Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Ninth Gate

Aristide Torchia's "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows" -- Prideful, seductive and evil, like all good books should be.

I have seen the film “The Ninth Gate" a few times now. I saw it in the theaters when it first came out, and on DVD when it was released in that form. I have seen the film several times on late-night television. Right now it is after one in the morning and the house is dark and the glow of the TV is enthralling me once again. Roman Polanski created a minor masterpiece, along with the level of "Rosemary's Baby." This thriller will keep you interested, and you will find the film entertaining. I would suggest having a computer standing by so that you can search out references on the Internet that Polanski alludes to but never fully explained. Once again, the director, Roman Polanski, leaves the mystery for all of us to figure out.

Our protagonist, Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), an antique book buyer, seller, and authenticator, hired by Frank Langella's character, Boris Balkan, a celebrated antique book collector, wants Dean to confirm that his copy of, "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows," written by the 17th-century author Aristide Torchia, is authentic. Divulging plenty of information about the book and legend throughout the film by various book dealers informing us bit by bit, letting us put the clues together ourselves. The Inquisition burned the author of this hideous book on a stake in 1667. Of the five copies of the book, two have differences in the illustrations. The author signs some book illustrations, and other illustrations are signed by the elusive "LCF."

Thus, begins our hero's story, traveling to Europe where he must meet with the owners of the other remaining two copies available, and compare the books, side by side. Johnny Depp, playing Dean Corso as older, graying at the temple, more distinguished, bookish person -- matching his demeanor as a professional book dealer. But first, Dean goes to see the widow of the book's last owner, Liana Telfer (Lena Olin), after meeting her and discussing the book, Corso leaves and prepares for his trip. However, Telfer decides that she wants the book back. She comes to Corso's apartment and seduces Depp in her attempt to retrieve the book.

Liana Telfer - "Don't screw me," As they both lay on the floor, Depp with pants down.

Dean Corso - "I thought I already did."

After the seduction, Telfer looks for the book and not finding it, like a feral animal, attacks Corso biting and scratching, then whacks him on the head with a bottle, knocking him unconscious. Finding his friend, Bernie, murdered, hanging upside-down, like one of the books woodcuts, Corso retrieves the book and tries to head home. After the attack Corso calls Balkan, explaining to him that he wants to quit, however, Balkan throws more money at him and encourages him to proceed.

The plot thickens, as they say. I am fascinated with the illustrations within this mystical book. "The Ninth Gate," reminds me of H. P. Lovecraft's legendary tome of his own, featured in his literary world, the dreaded, "Necronomicon." During Depp’s quest to authenticate the book he finds himself deeper and deeper into the mysteries that surround this legendary book and people start dying on him. Dean Corso's first meeting is with Victor Fargas, a true lover of antiques, he is later found dead in a pool. Next Corso meets with Baroness Kessler, a woman in love with the devil, history, and myth-- -- a woman in love with Satan--love at first sight. Corso shows that her copy of the "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows" is slightly different from Boris Balkin's copy or that of Victor Fargas's.  The difference is in the nine woodcuts in each of the books. Slight differences in the images add to the mystery.  The woodcuts, almost tarot like, some of the woodcuts bear the initials A.T. for Aristide Torchia, while others have the initials L.C.F.  Take a guess at what LCF stands for. Needless to say, the Baroness and her copy of the book become victims of foul play. Corso narrowly escapes the Baroness's fate himself.

Appearing to help Dean, from the very beginning, is a beautiful, mysterious, blonde woman, (Emmanuelle Seigner -- Polanski’s wife) with green eyes. Dressed as a traveler or a student, in a green jacket (to match her eyes) she appears and saves Corso throughout the movie, guiding him practically and almost supernaturally though to a riveting and weird finale. 

We find that the seductive, evil, and breathtaking Liana Telfer, uses the book for satanic rituals, and the story becomes weirder and more compelling. You may have to watch this movie twice in order to catch everything. That's OK because it is worth the investigation. Balkan appears during Liana Telfer's ritual and suddenly we have a black Sabbath gone horribly wrong, Balkin comes in and pridefully attacks Olin, kills her, and takes the books and leaves.

The story is superb; the woman with green eyes is mysterious and all-knowing. Lena Olin gives an extraordinary performance as Liana Telfer. The lighting director and cinematographers both deserve applause for setting the eerie mood, the dark pallet, offset by strange orange and red hues, foretelling the evil to come. The direction is sharp, and the editing is well-paced, and not over the top. Polanski teases us, hinting to us in every scene, tantalizing us with glimpses into this ancient book and darkness that the legend and wicked secrets of the book "The Ninth Gate." The audience may not care as much about the characters as Roman Polanski would like us to. However, we do care if the book is authentic or a masterful forgery. 

Roman Polanski and screenwriter John Brownjohn take Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel "The Club Dumas"  and distill it down to a single narrative, that relies as much on the actor as on the story. While keeping the premise of the book, Polanski focuses on "De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis" or better known as "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows," rather than dividing the plot and the viewer's attention on a missing chapter of Alexandre Dumas's novel "The Three Musketeers." In doing so, Polanski leads the audience on a classic whodunit with a glimpse at the occult that leaves the viewer wanting to know more about the mystery of the book, the woodcuts, the green-eyed girl, the significance of the Cathars and their castles in France. Look for hidden clues throughout the film.  The number three is important. The concept of dualism is predominant throughout Corso's travels like a pilgrim, as his journey leads him to further illumination.

Being caught up in the story is essential in suspending reality and allowing the movie to works its magic on us. I do have one unfavorable item to point out, and that is Depp's character Dean Corso, doesn't seem to change throughout this film, I don't see him grow; he seems to be the same agnostic character till the very end, a non-believer of the supernatural. Depp plays this role low key and serious, and that may be why we don’t detect any change in character. Even if you are not a Johnny Depp fan, see this movie, for the story, for the legend, for the weirdness, and most of all for yourself, you won't be sorry.

Movie Data

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Horror
Year:   1999
Starring:  Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, Emmanuelle Seigner
Director:  Roman Polanski
Producer(s)  Roman Polanski
Writer(s):  Arturo Pérez-Reverte, John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, and Roman Polanski
Rating:  R

1 comment :

  1. Depp's role is very challenging, and he intuitively underplays the role with subtle shaddings.

    As Dean Corso, his character slowly evolves from a cynical mercenary and nonbeliever in the supernatural to an obsessed zealot and Devil's mate.