s evil characters display uncontrollable sadism and megalomania. They yell and scream and prance around shooting their underlings or kicking puppies so the audience knows they are evil. And every once in a while, a truly sinister one whispers ominously. . . and then prances around shooting his underlings and kicking puppies. The Ninth Gate rejects that. The Ninth Gate is an indictment of Hollywood’s version of evil. It is a warning that we have been so blinded by the glitz of Hollywood evil, that we can no longer recognize the real thing.

** heavy spoiler alert **
The Plot
Directed by Roman Polanski, The Ninth Gate is the story of Dean Corso (played perfectly by Johnny Depp). Corso is an odious little man who acquires rare books for well paying clients. We first meet Corso as he tricks a young couple out of a rare copy of "Don Quixote." Soon Corso is summoned by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a collector of books about the devil. Balkan has acquired a copy of the “Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows” by Aristide Torchia. This rare book (only three exist) supposedly will allow the reader to summon the devil. Balkan suspects his version is a forgery and pays Corso to inspect the other two copies. Corso is told to obtain an original, non-forgery by any means possible. Thus begins Corso’s journey.
When Corso begins comparing the books, he discovers that Torchia hid a secret in all three books as a kind of puzzle. Each book contains nine supposedly-identical engravings. But Corso realizes that three of the engravings in each book contain subtle differences and that the engravings with those differences are signed “LCF” (meaning Lucifer).

As Corso examines the books, people around him start dying. He is also chased by a sadistic woman named Liana Telfer who wants Balkan’s copy of the book (Balkan took it from her husband). Telfer belongs to a cult and intends to use the book as part of a Satanic ritual. Corso also meets the Baroness Kessler, who claims to have seen the devil in her youth, and who has since dedicated her life to writing about the devil. Telfer eventually steals the book from Corso, and Balkan kills her to reclaim it. He then uses the book himself to attempt to conjure the devil. But the final engraving is a forgery. Thus, when Balkan sets himself on fire, much to his surprise, he burns. As he burns, Corso shoots him. Corso then retrieves the real engraving, which reveals the location of the ninth gate. As the story ends, we see Corso walking through the ninth gate.
The Message
The Ninth Gate is about real evil, and that evil is Corso. Corso systematically abandons God by engaging in each of the seven deadly sins and ultimately declares allegiance to the devil and voluntarily pass through the ninth gate. But can the audience see this?

To test the audience, Polanski does more than just tell us the story of Dean Corso. Indeed, he attempts to distract us with the over-the-top, pro-forma Hollywood evil of Balkan and Telfer. Polanski knows that we are so accustomed to Hollywood evil and Hollywood formula that we will see these two as “the” evil and we will dismiss Corso’s own evil. Indeed, like Pavlov’s dogs, we’ve come to expect that all evil is larger-than-life and that where there is an evil character there must be an opposing good character. Thus, we are conditioned to see Corso as “the good guy” and we cheer him on, no matter how evil he becomes. And evil he does become.

Throughout the movie, Corso’s evil continues to ratchet up notch after notch and Polanski turns each of these notches into a test for the audience. In each instance, as Corso undertakes his relentless, remorseless journey of evil, we are offered a justification for his conduct. But we are also shown why that justification is not valid. Can we recognize the truth? For example, Corso drinks and smokes to excess. Sure, it’s gluttony, but we all do it. He pushes away two beggars, but they didn’t seem very likeable. He steals from a dead man, but we’re told “he’s dead, why worry about him.” When Corso defrauds the couple of the "Don Quixote," we don’t mind because they are shown to be greedy people hoping to profit off their father’s stroke. Yet, we’re also shown that the father suffers when he see Corso’s actions but is powerless to stop him. Thus, our excuse that only bad people will suffer from his conduct is shown to be false.

Corso accepts Balkan’s assignment to do “whatever it takes,” which we know to be wrong, but we understand his motivation because Balkan offers him a tremendous amount of money. Indeed, our greed blinds us to the truth. When his best friend is killed because of this assignment, we nevertheless want him to continue -- after all, he’s dead, why worry about him. Corso sleeps with Liana Telfer under false pretenses, but we don’t mind because she’s evil and she was trying to use him. Later on, he even kills Telfer’s henchman, but it’s all in self-defense, right? Actually no. Corso kills the henchman after he knocks him unconscious. Corso could have simply escaped, but he was angry so he chose to kill the man. Anger, by the way, was once considered the worst of all sins.
And let’s not forget that Corso also kills a second time. He kills Balkan after Balkan sets himself on fire. But that was a mercy killing, right? He didn’t want Balkan to suffer in the fire, right? Actually, look again. Corso watches Balkan burn with more than a hint of satisfaction on his face. It is only near the end, as Balkan is about to die from his burns that Corso shoots him, to satisfy his own vengeance.

Further, consider the young woman with no name. She is the devil. How do we know this? We are never told who she is, but we are given clues -- like the rest of the film, her identity is a puzzle to be solved. Of all the characters, she is the only one with supernatural powers (she floats on air in one scene and changes her form in an airport in another). Also, her’s is the face of the woman riding the beast in the final engraving, and when she and Corso finally have sex, her eyes glow as the flames build behind them, making her physically appear as the devil might.

As the devil, Hollywood tells us she would be interested in Balkan or Telfer, but she’s not. She wants Corso because unlike the fake evil of Balkan or Telfer, Corso offers real evil. Indeed, interestingly, despite obsessing over the devil their entire lives, neither Balkan or Telfer ever realize that she is the devil -- even though she is standing right before their eyes. She is simply not what they expect, she’s not grandiose. Continuing this theme, Balkan even has a painting of the location of the ninth gate in his library at the beginning of the film, but never grasps its meaning. Polanski’s point in this, is that evil stands before us all the time, but we don’t see it because we are looking for something too grandiose.

With regard to Corso, the young woman renders her verdict when Corso kills the henchmen. She watches the murder with glee and then says with admiration, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” He has passed the test.
Finally, Polanski gives us huge hints from Corso’s own mouth. When he first deals with Balkan, Corso says to Balkan “my god” and refers to him on the phone as “his master’s voice.” While these could be viewed as nothing more than expressions or clever turns-of-phrase, they are instead meant to alert the reader that Corso worships the man who pays him. He has no other allegiance. When Corso discovers the puzzle within the three books, he says, “I’ll be damned,” as indeed he will. And when he finally decides he no longer cares about Balkan’s money, but instead wants to solve the puzzle and conjure the devil himself, he says to the young woman, “my god” -- effectively declaring a new allegiance to the devil. These are clues into the nature of Corso’s soul.

Each of these clues combine to show us that Corso is the true evil in this movie. He is the one the devil considers most compelling. That we lose sight of Corso’s evil because it is not over-the-top like Balkan is Polanski’s point. We the viewers cheer Corso along in his journey. We fail to see the evil in his acts, we justify what evil we do see, and we happily share his fate. That is the message of this film. It is no coincidence that the only two people to see the devil for who he/she really is are Corso and us.
Irony Gone Wild: The Critics
Let me finish with a bit of irony regarding film critics. As you know, film critics like to think of themselves as a nuanced and insightful group. They routinely claim to see a hundred shades of meaning in every hamburger and they love to complain that Hollywood never produces intelligent films. So what did they say about the very thoughtful and nuanced The Ninth Gate?

According to Roger Ebert, Johnny Depp played Corso “too odiously” to be the hero. Hmmm, sounds like someone didn’t understand that Corso’s surrender to evil was the point of the movie. The NYT said the movie wasn’t sufficiently scary. Of course, I hear that’s a common complaint about Socrates as well. Entertainment Weekly didn’t think the ending was spectacular enough. . . maybe Depp should have kicked a puppy?


freedom21 said...

Blockbuster video, here I come!

That Roman Polanski...he's good at his evil.

Great Read, thanks!

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom21, you're welcome. Let me know what you think after you see it.

I'll respond to your comments in the other thread asap, but it's been one of those days -- very rushed.

SQT said...

Wow, that's a great breakdown of the movie. Into the queue it goes...

I like your point about Hollywood evil. Generally speaking Hollywood doesn't do subtle. And while it would be easy to be derisive of that, it's clear by the response from the critics, the audience doesn't really get subtleties most of the time. Granted, if entertainment was more sophisticated the audience would follow the trend. But I expect that the lowest common denominator will always be catered to.

AndrewPrice said...


Glad you liked it. I knew I liked the movie when I first saw it -- I usually like Johnny Depp films. But then, the more I thought about it, the more impressed I became. It really has layers upon layers of subtlety in it.

It's actually the precise kind of movie that the critics claim to like. So it was interesting to see that they didn't "get it."

One of the problems I have with film evil (as I said here and in the Rollerball review) is that Hollywood seems to think that evil is always over-the-top and recognizes that it's evil. However, the best kind of evil that I've found in films or books, rarely sees itself as evil -- that's what's so insidious about it, it honestly thinks it's the good guy (even Hitler thought he was a good guy).

I much prefer to see stories involving this kind of evil than the more clownish stuff we usually get. It's more interesting to me -- more of a human study. But Hollywood rarely caters to me. Jerks.

On an interesting aside, I read the book the movie came from -- The Club Dumas. It's amazing how they got this movie out of that book. While I enjoyed the book too, it's 99% different than the film.

As with Freedom21, please let me know what you think of the film after you see it.

Writer X said...

I'll put this on the list for summer viewing. Thanks, Andrew. I was a Johnny Depp fan (mostly), till I made the mistake of seeing that Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Now I can't get past the gold teeth and the cheesy acting.

patti said...

i am continuously on the lookout for good movies. like sqt, in the queue it goes. it's going to be a long hot summer and we are going to need our break with reality. thanky.

Captain Soapbox said...

This movie, and "Secret Window" which I saw within the same week or so as I recall, were the 2 movies that solidified Depp's acting credentials to my mind.

I think the critics, and a lot of people who saw it but didn't "get it" had problems with the movie because the "hero" was undeniably evil. As you made the case for very well Andrew, to them they couldn't accept that subtle evil like portrayed is more insidious than mustache twirling Eviiiiiil, simply because people like that do believe they're the "good guys." Like you said, no one wants to think of themselves as evil even though they are.

Also to get a little political here, most reviewers tend to be pretty liberal. They don't like the whole slippery slope of one minor act leading to another, to another, and finally to a large act of evil because they don't care for the notion that actions do have consequences. Even worse there wasn't an outside force to pin his sins on, they all came from within himself.

I had a much longer and more well thought up post planned ever since I knew what movie you were going to do, but I'm starving so that's distracting the hell out of me (pun intended) so I'll try to think of something clever when I get back from supper. LOL

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Well written and well thought-out review. I really like the movie too, and though I had gotten the main theme right, I was amazed after reading your review how much I hadn't caught. I think I'll get it from NetFlix and take another look.

AndrewPrice said...

Captain, I think you're absolutely right to equate Hollywood evil with melodrama. Although they like to talk about making more "realistic" movies these days, in many ways the bad guys at least have all become Snidely Whiplash.

Everyone else, please feel free to share your thoughts on the movie (good or bad) after you've seen it.

Captain Soapbox said...

Hey everyone, if you have Starz, "The Ninth Gate" is on one of their channels right now. Just a head's up. :-D

AndrewPrice said...


Everyone, having rewatched Ninth Gate tonight, I would add a couple more points to consider as you watch the film:

1. In the conversations between Corso and Kessler, there are three interesting exchanges:

In the first, which takes place while Corso is half-way through his journey to the dark side, this exchange occurs:

Kessler: “Do you believe in the devil?”
Depp: “Almost.”

Of course, by the end of the film he does.

Kessler also warns him that he does not know what he is messing with, and this exchange happens:

Kessler: “Get out before it’s too late Mr. Corso.”
Depp: “I’m afraid it already is.”

When he finally tells her about the “variations” in the three books, she says: “if that were true, it would be a revelation.”

This can be taken both as meaning "revealing" or as meaning a Book of Revelations, end of the world type event.

2. There are hints throughout the movie of the kind of sinful/evil people Corso is dealing with. For example, Corso's friend Bernie is a liar and a cheat, and would swear upon kids that don’t exist. There is a suggestion that Kessler's secretary and possibly Kessler are lesbians. And finally, there is just a hint that Gruber might be an ex-Nazi. Indeed, he’s old enough, he is clearly crooked, and he constantly wears lapel pins on his suit that are swastika-like. I see these ideas as giving us a general feel of corruption in the people around Corso.

3. And most interestingly, when Balkan invades the cult, he gives a speech that is an indictment on the whole Hollywood evil thing, though he sees it only in Telfer and not in himself. Indeed, he describes Telfer and her cult as “overdressed buffoons spouting mumbo jumbo” and then says, “do you really think the master would deign to show himself to you?” The same could be said of Balkan, who is "overdressed" throughout the movie. He also engages in a rather comical moment where he yells "Boo" and "the audience" flees. Balkan's speech is very much Polanski speaking directly to the audience.

Arias said...

"There is a suggestion that Kessler's secretary and possibly Kessler are lesbians."

Seriously? I had to reread this comment a few times to ensure that's what was said. Such conspicuous prejudice unfortunately tipped me off that this review and other blog posts appeared to be coming from someone with a strong political slant to the hard right.

Oh those evil lesbians are such evil people for being born the way they are.

I have a hard time believing Polanski would stoop to the crude, reactionary use of homophobia to suggest a lesbian as an evil person. He's more enlightened than that. She might have appeared more physically menacing at times, but her lesbianism should appear as coincidental as the race of Telfer's henchman was black. Also, by warning Corso to get out before it's too late Tessler reveals a thoughtfulness that extends beyond selfish reasoning.

AndrewPrice said...

Arias, Your assumption that we are anti-gay is ignorant and ridiculous. Several of the people associated with this site favor gay marriage. Secondly, I'm not aware of anyone who comments here or who contributes here that opposes civil unions or discrimination protection. So your assertion that we are hard right is political whining at best and dishonest at worst. Learn who you are talking about before you start making accusation the next time.

With regard to the mentioned hints of lesbianism, even you must concede that a great many people view gay sex as a sin. I personally don't care one way or the other, as it's none of my business what other people do. But this is a standard theme in many "tempted by the devil" movies, as it's an old Hollywood stand-by to use non-monogamous, non-heterosexual practices as a way of saying "sin."

Thus, it is fair to point this out and it's also logical to conclude that the suggestion that these two women might be lesbians is intended as yet another example of the sinful behavior of the characters he encounters -- especially when you consider that these sins were, for the most part, merely hinted at by Polanski rather than mentioned straight out.

Thus, I'm sorry if that offends you, but that's my honest opinion about what Polanski was trying to achieve.

If you want to discuss these issues, I'm more than happy to discuss them with you. But if you simply want to label us, then I'm not interested.

Hideous Energy said...

Another section of the film that supports your theory is portion taking place after the fight on the riverbank, when the Woman floats down the stairs. Corso accidentally hits her in the nose, bloodying it. Later, when they are in the hotel room, as her eyes are changing from black to blue, she wipes the blood from her face and drags it down Corso's forehead. Many baptism rituals consist of pouring water three times onto the forehead; her fingers create three red streaks. Also, martyrdom is oftentimes referred to as "baptism by blood."

The only portion I don't agree with is that the Woman is the devil. She is a familiar, sent by the devil to prepare Corso for Hell; thus, she baptizes him with her blood. Although Corso does behave deplorably, doing almost anything for first money, then his own satisfaction, the audience will almost never classify him as "evil," despite his voluntary journey into hell.

A vastly underrated film.

AndrewPrice said...

AW, Excellent points, especially the bit about the evil baptism. Much in the film is highly symbolic and that certainly is a great interpretation of Polanski's use of blood by the woman. In fact, your explanation adds a great deal of meaning to those particular scenes.

As for the woman being a servant of the devil rather than the devil himself, that's entirely possible as well. In either event, she is the representative of the devil in this film and she is here to scout out and recruit Corso. She is clearly indifferent to all of the other characters who are more "cartoon evil," and is much more interested in Corso, whose evil is the type that each of us undertakes and which the audience is not as likely to recognize as evil.

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great review! Thanks!

The only scene I didn't like was the floating on air-scene. It's quite cheesy IMO and felt detached from the others in the movie. isn't floating in the air a kind of sensational "hollywood evil" anyway?

Depp's low-key performance is so much in contrast to Fear and loathing and many others, his range of acting is so huge but this is my favourite with him, along Donnie Brasco.

As for Roman Polanski; Rosemary's baby, pianist, Chinatown etc. So many great movies, any director you can recommend that is similar to him?


AndrewPrice said...

Thanks lastbaron!

I'm glad you liked it. This is one of my favorite movies because it's just so well written and so well put together. Every time I see it, I see something new.

I also think this is Depp's best film. His acting is flawless in this. Moreover, he somehow manages to create a character that is simultaneously repulsive and yet so interesting you just can't stop watching him. And he does it without any props, effects or plot manipulation -- it's all acting. And that's truly impressive to me.

I agree with you about the flying scene. I guess Polanski did it to really make it clear to the audience that she was supernatural, but it felt out of place -- especially with how subtle Polanski is about everything else with her character.

Another director like Polanski? Hmm. That's a very difficult question. No one comes to mind. The movie Ronin, is a very well done understated action movie by John Frankenheimer -- he went for realism and drama, and it shows. Also, The Exorcist has a somewhat similar feel to Rosemary's Baby in that it takes its time and it lets the actors carry the story. But I honestly can't think of anyone whose style is similar to Polanski. Sorry about that.

Jonathan said...

Book Spoilers, as well as movie discussion.

I know the movie is a separate piece of art from the book, but after reading "The Club Dumas" I re-watched the movie and then started reading what others felt about the movie. The woman is clearly an agent of the devil in both. She is more evil appearing in the movie, and indeed appears to want Corso to open the ninth gate. In the book she is a fallen angel, a character of intense sadness. When speaking of Lucifer she also speaks of his sadness "he wants to go home".
In the book it appears the Arturo is trying to tell us that the great evil of Lucifer was allowing people freedom of thought, the snake that gives Adam and Eve the apple from the tree of knowledge. Clearly Polanski has unwound much of what the book is trying to tell, remaking it into his own story.
The ending seems to be the only way it can be as Polanski has set it up. Corso will open the gate and set Lucifer free upon the Earth. It is similar to the book in that it is abrupt, leaving the rest up to the viewer/reader. In the book Corso appears, and the villain (he is different, Polanski does some character shuffling) is preparing to perform the ritual to open the ninth gate. But Corso knows that the last print is a forgery. Only 8 were found to be signed bu LCF. He has realized that his "friends" as they were in the book, had forged the last, in order to sell the book. He remains true to form, demanding his true god, money. He continues to demand his payment knowing that time is running out and at the last minute leaves the room feeling the gathering darkness he flees and hears the screams as the summoning fails. He then leaves with the fallen angel, because they are a perfect pair. Weary of the world, slave to an imperfect master and yet, somehow, they give each other hope.

I hope that this is not to off topic, I just really enjoyed seeing the differences in the telling, and thought others might get interested in reading the book.

AndrewPrice said...

Johnathan, It's not off topic at all and thanks for commenting. I read the book as well and I agree with your interpretation.

I thought the "he wants to go home" bit was really fascinating, because it gave character to Satan for once, rather than just making him cliched. Indeed, that moment spoke volumes. It showed that being evil is not a happy state, as Hollywood like to portray the devil, and it also makes Satan something of a tragic character because he could presumably go home by just stopping being evil -- but he can't seem to help himself. It really is one of those moments in a story that makes you just stop and think.

Polanski definitely played with the characters a good deal, but I'm impressed with both versions and I would highly recommend both the movie and the book -- they aren't so similar that you will feel like you've seen or read it all before.

I agree that the ending in the film was the only way it could end, and I find it rather ironic that the critics didn't get that. They always complain that they want deeper characters, but the first one they run across who is not a standard Hollywood stereotype, they complain that he doesn't fit the stereotype. That's kind of sad.

I really wish Hollywood took more chances with more original characters like Corso.

mpk1988 said...

Amazing review.. u've nailed the movie down to every single aspect.. to hell with the critics and n all.. Just wanted to ask you about ANGEL HEART... is it too melodarmatic or worth the watch?? n any other interesting movies of this genre??

AndrewPrice said...

mpk1988, Thanks! I think I know what you mean about the critics (imdb), but I really don't care about them. The couple who've criticized apparently have serious personal issues and are trying to read their own prejudices into this film.

Angel Heart is a strange film. It's one of those that I am glad I saw, but I wasn't sure exactly what I thought about it when it was over.

On the question of other films of this genre, someone asked that before and I've been racking my brains about this for some time. Sadly, I can't think of anything else that is even similar to The Ninth Gate -- which is probably more evidence of how well The Ninth Gate stands out. I really wish I could think of something, but nothing comes to mind.

If anyone does know a film that is similar in theme or style, please by all means, post it here!

tryanmax said...

Well, phoo! Here's another movie that's going to steal my time because you've sold it so well. Of course a "real conservative" would never watch this movie because it's by Roman Polanski. (As far as that goes, my opinion is that justice deferred is justice denied. Past time to let it go.)

The Polanski film that really fascinates me is The Tenant. Maybe I'm a dolt, but I still can't sort that one out, but I'm sure it isn't nonsense.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I either haven't seen The Tenant or it just isn't ringing any bells.

Polanski, unfortunately, does get that response from conservatives, which is too bad because he is a brilliant director. He should have served his 6 months or whatever and been done with it.

Anyway, this is a fascinating film. At first blush it seems "off kilter." It's a good story, but seems odd, until you realize what Polanski is really doing. Then it becomes brilliant.

BIG MO said...

I haven't seen this film yet, though it looks like a truly terrifying plunge into "the evil that lurks in the hearts of men."

I do agree with what you say of Hollywood's normal characterization of evil as cartoonish.

On Halloween, I read my volume of Edgar Allen Poe's tales for a dose of truly macabre evil, but I think I'll check out The Ninth Gate as well.

Individualist said...

Great Review Andrew

I saw this movie in the theaters and liked it but found it disturbing as well, psychologically so.

I thought however that Corso was always meant to be seen as the good guy. It is just that he succeeds in connecting with the devil who is not seen as a evil but as self enlightened.

"Do as Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law"

I think if you look hard enough you will probably find many homages to Alistair Crowley's philosophy.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, What's interesting about this film is that it's never scary as a horror movie and that turned off the reviewers, but that's not what the film is. The film is a psychological thriller about Corso's descent into evil. They missed that.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's the trick in the film, Corso is not the good guy even though he's presented as the good guy. He's presented that way so that the audience goes with him and agrees with his actions. At the end of the film, when he finally emerges as evil, you're supposed to realize that you took those steps with him.

Individualist said...


Sorry I was not clear. What I mean is that what Corso is doing is not seen as bad but actually as good if you follow the twisted teachings of Crowley.

It's the whole religion is there to enslave you and you only reach a truly enlightened state when you realize it's all about you. I saw several aspects of the movie that mirror the logic of so called Satanists who post online trying to convince "I guess themselves mostly" that being a Satanist does not make one evil, it's all about you acheiving your true zenith by following your path and not some religion, etc.

Corso's trip through self discoevery including the nine pictures in the book happening in his reality are very indicative of the whole self evident hourney that this kind of new age thinking teaches.

I am not saying he is good. He's evil and bargaining with the devil. What Im am saying is that it might be the point of the director to show being evil and bargaining with the devil as somehow a benificial end if you do it right... i.e. Corso. This would be the Alistair Crowley ideology...

Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law..Hollywood repeats this theme in a lot of movies and songs... I don't know why really... maybe jsut to get people to try to ban them for sales who knows

K said...

Netflix downloads no havey. You'd think the presence of Depp along would assure it's availablilty.

Individualist said...

I guess I should say Anton Levay who wrote the Satanic Bible but supposedly all that is inspired by Crowley.

Tennessee Jed said...

nice review of a film I enjoyed a lot. That is saying something since it is a genre I am not predisposed to like. I bought in and the film held my attention all the way through. I respect Depp's acting skill even if they are not always displayed. As a person, not so much.

I seem to recall discussing this film with you Andrew. Either it is my imagination or, perhaps, as part of a discussion from a different post. After 60, little things become harder to retain :)

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think Polanski was being critical, not endorsing Corso's conduct. Obviously, only he would know, but that is the kind of game he seems to play in his films and it works perfectly here as the message. But a lot of people try to view Corso as the hero and that ultimately leaves the film unsatisfying.

AndrewPrice said...

K, That's too bad. They used to have it. I'm sure it will come back. It's on regular television a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Thanks! This is a re-post of the original review because I know that few of our current audience ever read this review and I think the film is worth checking out.

I think this is an excellent film with layer upon layer of subtle messages and excellent ideas. It's truly one of those films everyone should see -- as long as they understand that Corso is not the good guy.

Tennessee Jed said...

HaHa! Thanks, Andrew--you just made me feel a little less senile!!

AndrewPrice said...

Glad I could help Jed!

I think you and I also discussed this film by e-mail at the time because you watched it after the review had posted. :)

T-Rav said...

Eh, Blogger ate my comment.

Anyway, I haven't seen this, and I may not, because movies dealing too closely with the devil bother me. Also, say whatever you want, but while Polanski may be a skilled filmmaker, I would rather not patronize his work due to his personal life. Of course, if it pops up on cable, I wouldn't really be "patronizing" it, so--maybe.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, If you get the chance, I recommend patronizing away when it's on cable. It's an interesting and thought provoking film.

Individualist said...


I think that Polanski was being purposefully vague in an attempt to make the point something one has to think about. It also is the kind of Poetic moment when you realize that a line can be read two different ways and the story then has different meanings based on how it is perceived.

If you look at the last scene Corso walks into the gate with the quiet satisfaction of one who accomplishes his goals. The light coming off of the building is warm and inspiring even if the building is somewhat dark and foreboding (it being a built as a military keep meant to look intimidating).

The sense that he is getting some kind of just desert or that there is something ominous about it can only come from our cultural viewpoint (it's hell).

The movie also does not show Corso I believe as starting out as evil. Sure he does not tell someone the true worth of a book but the he is not a monster. The book expert who we first see is not a killer.

Instead he is brought into that through tempations along the way. Corso is the onlyn one who wants the book for professional curiosity. Everyone esle wants it for power. This is why he is chosen by the devil. He is the only one in the group with any Noble inclinations at all regarding the book.

So when he walks into hell does he get the exalted position that was promised or does he get hellfire or is it both. It is left to us to decide that. how we view it will depend greatly on our own interanal values.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think that's the point of the growth of his character. He commits sin after sin, with each sin getting bigger than the last. And the whole time, we think that he's justified in each sin. Thus, when it's all over, we're supposed to realize that we would have done exactly what he did and we would have walked right into the gates of Hell without ever realizing that we were evil. I think that's the point.

Alex said...

This sounds like a really interesting movie. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for posting this Andrew.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome, Alex. This one is quite good. But you have to understand that Corso is not the good guy or it doesn't quite work.

Alex said...

Andrew, that's what makes this movie sound so interesting!

AndrewPrice said...

Alex, Very true. But that also requires people to use their brains, which many of the reviewers apparently were not able to do.

PikeBishop said...

Have had this on my DVR for months and finally looked at it. Amazing!

1. I did not think the fist floating scene with the girl was overdone, or Hollywood gimickry. I think it was made clear earlier that she had some special powers. My first idea was that she was an angel, specifically Corso's guardian angel. Think about that parallel for a minute. Do we all have a guardian angel and a guardian DARK ANGEL?

2. I thought the scene when Balkan walks into the ritual and just mocks it was classic. Look how stupid you people look, muttering all this mumbo jumbo? This seems to me a clear critique of "Hollywood puppy kicking evil." If any of us happened to walk into that ritual in real life we would double over with laughter.

Now, I can hear you saying, "But Pike, if you look at it, don't all religious rituals have this element in them today? What about Catholics standing and kneeling, Muslim prayers, all those funny things Jews do? Isn't this a mockery of all religious practice?" To which my answer is "No, nobody attending mass or sitting Shiv, or bowing to Mecca actually EXPECTS GOD TO SHOW UP! It's a remembrance, that's all, a ritual, not a spell or a séance. Just my take.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I'm glad you liked it! I thought this was an amazing film too. There is so much cleverness in this film, so much depth. It really blows away all the things we normally expect in a movie and it makes us think things through to understand the film. I really appreciate that.

It also totally mocks the Hollywood vision of cartoon evil, which I think is long deserved. I love that scene with Balkan... "Mumbo jumbo... mumbo jumbo." What a great moment. And no, I don't think it's anti-religious at all, I think it's mocking the people who believe in cartoon evil, the people who can't see real evil unless it snarls and twirls its evil mustache.

John Johnson said...

Oh my, I could talk endlessly about this movie, but instead of confronting you folks with my mumbo jumbo, let me post something entirely different. What you are about to read is the feedback of a girl on IMDB. Obviously this girl is a teen and her opinion sure does represent that fact. Seemingly. Because secretly, I think, she's in love with that movie. What do you think?

So my parents and I went out to see a movie last night. I was not in the mood to see something deep and tear-jerking on my first day of Spring Break, so we decided we would see the Ninth Gate, figuring that my dad would like stuff that got blown up, and my mom and I could sit there and drool over Johnny Depp.

The first major hint of the evening was that these people were cutting in front of us in line. My dad made sort of a deal about it, and the people were surly and not very forgiving. It wasn't until after the movie that we realized these people were trying to tell us something, like guardian angels or whatnot.

So the movie starts out, and yummy there's Johnny Depp, and he's looking for some books about Satan. And then he looks for the books some more. And then some people die because supposedly someone else wants these books. As the audience and I sat there for what seemed like at least one full term of pregnancy, only more painful, the movie started revealing that someone had dropped something on the script and that all the major plot points had been destroyed.

So finally, we find out there's something to do with the pictures in this book, and if somebody puts all the pictures together and says some Satanic incantation, then he or she gets invincibility or some such nonsense. So this guy steals all the pictures, and Johnny Depp finds him in a castle saying the incantation, and then the guy sets himself on fire, and he dies. Um, okay. After that, Depp steals all the pictures, then goes outside while the castle is on fire, and has sex with this demon/angel girl on the lawn. (This girl pops in and out of the movie, but nothing ever explains why.)

Here's the kicker, and I have no qualms about telling you the ending because none of you will ever see this movie if you value your sanity, your health, or your $9.50. The people writing the script got to a challenging point, that point being that there was absolutely nowhere left to go since all the main characters except Depp and this girl had been killed off. Someone obviously said, "How are we going to end this movie?" And someone else said, "Let's just end it." Thus, Depp is riding along in the car with this chick, and he says, "Why did the guy not become invincible?" And the girl says, "Because one of his pictures is a forgery." And he says, "Where's the other one?" The girl says, "At this place in Spain." Depp says, "Okay," and goes there.

Depp is in this place in Spain. He doesn't look for the picture, because it falls of a bookshelf at his feet. He picks it up. Then goes back to the castle. The castle has a lot of light inside. He goes inside the castle.



I seriously want to hurt someone. Maybe Roman Polanski who directed it. Who thought this movie was a good idea? My favorite part, I must say, is that this angel/demon girl has no explanation for being in the movie. Somebody said, "Hey, dude! Let's have this chick, and she's sort of an angel or something, and she can be pretty, and like, dude, at the end! She can have sex with Johnny Depp while this castle is on fire! Heh, heh! Fire! Fire! Sex! Destruction! Heh, heh!"

This movie gets 7 out of 10 Picnics at Hanging Rock. The movie was fine up until it just ended out of nowhere, only because I was expecting some big finish. Also, yummmm, Johnny Depp.

AndrewPrice said...

John, She sounds like rather stupid, doesn't she? Oh well, the film wasn't made for her. She should stick to the tent pole films.

John Johnson said...

Well, actually I wasn't being rhetorical. I really enjoyed her review. She's clearly a teen and enjoys rubbing it in. I don't mind. I think she secretly loves this movie. I can only smile about it.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I can't read her mind, but she definitely lays out a case I heard many people make -- even critics. They were confounded by this film and couldn't understand how they were supposed to like Depp and why there was no ending, etc. etc.

Patriot said...

Andrew........Finally saw this movie last night after I was scrolling through Amazon Prime movies. I remembered your review of it a while back and finally had the time to watch it.

My thoughts: I think just about every line in this film could have hidden meanings. Which makes for an extremely well written screenplay. For example, when Corso first is invited to Balkan's secret library and sees the book, he is conversing with Balkan while Balkan stands right at the edge of his floor to ceiling window very high up in the building. Almost like he's standing in the air from the camera angle. Corso asks him, almost as an aside, "Doesn't it bother you being so high and looking down?" or something along those lines. I took it to mean that the devil was already inside Corso and making an observation about how God looks down from the heavens on us mere mortals.

If we view this life as the battle between good and evil, and how both exist inside each of us...and how Lucifer is a fallen angel who is eternally trying to recruit souls to his version of eternity...than the movie shows that battle manifested in Corso, with one of Lucifers "familiars" or whatever they're called, helping Corso along the road to hell. In human form, she is not invulnerable, witness the bloody nose, but she has certain supernatural powers like shape shifting, in and out suddenly appearing, and of course, the floating down the stairs thing. Why would she help him out at every turn unless to help him make his final decision to willingly enter eternity at Satan's side?

I also thought the two Portuguese/Spanish twin brothers were an interesting addition to the film. They certainly knew a lot about the books and were quite helpful to Corso in ultimately figuring out the answer to the clues in the 3 different books. "And what would LCF stand for?......" Again, more of Satan's imps and familiars conveniently situated to help ease Corso's decision to sell his soul.

Who kills the book owners/keepers? Telfer, Bernie, Fargas, Kessler? If it was Balkan, why didn't he just get the book then? Was it the girl? To help Corso along his path? Or was it Corso himself? He appeared to be the last one to be with these people before they were killed. Maybe he doesn't remember the killings as he was possessed at the time? Because, what is the greatest action one man can take against another....murder. When he kills Balkan at the end, he is conscious of his actions thus accomplishing the final, most heinous sin of all and doing it without any supernatural help. That's when the girl finally appears and tells him "I didn't know you had it in you." That was why she either killed them herself or had Corso kill them in his unconscious state with no memory of killing them. Also, by that time he had committed each of the seven sins and only had the final, most anti-God sin left...taking a human life. Once that was done by him, he could get to the final gate...eternal damnation of his soul.

All in all a very well done movie. Your review certainly captured one of the many ways this movie could be interpreted.

Well done.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Thanks! I'm glad you liked the film. I think this is a fantastic screenplay precisely because every line in it does have double meanings. I love how everything means something and how the film is ultimately a huge puzzle. And if you watch it again, you'll see even more. Very well written!

The twins fascinate me. I think they are like the girl, they are there to help Satan by sorting out those who are smart enough and therefore worthy of the knowledge they will gain, i.e. they're another test. In this particular instance, they have created a perfect forgery to ruin anyone who uses the book rashly, i.e. Balkan. And with Balkan now gone, they have vanished again, leaving the original image for whoever is smart enough to realize what has happened and come seek it. Only Corso is smart enough.

As an aside, since he encouraged Balkan to burn himself, he must have known already that one of the images was a forgery. Interesting.

John Johnson said...

I don't think it was about solving the puzzle. It was all about the journey of it. Whilst Balkan was prepared to be evil as a trade off to all that power, it was Corso actually who was inherently bad. The devil helping out Corso from the get go was merely a dramatization. From a rational point of view, she/he (you don't know as it wears different colored socks) needed additional proof ("I didn't know you had it in you"). Whilst the movie is jam packed with subtleties and deeper meanings, coupling the girl with Depp too early in the journey is the only weakness of the movie in my view.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Balkan saw this as a puzzle. He is Hollywood evil -- kind of cartoonish and looking for "the great mystery of evil." Corso isn't looking to understand evil, but he is evil and as he goes through the film he shows sin after sin until he finally achieves the highest one and shows himself to be fundamentally evil because he doesn't see anything wrong about being evil... it just is who he is. I think it makes for an interesting message/warning.

I don't have a problem with the girl showing up so early, but she does help Corso a lot in ways he probably could have done himself.

Post a Comment