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Film: The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate is a 1999 movie by Roman Polanski, freely adapted from The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, starring Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, an expert on rare books. A client, Boris Balkan, played by Franck Langella, asks Corso to authenticate his copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. The book has three copies surviving, due to the rest being burned in 1666 along with its author - because the book is supposedly an adaptation of another book, the Delomelanicon, written by Lucifer himself.

As Corso attempts to figure out which of the three copies is the genuine one, he discovers that the Nine Gates has a purpose - when used correctly, the book will raise the Devil himself and grant the summoner great supernatural power. Corso is not the only person who has figured this out, and is chased by others who want the power and protected by a mysterious Girl, played by Emmanuelle Seigner. The deeper Corso delves into the mystery of the book, the deeper the pile of bodies left behind becomes.

That, of course, is the movie. In the book, Corso has two missions. One is to try and authenticate his client, Vara Borja's, copy of "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows." The other involves "The Anjou Wine", a chapter of the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, père. This manuscript was once owned by the late Enrique Talliefer, a millionaire who specialized in cookbooks, who killed himself. While traveling around Europe on his mission(s), he finds himself being stalked by a man and woman who look uncannily like Milady de Winter and Comte de Rochefort.

What do these two strangers want with him and what is the connection between The Three Musketeers and the Devil?


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Corso, in the book described as rather unattractive, is played by Johnny Depp.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie removes several subplots from the novel, combines numerous characters and changes the ending.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Order of the Silver Serpent probably like to think of themselves as this.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Liana Telfer's main henchman in the movie is a bleach-blonde black man.
  • Catchphrase: In the movie, when Corso tries to corner the Girl, she often answers "If you say so."
  • Composite Character: The film's Balkan is a composite of the book Balkan and another character, Varo Borja. Also, the film's Andrew Telfer is a composite of Enrique Talliefer and Gualterio Terral.
  • Cultural Translation
  • Deal with the Devil: The goal of most characters in the film is to summon Lucifer and obtain unknown power. This seems to eventually happen in some capacity and, depending on your point of view, has surprisingly little negative consequence. Just a few dead bodies, really, including a pseudo-friend. But hey, you get laid by attractive women. Twice!
  • Death by Adaptation: Bernie the bookshop owner is killed early on. His book counterpart, Flavio la Ponte, is a major supporting character and stays very much alive. Also Liana Telfer and Boris Balkan, although it's not really the same character as in the book.
  • Everybody Smokes: And they do it everywhere, as there is not a "No Smoking" sign in sight.
  • Fade to White: The ending.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The last of the engravings in "The Ninth Gate" is hidden in what, in hindsight, is an extremely obvious spot. "If this is a forgery or a copy with missing pages restored, it's the work of a master," says the master bookbinder.
  • Hot as Hell: The Girl, who makes the Devil look GOOD. Doubtless intentional.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Both Victor Fargas, the Portuguese owner of the second copy, and Liana Telfer, who had to marry Andrew Telfer in order to save her ruined French aristocrat family.
  • Louis Cypher: Signed LCF.
  • Mind Screw: The ending.
  • No Name Given: The Girl.
  • Number of the Beast: Balkan has the largest collection in the world of books about the Devil. Guess what the password to his library is? Also, the author of the book he's seeking, which reputedly is capable of summoning the Devil, was burned along with all of his works in 1666.
  • Product Placement: Several examples, but most notably when Corso is getting gas, he deliberately twists the nozzle so the Shell logo directly faces the camera.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Balkan gives one to Liana and her followers.
  • Shown Their Work: The Ceniza Brothers tell Corso that the difficulty of forging or restoring an antique book is so difficult and costly it wouldn't be profitable. Even with modern technology, forging old books well enough to fool the types of collectors and historians who will be interested in buying them is very tricky, needing the right types of paper and ink even. And if you aim to forge one so rare and desired that the price they'll pay is enough to make it profitable, it just increases the chances that someone who knows about that book will investigate and find out that it's a fake.
  • Sidekick Ex Machina: The Girl, who is always there just in time to extricate or save Corso.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The film begins with Andrew Telfer hanging himself in his library.
  • Tarot Motifs: The film includes many examples of Tarot imagery.
    • The Hanged Man - Corso's friend is killed in this manner.
    • The Tower - Balkan's death occurs by fire, in a tower, after a lot of pride.
    • The Magician - Boris Balkan.
    • The High Priestess - Baroness Kessler or Liana Telfer.
    • The Empress - Liana Telfer.
    • Death - Fargas.
    • The Hermit - Fargas.
    • The Fool - Corso.
  • Title Drop: Even though "The Nine Gates etc..." are often referred to, you need to wait for the end, to hear Balkan mention "unlocking The Ninth Gate" during his ceremony.
  • Unusual Euphemism: At one point, Liana tells Corso "don't fuck with me," to which he responds, "I thought I just did." The TV Edit changes "fuck" to "mess" making Corso's response unintentionally bizarre.

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alternative title(s): The Ninth Gate
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