The Ninth Gate—Another Roman Polanski Film Passes Muster.
The Ninth Gate is one of Polanski’s European films which did not do well in the US box office (having spent $38,000,000 in production and grossing about $18,000,000 though overall making money worldwide). And like Chinatown, The Ninth Gate is a neo noir film about the shadowy world of rare book dealings.
The film stars Johnny Depp, who plays Dean Corzo, an expert in and acquirer of rare books. His long time, but dislikable client, Boris Balkan, shows Depp the most complete collection of rare books about Lucifer—the Devil himself. Balkan had recently acquired the crown jewel of his satanic collection: a seventeenth-century copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, by Aristide Torchia, a version of a book that supposedly authored by the devil himself. The book contains nine engravings that, when correctly interpreted and the legends properly spoken, will summon the Devil. Since two other copies exist, Balkan suspects that the book might be a forgery, and he asks Depp to authenticate it by traveling to Europe to determine whether his or any of the other two are genuine and, if so, to acquire them for Balkan, at any cost or by any means.
After examining the two other copies of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, Depp believes that all three copies of The Nine Gates are genuine and suspects that the secret to opening the nine gates to hell is a combination of engravings signed “LCF” (engravings created by Lucifer himself). Each copy of the book contains three of the necessary “LCF” engravings needed to open the ninth gate.
Unfortunately, the widow of the owner Balkan acquired his copy of The Ninth Gate from manages to steal the book from Depp’s hotel room. Depp follows her to a European mansion and witnesses her using it in leading a Satanist ceremony for many jet-setters and other wealthy people who believe that they owe their power and money to the devil. During the ceremony, Balkan interrupts and kills the widow and absconds with the engraving pages and his own, intact, copy of the book.
Depp hunts Balkan down and finds him preparing to open the nine gates. A fight ensures and Depp is trapped, unable to move or escape. Balkan continues with his preparation and pours gasoline on himself and the floor wrongly believing himself to be invulnerable to the fire. However, Balkan begins to scream as he starts burn alive. Depp gets the hell out there to escape the fire.
Outside Depp finds a mysterious unnamed woman who has been seen throughout the movie and has sex with her. The unnamed woman tells Depp that Balkan failed because the ninth engraving was a forgery. Depp listens to her directions, returning to the book shop where one of the thee copies was located. The store is gone but as the last piece of furniture is being removed, the final, authentic, engraving (which includes a likeness of the mystery girl) slips into Depp’s hands. With the last authentic engraving in hand, Depp goes to the castle it depicts and crosses the threshold of the Ninth Gate.
The Ninth Gate is, in my opinion, Polanski’s best movie — second only to Chinatown. The film shows us that there is hope for the film industry–just look at how long it it took me to describe the plot. The movie contains no “blockbuster” action scenes, no cheesy romances, no canned jokes or story so rigidly formulaic that it could pass as a Disney movie. Instead, The Ninth Gate has a story, some fine acting, wonderful scenery and a fantastic soundtrack. Unfortunately many of its contemporary critics pissed on the film as containing an “ambiguous” or “dragging” storyline or similar complaints that may have led to the relatively low U.S. box office dollars. In any case, I believe those who complained about it are fools and probably like the mindless drivel that drips out of Hollywood today.