The Ninth Gate (1999)
November 21, 2014 1:05 AM - Subscribe

THE SPIRIT OF 99 VIEWING CLUB - Alternately hired and haunted by Satan-worshiping bibliophiles, ethically-challenged rare book appraiser Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) jaunts around Europe hoping to unravel the mystery surrounding the rarest, most Satanest book ever, The Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows.
posted by carsonb (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A lot of reviewers, including Roger Ebert, were confused by the ending of the film, a fade to white as Corso crosses through the ninth gate. The place where everyone seems to get held up in their reasoning of the ending and the overall impression of the film is the open-endedness of Emmanuelle Seigner's enigmatic character. It took me a few viewings to develop my own theory, hear me out:

She is Satan. Every character who is not Dean Corso or her is attempting to summon the Devil, and to the one for their own ends. Because this one, he's earned it. Because this one, she deserves it. This one's doing it for love, even, as twisted as that may be. Their success in the endeavor simply goes unrecognized because they are too wrapped up in their own egos to notice when Satan appears. Heck, she's introduced as an odd, off-kilter audience member at Balkan's presentation. He's working so hard to summon Satan and she's already there. Corso comes at the problem without the burden of being in thrall to the idea, concerned only for his contracted price. As such he is (and we, the audience, who are supposed to cotton on to Her true character when Corso does, are) granted the revelation of knowing Satan. Quite intimately, at that.
posted by carsonb at 1:30 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also I'm almost certain that the Telfer widow's blonde lackey did all of the mock-up murders made to look like the gates in the book, another common topic of debate.
posted by carsonb at 1:32 AM on November 21, 2014


You're hunting a book that summons the Devil and you're being tailed by and then assisted by a woman with red hair and green eyes. Way to blow a Lore roll, Corso.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:56 AM on November 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


And so out of date when you can get your very own copy of The Nine Gates next day from amazon or even instant download if you have a special kindle with the thumb prick add on.

I just saw this all the way through, it's one that I'd caught bits off and on while channel surfing late. Sections are perfect for that click through for a scene for that fall asleep to drowsiness. Clever scenes that grab you with a pseudo-sense of importance.

There does seem to be some thread of backstory that's left out, some hint as to why the Depp character is worthy or just smart enough. The girl is too super-competent/magical to not have a reason to be choosing Depp as the gatekeeper.

There's lots of fun riffs on mystical conspiracy motifs but there is just a tiny bit of something missing to pull the whole thing together. It's not that it needs to be more universal but it needs perhaps just another hint of a thread that ties things together to be fully satisfying.

But quite the fun romp with great twists and reversals.
posted by sammyo at 4:55 AM on November 21, 2014


I admit that I'm confused by the ending too. Yes, obviously Depp has completed the ritual, and gets to claim his satanic prize. But... everyone throughout the movie has been saying that the prize is the ultimate in autonomy, the freedom to do whatever you want. How does Depp gain this prize? By obeying everyone else and doing what he's told. Even going so far as needing to be rescued by his demonic consort. How does that prove him worthy?

Still, good cinematography, great actors, nice pacing. It's an enjoyable movie.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 4:57 AM on November 21, 2014


This movie pops up on cable surprisingly often and, for whatever reason, I always end up watching it. I think it's that the Corso character seems to fit Depp to a T and so he seems very comfortable and natural in the performance. I dunno. It's a nice, quiet little movie. Nothing great. But reasonably entertaining with a fairly interesting premise.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:27 AM on November 21, 2014


What is with Satan movies and numbers? Ninth Gate, Seventh Sign....
posted by Chrysostom at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2014


Wait, I just assumed everyone thought that the girl was Satan.

On preview: carsonb's comment sums it up better.
posted by Kitteh at 7:39 AM on November 21, 2014


This is great pulp (sort-of-pun intended). I saw it in the theater in '99 and thought hm, yeah, I kind of liked that, whatever. Then I caught it again on DVD a couple of years later, then I watched it again and again and again...My deep appreciation for it snuck up on me. I think mostly I love all of the wandering around in darkest western Europe, driving down country roads at night, isolated mansions in the woods, etc. All of that broody, gothic atmospheric stuff, when done even just adequately, can mostly sustain a movie for me...And here we've got freaking Darius Khondji shooting it, so I'm good. Add the thread of self-aware goofiness* to the Satanic mystery storyline and I can't get enough.

* "Unscrupulous! Thoroughly unscrupulous!"
posted by doctornecessiter at 8:09 AM on November 21, 2014


There is something so palpably 70s about this movie, like I feel like I could *smell* it.
posted by The Whelk at 8:56 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Although I admit I kept having tiny archivist panic attacks with the way he treats the books - WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOUR HAND HAS OILS AND ACIDS WHY AREN'T YOU IN A LOW LIGHT ENVIROMENT WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THE SPINE WHY IS THERE EVEN A CIGARETTE IN THE HOUSE LET ALONE THE ROOM WHAT)
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


He smokes around these ancient books the entire time, I feel like it's intentional to show how thoroughly unscrupulous -- or at least disrespectful -- he is within his chosen profession. He's all about the money.

(I know, in reality if he was actually all about the money he would be more conscious of keeping the books in as pristine condition as possible, but as a character trait in a movie, I think it works.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 9:19 AM on November 21, 2014


I liked the movie much better than I thought I would, because I'm very attached to the book and the movie completely removes the second (but not secondary) plotline that I loved so much. But I have to say that it was a triumph of casting, at least - Depp was very close to my mental image of Corso, albeit better looking.
posted by PussKillian at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2014


I love this movie. Loooooooooove this movie. I love it more than I should. It's droll and spooky and contains some truly wonderful imagery.

I like it better than the book, which IMHO, IIRC, felt a bit too much like a shaggy dog story.

The movie's ending works for me because it feels simply like the logical conclusion of what ought to happen next. "And then, just like that, he gained the ability to summon the Devil. And of course you know that that must have been the exact next thing he did".

Corso is a fine study in the banality of evil. I remember a book on Polanski which discussed how the typical Polanski "hero" is somebody who is both victim and perpetrator. Describes Corso to a T.

Boris Balkan is one of my all-time favorite movie villains. Sonorous threats. "Add a few zeroes to your check". A great moment in which he exposes the cultists as just a bunch of bored, horny rich people; and then another great moment, at the end, when he is revealed as a putz who can't perform a ritual correctly.

Polanski is a fugitive rapist shithead, but his DVD commentary is pretty fun. He smokes a cigar and eats chocolate and openly admits that he has no idea why anybody would listen to it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


My experience with the movie closely aligns with doctornecessiter's - although I think I first saw it on a rented dvd, it was aired ceaselessly on HBO or Cinemax in 2000 or so, and my roommate and I would watch it over and over again.

There is something so palpably 70s about this movie, like I feel like I could *smell* it.

Maybe that's Roman Polanski, but the whole ritual thing that at the Telfer chateau seemed almost directly lifted from some other 70s satanic-ish movie that I caught a bit of (no idea which one) that it seemed deliberate, which reinforces doctornecessiter's comment about it being self-aware.

Personally, I didn't think the girl was actually Satan, just one Satan's assistants or something - kind of like a Zuul-ish thing from Ghostbusters, the gatekeeper to Corso's keymaster or something. She seems to appear in one of the engravings (riding a serpent no less, LOL), but so do the Ceniza brothers, who reappear again as the movers clearing out the Ceniza shop, only much younger. I just figured they were all little demonic helpers of some sort, although I guess you could say they were different embodiments of Satan.

I've never been able to figure out what I liked about the movie, but the cinematography certainly helps, and I guess I like how it kind of sprawls. I think my only disappointment was that the final castle was in France, when I have a gut feeling that it should really be somewhere in Spain.
posted by LionIndex at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


MUMBO JUMBO! MUMBO JUMBO!
posted by LionIndex at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


So many great quotes in this movie.

"There's nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash."
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2014


the whole, old world, leather and bourbon atmosphere of the movie is very soporific. It almost feels like you're settling into a velvet armchair in a fireplace-heated library
posted by The Whelk at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


Personally, I didn't think the girl was actually Satan, just one Satan's assistants or something - kind of like a Zuul-ish thing from Ghostbusters, the gatekeeper to Corso's keymaster or something. She seems to appear in one of the engravings (riding a serpent no less, LOL), but so do the Ceniza brothers, who reappear again as the movers clearing out the Ceniza shop, only much younger. I just figured they were all little demonic helpers of some sort, although I guess you could say they were different embodiments of Satan.

That's what I thought too, but now I'm not so sure.
posted by homunculus at 11:18 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the ending is only ambiguous and unsatisfying if one thinks that it's an open question whether or not supernatural forces were at play. To me, it's made absolutely, undeniably clear that The Girl is not of this Earth. Therefore, the characters are not sad, deluded people seeking a supernatural that doesn't exist, they're realists who rightly see the rest of humanity as sad and deluded. The books are like Sauron's ring though. They have their own intention, guided by the will of their master, to wind up with the one who will best fulfill his purpose. The only ambiguity is that Corso has played everyone the entire time. Can he also thwart the purposes of The Devil?

I've always thought of this movie as of a piece with Polanski's Frantic. Not just for the obvious reasons that it shares at least one location and both star Seigner, but because I feel like it's unintentionally revealing about Polanski's feelings about the relationship between director and muse. Seigner says that her collaborations with her husband are not revelatory of their real, private relationship. However, in this film, as in their latest collaboration on Venus in Fur, there is a lot of focus on the power dynamics between men and women. I can't help but feel like this is at least partially colored by Polanski's life and relationships.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:42 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I also think that, while it's from 2001, it's interesting to compare and contrast Depp's performance in The Ninth Gate with his characterization in From Hell.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:45 PM on November 22, 2014


Or even Sleepy Hollow (1999 was a big year for Depp playing supernatural investigators)
posted by The Whelk at 3:26 PM on November 22, 2014


This thread inspired me to watch this movie all the way through for the first time (like everyone else, I've seen snippets on cable) while grading and I enjoyed every pulpy second of it. It's got a very endearing sense of fun and the macabre that I sometimes find lacking in supernatural horror movies.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:22 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


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