Sep. 7, 2009
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Emmanuelle Seigner

What it's about. Unscrupulous rare book dealer Corso (Johnny Depp) is hired to research the three surviving copies of "The Nine Gates", a Satanic book written in 1666. Corso's employer is ruthless millionaire Balkan (Frank Langella), who is obsessed with conjuring up the Devil. Balkan owns one of the three books, and instructs Corso to compare them with the other two copies, owned by two European collectors, mild-mannered elderly man Fargas (Jack Taylor) and unpleasant wheelchair-bound Kessler (Barbara Jefford).

Corso gradually learns that the three books, while seemingly identical, have minor (yet vitally important) differences in the engravings. Certain engravings from each of the books is necessary to achieve membership with Satan. Balkan will stop at nothing to gain possession of all three books. This puts him at odds with Mrs. Telfer (Lena Olin), another Satanist and a recent prior owner of Balkan's copy of "The Nine Gates." Corso is stalked by Telfer's thug (Tony Amoni), but it turns out that he has an omnipresent protector, a mysterious and beautiful woman (Emmanuelle Seigner, the much-younger wife of Roman Polanski).

How others will see it. Despite the fortuitous presence of Depp and Polanski, The Ninth Gate was greeted with critical and commercial indifference. The problem here appears to be one of expectations. By horror movie standards, it is plotty and lacks satisfactory mayhem. As a mystery, its true genre, it is interesting but anticlimactic. The two baddies, Olin and Langella, are disposed of, yet we still have Depp and his ephemeral girlfriend discussing the authenticity of engravings. And apparently, some people really needs things spelled out for them, such as the identity of The Girl and the significance of the ending.

How I felt about it. For those people, I will spell it out for you. (Look away now if you are remain hung up on "spoilers") The Girl is a supernatural agent of Satan. (I don't believe she is actually Satan, since hanging out at length with Johnny Depp doesn't make the scene). Once Corso obtains all three Devil-drawn engravings, he is whisked away to the underworld, perhaps to be the love slave of The Girl, since "she" clearly likes him. This we don't know.

The irony of the story is that mundane rare book dealer Corso is The Chosen One who attains Satan's favor, instead of the two antagonists who have spent their adult lives buying costly dusty old texts in an attempt to conjure him up. The game was rigged all along. A lesser irony is that no one in the film recognizes The Girl for what she is, at least not until after Langella's immolation. Sometimes, what you are searching for is directly in front of you.