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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. A client, Boris Balkan, played by Frank 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.
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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.

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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. 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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!
    • It was also the goal of Aristide Torchia, who published in 1666 "De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis Lat. " which he based on the "Delomelanicon Lat. ", a work supposedly written by Lucifer and allowing the reader to summon Him.
  • 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.
  • 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 (which tend to glow from time to time)... And who can blame him?
  • Everybody Smokes: And they do it everywhere, as there is not a "No Smoking" sign in sight.
  • Fade to White: The ending.
  • Fan Disservice: The Girl's face morphing disturbingly into that of an sinister old man several times all during sex with Corso outside the burning castle before revealing herself entirely to being The Devil.
  • Fanservice: Corso gets a few shirtless scenes in the film. The Girl bares it all in one particular scene before her Nightmare Fuel-inducing reveal as The Devil.
  • Forbidden Fruit
  • Foreshadowing: 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...".
    • The Ceniza brothers mention to Corso that forging that type of book (or restoring torn out pages) would take a master bookbinder with great eye for detail. They are both master bookbinders and have enough eye for detail to see the different signatures on the engravings. We later find out that they stole one of the real engravings and put a forgery in its place.
  • Glowing Eyes: The Girl's eyes noticeably glow on several occasions. Given that she is quite possibly the Devil, or at least a 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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.
  • Mind Screw: The ending. Apparently Corso is going to conduct the ritual himself and it'll be a success, but it's ambiguous as to what that means. Not to mention all the speculation about exactly who Corso and the Girl are.
  • 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.
  • 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 saving Corso from his attackers.
  • 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!
  • Shown Their Work: The Ceniza Brothers tell Corso that 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 rather expensive, taking a lot of time and resources including the proper paper and ink and a very good eye for detail. But even if you pull off a passable forgery of a rare book, it's probable you'll be found out anyway because 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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