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Film / The Ninth Gate

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The Ninth Gate is a 1999 mystery thriller film by Roman Polanski, freely adapted from The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, starring Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, an expert on rare books.

Corso is hired by a collector, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), to authenticate his copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Written in 1666 by Aristide Torchia, the book is supposedly an adaptation of another book, the Delomelanicon, written by Lucifer himself, and it contains instructions on how to summon the Devil and gain great supernatural power. After Torchia was burned at the stake, only three copies of The Nines Gates survived to the modern day, but Balkan believes that only one is authentic and the other two are forgeries. He asks Corso to compare his copy to the other two and find out which is the real book.

The investigation causes Corso to cross paths with many other collectors, who like Balkan seems to genuinely believe the book has power and will do anything to learn its secrets. Initially disbelieving of the supernatural, the things Corso sees begin to change his mind, and he discovers a secret of The Nine Gates that could be the key to solving its riddles and achieving ultimate power.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Corso, in the book described as rather unattractive, is played by Johnny Depp.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Liana Telfer, compared to her original counterpart. In the novel the film is based on, Liana is a Red Herring only interested in Corso because she's the head of a Alexandre Dumas fanclub and they want an unfinished draft of The Three Musketeers that Corso has on him. The Dumas subplot is entirely removed and Telfer leads the Order of the Silver Serpent, a Cult dedicated to worship of Satan.
    • Zigzagged with Corso. In the novels he plans to steal Fargas' book and blackmails the Baroness with knowledge of her Nazi sympathies to get access to her collection, and Corso in the film does neither. On the other hand Corso in the film wants to get the nine engravings himself and complete the ritual, something he had no interest in in the book.
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    • The Girl. In the book she claims to be a fallen angel who has wandered the world looking for companionship. In the film it's very heavily implied she's the Devil, or at least is a force for evil.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie removes several subplots from the novel, combines numerous characters and changes the ending. It still works quite well though.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Lucas Corso of the book becomes Dean Corso. Liana Taillefer becomes Liana Telfer. Her henchman, mainly called Rochefort in the book before his name is revealed, goes unnamed.
  • Always Identical Twins: The Cezina brothers, with their performer Acting for Two.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Order of the Silver Serpent probably like to think of themselves as this.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Even after fighting off two of Liana Telfer's henchmen, Corso and The Girl manage to walk away alive with just a bloody nose, a concussion, scratches and some broken glasses.
  • Biker Babe: The Girl hitches a ride on her motorcycle in a few scenes and often rescues Corso on one or transports him to specific locations.
  • Bloody Handprint: After rescuing Corso, the Girl leaves this upon Corso's face (in the eerie shape of a trident) after wiping her nose and stares at Corso. He is visibly shaken after this and demands to know what's going on.
  • Catchphrase: In the movie, when Corso tries to corner the Girl, she often answers "If you say so."
  • Creepy Child: The little girl staring at Corso while he's leaving from the airport qualifies as this.
  • Colour Coded Eyes: Corso remarks on the Girl's green eyes, and even calls her "Green Eyes" when she neglects to give her name to him
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: Fargas is a very gracious host despite his impoverished nature, collects the old books simply because he likes them rather than out of any satanic beliefs and lets Corso look at his copy without qualms or conditions.
  • Cool Old Lady: Baroness Kessler, a witty, highly knowledgable multiple amputee who is composed and receptive when Corso explains his theory while being stern at the idea of just helping Balkan.
  • Deal with the Devil: The point of The Nine Gates is to find a way to summon the Devil and gain power from this trope. A lot of characters want to actually do it.
  • 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, her henchman, and Boris Balkan, although it's not really the same character as in the book.
  • Establishing Character Moment: We're introduced to Dean Corso appraising a book collection for sale, and it's evident that he's lying through his teeth, both to get rare books for himself at a bargain price and to convince the sellers that the other books they have are worth more than they actually are so other collectors will have a harder time buying.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Corso has to suffer through this, all because of the book he is carrying.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Corso's infatuation with the Girl, who is a tall foreign woman with long blonde hair and striking green eyes.
  • Everybody Smokes: And they do it everywhere, as there is not a "No Smoking" sign in sight.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Liana Telfer tries to buy The Nine Gates back from Corso and suggests faking a theft to cover it up from Balkan. Corso rejects the idea since the book isn't his to sell and he won't be bought off no matter how much she offers.
  • Fade to White: The ending.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The entire scene where Liana Telfer seduces Corso is this, as the very unsettling music plays out as Liana gropes Corso, aggressively kissing him and then tries to kill him when refuses to tell her where the book is.
    • As the Girl has sex with Corso, she starts off looking very hot, and then her expressions become more deranged until she's actually frightening to behold. Corso's reactions likewise shift from pleasure to horror.
  • Fanservice: The Girl and Corso having sex with their nude bodies in full view.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The titular book can unlock the nine gates of Hell and grant whomever activates the ritual properly with extraordinary power. Sooner or later, everyone ( including Corso) wants to get ahold of the book despite its evil.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In his introductory scene, Corso swindles a rival collector by convincing the owners of a collection that their worthless books are very rare and their valuable books are not worth much, so they sold the latter to Corso. Not entirely unlike how Balkan falls for a fake engraving and Corso finds the real one.
    • As Balkan is explaining Corso's mission to him, he cryptically insists "something's wrong" with his copy of The Nine Gates. Corso quips "you mean the Devil won't show up?" Balkan doesn't laugh. In all likelihood Corso is dead on the money, Balkan probably tried the ritual with his copy and it didn't work.
    • Balkan is rather unbothered by the fact that someone wound up dead as a direct result of Corso's investigation. That he isn't concerned with a murder is our first clue to how ruthless he is including willing to kill himself.
    • When Corso asks the Ceniza brothers if Balkan's copy of The Nine Gates could be a forgery, they go into detail on how difficult it would be to forge a book this old, requiring one to get period-accurate paper, inks, typeface, and be able to bind it into the book in a manner a collector could not detect. They conclude "If this is a forgery or a copy with missing pages restored, it's the work of a master." The Ceniza brothers are master bookbinders, and they just finished describing to Corso how difficult it would be to create a convincing forgery and what materials one would need.
    • When Corso meets the Girl again and she accompanies him on his journey, he asks her if she's his guardian angel. She tells him, "Of sorts...". She is also briefly shown levitating midway through the film in a manner that's easy to miss, long before her supernatural nature becomes more obvious.
  • Friendless Background: Balkan and Corso both have few friends due to their shady natures, and aren't terribly upset by this.
    Balkan: Our relationships have always been strictly commercial, and that's the way I like it.
  • Gainax Ending: After Corso kills Balkan when his rituals fails, he goes outside to smoke in his car as the castle burns. The Girl appears in the car, kisses Corso, and the scene cuts to the two of them having sex on the grass, during which the Girl almost seems to transform and Corso is frightened by what he sees. The next morning the two are driving down the highway and the Girl explains Balkan's ritual failed because one of the engravings was fake, and Corso wants the real one. When they stop for gas she vanishes, but leaves a clue to the location of the real engraving. Corso returns to the home of the Ceniza brothers and finds the true engraving, showing the Girl riding a seven-headed dragon before a flaming castle. Corso returns to the castle and the doors open to welcome him, light shining beyond them, and then we faded to the credits.
  • Glowing Eyes: The Girl's eyes noticeably glow on several occasions. Given that she is quite possibly the Devil this may count as Glowing Eyes of Doom
  • He Knows Too Much: Nearly everyone Corso has come in contact with regarding the book has turned up dead. Even as Corso's own knowledge and curiosity of the book deepens, people attempting to steal the book are trying to kill him as well.
  • Hot as Hell: The Girl is heavily implied to be the Devil, and is extremely attractive.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A colleague calling Corso thoroughly unscrupulous after being beaten to a collection.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the ensuing struggle for the book, Liana Telfer gets strangled to death by Balkan with the pentagram from her necklace piercing into her throat as she chokes to death.
  • 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: The real engravings are signed LCF.
  • Master Forger: Double Subverted when Corso has to investigate whether a copy of an extremely rare book (which, according to legend, will allow the person who deciphers it to summon The Devil) is legitimate or a forgery. When he discusses the possibility of it being a forgery with the Ceniza twins (a pair of master bookbinders that once owned that copy of the book), the twins dismiss the possibility of it being a fake. They explain that to make a forgery that would fool the experts a forger would need to use all the materials and characteristics that were in use during the 17th century when the book was first printed, including unique inks, paper, leather, typeface, watermarks, etc., which are all extremely difficult to get in the late 20th century. In the end the book turn out to be legitimate, but a single critical page has been replaced with a fake to throw off the people trying to decipher the puzzle of the book. And who better to do that than a certain pair of master bookbinders who had the book in their possession for years?
    Ceniza Brother: If this is a forgery or a copy with missing pages restored, it's the work of a master.
  • Mercy Kill: After Balkan's Deal with the Devil goes horribly wrong and he catches on fire, burning to death, Corso shoots him to put him out of his misery.
  • Mark of the Beast: When making out with Corso, Liana Telfer is shown to have this tattooed on her thigh in the form of a serpent.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Mostly the theme fitting into some parts of the film. In one scene, Corso is almost crushed by a construction site railing and nothing is even there. In contrast to almost everything trying to kill Corso, we almost never get to see who or what is after him. Then when Corso checks on the bookshop to look for Bernie, Corso is shocked by what he finds and then it shows Bernie's death entirely. Then there's the Mind Screw ending...
  • No Name Given: The Girl has no name given and refuses to give it when Corso asks, so he dubs her "Green Eyes", though then never calls her that.
  • 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, who supposedly summoned the Devil, published it and was burned along with all of his works, except for three books, in 1666.
  • Power Floats: The Girl is twice shown levitating or floating down from high places, a hint to her supernatural nature.
  • Pretender Diss: Kessler is openly contemptuous of Liana and her associates for basing their Devil worship around the idea that it gives them wealth rather than anything deeper.
  • 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.
  • Race Lift: Rochefort, an Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette in the book, becomes a bleach blond black man with No Name Given.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Balkan gives one to Liana and her followers.
    Balkan: As for you, Liana de Saint-Damien, you're even guiltier than the rest of this pathetic rabble. You have at least some idea of what this book can do in the right hands, yet you lend yourself to these farcical proceedings, these orgies of aging flesh conducted in the Master's name. You're a charlatan!
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: As Liana seduces Corso, the camera zooms in on the serpent tattoo on her thigh and then cuts to black. By the next scene, Liana and Corso are both sweaty and exhausted from sex and she demands to know where the book is.
  • Shown Their Work: The Ceniza Brothers tell Corso that forging or restoring an antique book with intent to sell it impractical and explain why in detail — forging an antique book well enough to fool the types of collectors who would be willing to pay thousands for it is very difficult, requiring period-accurate materials and manufacturing methods, and a very good eye for detail. And even if you pull off a passable forgery, those kinds of books are going to have their owner histories known by collectors, and questions will be asked about how you acquired your copy and who owned it before you.
  • Sidekick Ex Machina: The Girl, who is always there just in time to extricate or save Corso.
  • Smooch of Victory: More like Nookie of Victory — after Corso shoots Balkan and stops the ritual, the Girl appears in his car and gives him a kiss that very quickly escalates to them having sex.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The film begins with Andrew Telfer hanging himself in his library.
  • Tarot Motifs: The film relates several characters to Tarot imagery and symbolism, though a lot of it is implicit and not direct. The two most obvious instances are one of the engravings showing someone hung by the foot identical to The Hanged Man, and the climax is very evocative of The Tower, as a castle that is set on fire after Balkan fails to summon The Devil.
  • 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.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: One case being the deceased elderly Andrew Telfer and his young, beautiful widow, Liana Telfer.
  • 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.
  • The Vamp: Liana, who is willing to seduce Corso just to get the book.
  • Wham Shot: After recovering the last engaving, Corso examines it. It depicts the Girl riding nude atop a seven-headed beast in front of a flaming castle — the same castle that Corso and the Girl had sex in front the previous night.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Ceniza brothers are missing when Corso revisits their shop. It isn't even hinted or implied if they died somehow, they're just gone.


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