The Ninth Gate (1999)
Frequently Asked Questions
Sleazy rarebook dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is hired by collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to verify the authenticity of his recent acquisition, Andrew Telfer's copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a 17th century occult text reputed to hold the key to conjuring up Satan. It's said that only three copies of the book remain: (1) the Telfer copy, (2) the copy owned by Victor Fargas (Jack Taylor) in Sintra, Portugal, and (4) the copy owned by Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford) in Paris, France. Corso is charged with comparing Balkan's copy to the other two copies. Along the way, he is helped by a mysterious girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) with green eyes and supernatural powers.
The Ninth Gate is based on The Club Dumas (1993), a novel by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The novel was adapted for the movie by John Brownjohn, Spanish film-maker Enrique Urbizu, and French-Polish film-maker Roman Polanski, who also directed the movie.
The ninth gate is the last of nine gates that, when each is correctly passed through, are reputed to conjure or lead to Lucifer. They are described in Novem Portis de Umbrarum Regni (The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows), a book written in the 17th century by Aristide Torchia. It is said that Torchia co-authored the book with Lucifer himself.
The nine gates are pictured in the form of woodcuts with a Tarot-like quality. They have been likened to a concept in Dante's Inferno, the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy (1308-1321), that hell is constructed of nine circles and in the ninth circle at the center is Satan. Others have noticed a similarity between the nine gates and the Kabalah's ten spheres on the Tree of Life. Each engraving is accompanied by an abbreviated caption in Latin and is thought to represent a step, a lesson, an experience, or a ritual that must be performed to get through the ninth gate.
The engravings as pictured in the movie are as follows. English translations are flashed on the screen during the opening menu of the Artisan DVD.
Gate 1: A knight on horseback approaches a castle while holding a finger against his lips. Caption: SILENTIUM EST AUREUM [Silence is golden].
Gate 2: An old man holding two keys approaches a closed door. Caption: CLAUSAE PATENT [Open that which is closed].
Gate 3: A traveler approaches a bridge over which looms a cherub with a cocked bow. Caption: VERBUM DIMISSUM CUSTODIAT ARCANUM [Wasted breath keeps a secret].
Gate 4: A jester approaches a maze. Caption: FORTUNA NON OMNIBUS AEQUE [Chance is not the same for all].
Gate 5: Death holds a pitchfork and an hourglass and watches a man counting his money. Caption: FRUSTRA [In vain].
Gate 6: A man hangs upside down, his foot caught in a noose. Caption: DITESCO MORI [I enrich myself with death].
Gate 7: A king and a young man play chess. Caption: DISCIPULUS POTIOR MAGISTRO [The disciple outshines the Master].
Gate 8: A knight stands poised to perform a beheading. Caption: VICTA IACET VIRTUS [Virtue is conquered].
Gate 9: A girl riding on a 7-headed beast approaches a castle. Caption: NUNC SCIO TENEBRIS LUX [I know now that the shadows come from light].
Corso notices that, although each of the three books contain nine engravings, three of the engravings in each book differ from those in the other two books. In addition, the engravings that are different are signed LCF, while the others are signed AT. Corso concludes that AT refers to Aristide Torchia (Aristidem Torchiam) and that LCF refers to Lucifer. The differences are:
Engraving 1: The castle has four turrets (AT); the castle has three turrets (LCF).
Engraving 2: The man holds the keys with his right hand (AT); he holds keys with his left hand (LCF).
Engraving 3: The cherub's quiver is empty (AT; not shown); the cherub has an arrow in his quiver (LCF).
Engraving 4: The maze exit is bricked up (AT); the exit is open (LCF).
Engraving 5: The sand is at the top of the hourglass (AT); the sand has sifted to the bottom of the hourglass (LCF, not shown).
Engraving 6: The rope is around the left ankle (AT); the rope is around the right ankle (LCF).
Engraving 7: The chessboard is black (AT); the chessboard is white (LCF).
Engraving 8: The knight is haloed (LCF); the knight is not haloed (AT).
Engraving 9: The castle is on fire, the girl's hand is on the beast (AT); the castle is backed with an eight-pointed starburst of glowing light, the girl's hand points to the castle (LCF). There is also a third version of this one, where the castle is not on fire, since the "castle on fire" engraving proves to be a forgery, replacing the true image of the starburst and the woman pointing.
Green Eyes or "the girl" is apparently the same girl whose face is seen on the engraving of a girl riding the beast. Corso calls her his "guardian angel", but her true identity is never revealed in the movie. Viewers have referred to her variously as Satan/Lucifer, a demon, a witch, a gatekeeper/guide from Hell, and the Whore of Babylon. Many believe that she isn't human, but she may have acquired special powers through a pact with the Devil. Early in the movie Balkan gives a lecture on witchcraft. While the camera pans on Green-Eyes Balkan says: "A witch is a person, who though cognoscente of the laws of God, endeavors to act through the medium of a pact with the Devil." In the DVD commentary, however, the director reveals that the girl is, in fact, the devil or a representative of the devil, presumably there to help guide Corso through the nine gates.
Green Eyes explains that Balkan just murdered Liana Tefler (Lena Olin) in front of witnesses, which leaves Corso off the hook for the murders of Fargas and Kessler.
Balkan lays out the nine engravings signed by LCF in the following order and says: To travel in silence  / by a long and circuitous route , / To brave the arrows of misfortune  / and fear neither noose nor fire,  / To play the greatest of all games  / and win, foregoing no expense  / is to mock the vicissitudes of Fate  / and gain at last the key  / that will unlock the Ninth Gate . Note: The numbers refer to the numbers of the gates.
Green Eyes explains that the ninth engraving used by Balkan was a forgery. Some viewers theorize that the problem was because Balkan saw the passage through the gates as a ritual, whereas it was the experience through which the individual had to pass. Still others argue that it was a game concocted by Green Eyes (and the Devil) to bring Corso to them, and Balkan was never even in the running. It's also possible that the book was a prophecy of things to come, and was always about Corso's journey to meet the Devil, rather than instructions for the reader to do the same.
When the ritual doesn't work for Balkan and the Devil's Tower catches on fire, Corso grabs the engravings and flees. As he is about to drive away, he is suddenly joined in the car by Green Eyes, who finally succeeds in seducing him. As they drive away, Corso asks why it didn't work for Balkan, and she tells him that the ninth engraving was a forgery. When they stop for gas, Corso comes back to the car to find her gone and a copy of the ninth engraving under his windshield. The engraving has "Ceniza Bros." written on it, so Corso returns to their bookshop in Toledo only to find it being dismantled by workers. As the workers move a large bookcase, a page from the book that was hidden on top wafts to the floor. In the final scene, Corso returns to the Tower. As he approaches the gate, a strong, 8-pointed light glows from it.
The Ninth Gate is basically a sub-story from Pérez-Reverte's much longer and more complex novel about the search for a lost chapter of Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers (1844). The most notable change between novel and movie is that Polanski altered the appearance of the engravings in order to incorporate the faces of some of the actors. The final scenes from the movie also do not appear in the book, which ends with the botched attempt at summoning Lucifer using the engravings.
There may be viewers who choose to look for arcane knowledge and occult symbolism in the movie. In the DVD commentary, however, Polanski states that the movie has "no relation to any sort of reality." He describes his movie as "all fantasy" and more of a "fairy tale for adults than history." The appearance of the Devil is not supposed to represent any arcane knowledge, merely that "the Devil is a good guy to make a film about."
Movies that have been noted as being similar to The Ninth Gate generally fall into three categories: movies about (1) rare books and rare book dealers, (2) religious horror, and (3) secret occult societies.
For movies about rare books, take a look at Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) (1991), in which a detective searches for one of the rarest books of all—the Necronomicon. In Die unendliche Geschichte (1984) (The Neverending Story) (1984), a lonely young boy finds a rare book with unusual capabilities. In Warlock (1989) (1989), a warlock from the 16th century escapes to the 20th century in search of the three parts of the Devil's Bible. For a story about a rare book dealer, there is 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) (1987), in which a used book dealer in England strikes up long-distance friendship with a customer.
Movies about religious horror that have been strongly recommended as similar to The Ninth Gate include The Seventh Sign (1988) (1988), in which a pregnant woman fears that her child is somehow related to signs that the Apocalypse, as outlined in the Book of Revelation, is coming to pass. Likewise, in Rosemary's Baby (1968) (1968), a woman is impregnated by Satan in reverse parody of Christ's birth. In The Wicker Man (1973) (1973), a man encounters ancient pagan practices. Of course, there is always The Exorcist (1973) (1973), if you haven't yet seen it. Other movies about religious horror that are recommended include Jacob's Ladder (1990) (1990), Angel Heart (1987) (1987), La chiesa (1989) (1989), Lost Souls (2000) (2000), The Mephisto Waltz (1971) (1971), Der Name der Rose (1986) (1986), The Prophecy (1995) (1995), The Devil's Advocate (1997) (1997), Constantine (2005) (2005) and Stigmata (1999) (1999).
Finally, movies about secret occult societies that have been likened to The Ninth Gate include The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (2000) (2000), in which an anthropologist researches demon cults, The Last Wave (1977) (1977), in which a lawyer investigates the hidden society of five Aboriginials he must defend in court, Lord of Illusions (1995) (1995), in which a private investigator investigates an evil cult, and The Order (2003) (2003) in which a priest investigates the death of the head of his order. In later years, movies based on books by Dan Brown, i.e., The Da Vinci Code (2006) (2006), Angels & Demons (2009) (2009), and The Lost Symbol (release date unknown) also center around secret societies and "gates" or steps that must be passed through in order to solve a mystery. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (1999) depicts a secret society in which a doctor joins and later regrets it. Another film starring Johnny Depp, From Hell (2001) (2001), deals with Jack the Ripper murders and advocates the popular theory that the murders were in fact committed by a secret society. The Believers (1987) (1987) may be of interest.