I have to tell you right off the bat, you will have no idea what the hell is going on after you watch it the first time. You might like it, you might hate it, but if you choose the former then you definitely have to give it another try. The Ninth Gate is a complicated and intricate story, so nuanced that I don’t think anyone is supposed to understand it at first glance. At face value, its a nerdy Indiana Jones meets Eyes Wide Shut, and the deeper the film journeys the more you may scratch your head. There are hints present throughout, but you only pick up on them after that second or third viewing. I personally have seen it five or six times now, and I am still noticing things and going, “Wow, okay”. Directed by Roman Polanski, the films lightly treads along horror, mystery, and thriller, and does so in an extremely elegant manner.
On the surface, the plot concerns a rare book dealer and appraiser Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) who is tasked with hunting down two copies of a rare book at the request of a client, Frank Langella as the wealthy Boris Balkan. Corso knows Balkan is a Satanist, but does not yet know how deep his passion goes. The book in question is titled The Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows. Only three copies were spared when the author was burned alive in the 1600’s. The reason for his execution is that his book was copied from another manuscript rumored to be written by Satan himself, and he has hidden the secret to his conjuring in one or all three books—they are not sure. The quest Corso undertakes is one to authenticate and compare all three copies. He will become a very rich man at the hands of Balkan, who is simply curious as to why the book “won’t work” when he tries to summon up the Devil. He pays Corso exorbitant amounts of money for his services, but will money be enough? The adventure takes many twists and turns, including battles with other obsessed collectors, before the secret is revealed, albeit very ambiguously. Will Satan show himself in the final scenes? To explain what happens would be to spoil the ending, but the answer was right there all along.
Shot in Spain and France, the production values and cinematography are top-notch. Depp plays a brooding, chain-smoking mercenary of a book dealer who will do whatever it takes to please his clients. Meanwhile, Langella is perfect as a rich businessman who is clearly hiding a secret. He is strong, yet we can sense the desperation in his manner. The two work very well together in a complex relationship since they hate each other yet need one another at the same time. There is hardly any action, yet the adventure is exciting enough. Bookworms will no doubt relish in the attention and importance old books and manuscripts are given, while paranormal and occult enthusiasts as well as those interested in secret societies will be intrigued in the subject matter. It also boasts an excellent classical score by Wojciech Kilar.
Once again, I need to make it clear that you will not understand this the first time. Do not give up. Stay patient. It took me multiple watches and consulting a website that had clarified certain points for me to fully realize what is going on. I enjoyed The Ninth Gate almost as much as Rosemary’s Baby. It might be Roman Polanski’s true masterpiece, and a work of intelligent mystery and horror perfect for viewing around Halloween. Also starring Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jack Taylor, and James Russo.
9 out of 10 stars.
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