The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate
The Ninth Gate

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Roman Polanski
John Brownjohn
Enrique Urbizu
Based on El Club Dumas by
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Starring Johnny Depp
Lena Olin
Frank Langella
Emmanuelle Seigner
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography Darius Khondji
Editing by Hervé de Luze
Studio Canal+
Distributed by Bac Films (France)
Araba Films (Spain)
Artisan Entertainment (US)
Release date(s) August 25, 1999 (1999-08-25)
Running time 133 minutes
Country France
United States
Language English
Budget $38 million
Box office $58,401,898

The Ninth Gate is a 1999 horror film directed, produced, and co-written by Roman Polanski. It is a neo-noir, occult mystery thriller involving the rare book business, wherein rare-book dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is hired by bibliophile Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to validate a seventeenth-century copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, by Aristide Torchia, and what he encounters en route. The Nine Gates is an imaginary book, but is heavily inspired by the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.[1]

The film, based upon Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 1993 novel El Club Dumas, comprises three genres, and was co-written by director Roman Polanski. The premiere showing was at San Sebastián, Spain, on 25 August 1999, a month before the 47th San Sebastian International Film Festival; in North America, it failed critically and commercially, because, reviewers claimed, it was a lesser effort than Rosemary's Baby (1968), his best supernatural-theme film; nonetheless, The Ninth Gate earned a worldwide gross of $58.4 million against a $38 million budget.



Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a New York City rare-book dealer motivated solely by financial gain. Wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires Corso to authenticate his recently acquired copy of the seventeenth-century author Aristide Torchia's book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, reputedly a version of a book whose author was 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 Corso to travel 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.

Balkan's copy of The Nine Gates had previously belonged to bibliophile Andrew Telfer, who committed suicide soon after selling the book to Balkan. Moreover, Telfer's widow, Liana (Lena Olin), wants the book back, as Telfer originally bought the book for her. Liana seduces Corso, but she fails to re-acquire her book. Meanwhile, Corso's business partner and rare-book shop owner, Bernie (James Russo), whom Corso had asked to hide the book, is murdered, and his corpse disposed to reflect one of the engravings in The Nine Gates, which, as in the image of The Hanged Man Tarot card, shows a man hanged by one foot upside down.

Corso travels to Toledo, Spain, to talk with the Ceniza brothers (José López Rodero), twin-brother book restorers, who point out to him three of the book's engravings signed "LCF", which, with their prompting, Corso understands means that Lucifer himself designed and cut them. Corso next goes by train to Sintra, Portugal, and visits Victor Fargas (Jack Taylor), whose copy of The Nine Gates Corso compares with Balkan's. To his surprise, Corso discovers that the signature "LCF" is, in the Fargas copy, found in three different engravings, which vary in detail from their counterparts in the Balkan copy. The next morning, a mysterious young woman (Emmanuelle Seigner), who has crossed paths with Corso since Balkan summoned him for this assignment, awakens Corso and leads him back to Fargas's house to find the old man murdered and the engravings ripped out of his copy of The Nine Gates. Later, The Girl displays supernatural abilities in rescuing Corso from Liana's bodyguard (Tony Amoni).

In Paris, Corso visits the Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford), owner of the third copy of The Nine Gates. The Baroness initially refuses any contact with Corso once she realizes who his employer is, but Corso returns and intrigues Kessler—a lifelong devotee of the study of the book—with evidence that the engravings differ across the three copies. Having gained access to Kessler's copy, he records three further differences. Later, Kessler is killed, and the engravings from her book also ripped out. Now, believing that each copy of The Nine Gates is genuine, Corso suspects that the secret to opening the nine gates is a combination of the "LCF" versions of each of the nine engravings, distributed across all three copies of the book. Liana steals Balkan's copy from Corso's hotel room; he follows her to a mansion and witnesses her using it in leading a Satanist ceremony. Suddenly, Balkan interrupts the ceremony, kills Liana, takes the engraving pages, and his own, intact copy, then flees.

Corso pursues Balkan to a remote keep, which was depicted in one of the engavings and in a postcard that Corso found in Kessler's copy, and finds Balkan preparing to open the nine gates. After a struggle, Balkan manages to trap Corso in a hole in the floor, thus immobilizing him and allowing Balkan to perform his summoning ritual unmolested—but with Corso as a 'witness'. Balkan recites a series of phrases related to each of the nine engravings, then douses the floor and himself with gasoline and sets it alight, believing himself immune to the flames. Balkan's invocation, however, appears to fail, and Balkan begins screaming in agony as his body starts to burn. Corso frees himself and, with Balkan engulfed in flames, puts Balkan out of his agony with a shot and escapes the fire.

Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) shows his 17th-century copy of The Nine Gates to Dean Corso (Johnny Depp).

Outside the building, The Girl appear to Corso and seduces him by the light of the flames. She tells him that Balkan failed because the ninth engraving Balkan had used was a forgery. Corso, following her directions, returns to the Ceniza brothers' shop. Upon arriving, he finds the store gone and the last piece of furniture being removed, from the top of which falls the authentic ninth engraving, which includes a likeness of the mystery girl. With the last engraving in hand, Corso returns to the castle it depicts, and crosses the threshold of the Ninth Gate.



Roman Polanski read the screenplay, an adaptation by Enrique Urbizu, of the Spanish novel El Club Dumas (The Club Dumas, 1993), by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, So impressed with the script, Polanski read the novel, liking it because he "saw so many elements that seemed good for a movie. It was suspenseful, funny, and there were a great number of secondary characters that are tremendously cinematic".[2] Pérez-Reverte's novel, El Club Dumas features intertwined plots, so Polanski wrote his own adaptation with his usual partner, John Brownjohn (Tess, Pirates and Bitter Moon). They deleted the novel's literary references and a sub-plot about Corso's investigation of an original manuscript of a chapter of The Three Musketeers and concentrated upon Dean Corso's pursuing the authentic copy of The Nine Gates.[2]

Polanski approached the subject skeptically, saying, "I don't believe in the occult. I don't believe. Period";[3] yet he enjoyed the genre, "There [are] a great number of clichés of this type in The Ninth Gate, which I tried to turn around a bit. You can make them appear serious on the surface, but you cannot help, but laugh at them".[3] The appeal of the film was that it featured "a mystery in which a book is the leading character" and its engravings "are also essential clues".[4] In reading El Club Dumas, Polanski pictured Johnny Depp as "Dean Corso", who joined the production as early as 1997, when he met Polanski at the Cannes Film Festival, while promoting The Brave, his directorial début, then in festival competition.[5]

Initially, he did not think Depp right as "Corso", because the character was forty years old (Depp at the time was only 34). He considered an older actor, but Depp persisted; he wanted to work with Roman Polanski.[6]

The film press reported creative friction between Depp and Polanski, reported around the time of the North American release of The Ninth Gate. Depp said, "It's the director's job to push, to provoke things out of an actor".[6] Polanski said of Depp, "He decided to play it rather flat, which wasn't how I envisioned it; and I didn't tell him it wasn't how I saw it". Visually, in the neo-noir genre style, rare-book dealer Dean Corso's disheveled grooming derives from Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's quintessential literary private investigator.[3]

Polanski cast Frank Langella as Boris Balkan based upon his performance as Clare Quilty in Lolita (1997), directed by Adrian Lyne. Barbara Jefford, as the Baroness Frida Kessler was a last-minute replacement for the cast German actress who fell sick with pneumonia, and after a second actress proved unable to learn the character's dialogue; with only days' notice, Barbara Jefford learned her part, spoken with a German accent.[2] The Ninth Gate was photographed in France, Portugal, and Spain in summer of 1998. Johnny Depp met his long-time partner Vanessa Paradis during the shooting.


The Ninth Gate (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Wojciech Kilar
Released November 16, 1999
Recorded April 1999
Genre Soundtrack
Length 53:58
Label Silva
Professional reviews

The reviews parameter has been deprecated. Please move reviews into the “Reception” section of the article. See Moving reviews into article space.

The main theme of The Ninth Gate is based upon Havanaise, for violin and orchestra, by Camille Saint-Saëns;[citation needed] some of the score is a vocalise by Korean soprano Sumi Jo.[7]

  1. Vocalise: "Theme from the Ninth Gate" – 3:56
  2. "Opening Titles" – 3:31
  3. "Corso" – 3:24
  4. "Bernie is Dead" – 4:31
  5. "Liana" – 3:03
  6. "Plane to Spain" – 4:48
  7. "The Motorbike" – 1:18
  8. "Missing Books
  1. "Blood on His Face" – 1:13
  2. "Chateau Saint Martin" – 4:05
  3. "Liana's Death" – 2:38
  4. "Boo! / The Chase" – 4:29
  5. "Balkan's Death" – 3:52
  6. "The Ninth Gate" – 1:13
  7. "Corso and the Girl" – 3:20
  8. Vocalise: Theme from the Ninth Gate (Reprise)


The premiere screening of The Ninth Gate was in San Sebastián, Spain, on 25 August 1999; in North America, it appeared in 1,586 cinemas during the March 10th, 2000 weekend, earning a gross income of $6.6 million, and $18.6 million in total. Worldwide, it earned $58.4 million against a $38 million production budget.[8]

The majority of reviews for the film were mixed to negative, with objections to the film citing a slow pace, trivial subject matter, and an uneven tone. Most movie reviewers said that the suspense in The Ninth Gate was less than that of Rosemary's Baby (1968), director Polanski's famous supernatural-themed film. The Ninth Gate holds a 40% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (26% among "Cream of the Crop" critics) and a metascore of 44 on Metacritic. Roger Ebert said the ending was lackluster, "while at the end, I didn't yearn for spectacular special effects, I did wish for spectacular information — something awesome, not just a fade-to-white".[9] In his review for The New York Times, Elvis Mitchell said the movie was "about as scary as a sock-puppet re-enactment of The Blair Witch Project, and not nearly as funny".[10] Entertainment Weekly rated the film "D+", and Lisa Schwarzbaum said it had an "aroma of middle-brow, art-house Euro-rot, a whiff of decay and hauteur in a film not even a star as foxed, and foxy, as Johnny Depp, himself, could save".[11] In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan said the film was "too laid-back, and unconcerned about the pacing of its story to be satisfying", because "a thriller that's not high-powered, is an intriguing concept, in reality it can hold our attention for only so long".[12] In the Village Voice, J. Hoberman said the film was "barely releasable hokum, stuffed with cheesy blah-blah".[13]

In Sight and Sound magazine, Phillip Strick said it was "not particularly liked at first outing — partly because Johnny Depp, in fake grey temples, personifies the odious Corso of the book a little too accurately — the film is intricately well-made, deserves a second chance, despite its disintegrations, and, in time, will undoubtedly acquire its own coven of heretical fans".[14]

In Time magazine, Richard Corliss said that The Ninth Gate was Polanski's most accessible effort "since fleeing the U.S. soon after Chinatown".[15]

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Graham said that "Depp is the best reason to see Polanski's satanic thriller", because "Polanski's sly sense of film-noir conventions pokes fun at the genre, while, at the same time, honoring it".[16]

On his website Groucho Reviews, web critic Peter Canavese called the film "an insinuating trip into devilish darkness" and a "sorely underrated occult mystery".[17]

After the release of The Ninth Gate, Artisan sued Polanski for taking more than $1 million from the budget, refunds of France's value-added tax that he did not give to the completion bond company guaranteeing Artisan Entertainment a completed film.[18]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Hartl, John (March 5, 2000). "The Ninth Gate Marks Return for Polanski". Seattle Times. 
  3. ^ a b c Howell, Peter (March 3, 2000). "Polanski's Demons". Toronto Star. 
  4. ^ Arnold, Gary (March 11, 2000). "Polanski's Dark Side". Washington Times. 
  5. ^ Archerd, Army (February 10, 1998). "Polanski opens Gate". Variety. 
  6. ^ a b Schaefer, Stephen (March 10, 2000). "The Devil and Roman Polanski". Boston Herald. 
  7. ^ Phares, Heather. "The Ninth Gate". Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  8. ^ "The Ninth Gate". Box Office Mojo. May 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 10, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  10. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (March 10, 2000). "Off to Hell in a Handbasket, Trusty Book in Hand". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  11. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (March 17, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Entertainment Weekly.,,20176772,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  12. ^ Turan, Kenneth (March 10, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Los Angeles Times.,0,1097825.story. Retrieved 2009-04-09. [dead link]
  13. ^ Hoberman, J (March 14, 2000). "Missions Impossible". Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  14. ^ Strick, Philip (September 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Sight and Sound. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  15. ^ Corliss, Richard (March 27, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Time.,9171,996488,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  16. ^ Graham, Bob (March 10, 2000). "Summoning Silliness". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Shprintz, Janet (July 18, 2000). "Artisan Sues Polanski, Alleges He Took Money". Variety. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 

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