The Film Cult Presents: The Ninth Gate

Friday, June 6 by

Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

Okay, I, like most of the human race, am a Johnny Depp fan. Did you catch my saccharine praise fest of Edward Scissorhands a few months ago? It’s awesome. You should go read it. And yes, I saw Transcendence, and boy was that a shit show. Which is my point, I believe in being a fan, but I also believe in being an honest, responsible fan. I’m perfectly willing to call out my favorite actor (or president) when they’ve done awful work. And Johnny has done some awful work. I mean, who saw The Tourist? Eesh.

The Ninth Gate is an anomaly. I know it’s a bad film. It has a lot wrong with it. It’s mostly Depp’s character Corso carrying around a book while being chased. And yet, I’m totally mesmerized by every frame. Granted, I am fan of Roman Polanksi’s work. A big fan. I don’t endorse his sexual proclivities, but I am perfectly capable of separating the man from his work. Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown are two of my all-time favorite films, and I’d write about them here if they weren’t actually considered classics.

The Ninth Gate is about books. That’s another reason I can’t help buy love this movie. I’m a writer. I’m a reader. I have piles of books on my desk, shelves overflowing with tomes my friends and family are afraid I’ll ask them to help me move one day. Mr. Polanksi made a movie for book people with The Ninth Gate. This is a movie for the book nerd in all of us. And let me tell ya, Johnny Depp makes a hot book nerd.

Set in recent times, The Ninth Gate is about a less-than-ethical book dealer (Depp) hired by Frank Langella to authenticate his copy of an ancient book called The Nine Gates of The Kingdom of Shadows, reportedly written by Satan himself. Only three copies exist, and Langella’s character wants to be sure his is real, so Depp searches the world to try and find the other copies. He has no problem finding the other two copies. Of course, things go wrong and, which is so common in a Polanksi film, a conspiracy larger than himself starts to engulf Depp’s character. French aristocrats are choked with their Hermes scarves. Scaffolding collapses. Strangers are seen out of the corner of one’s eye.

The plot falls apart three quarters of the way through, leaving the beauty of Emmanuelle Singer the only thing really to watch. Depp is at his most awkward in this film, never really committing to being either sexy or nerdy. He generally chooses the latter, which I personally think is very sexy. The beauty of this film is in its seriousness. Much like the cult classic Showgirls, The Ninth Gate was made in complete earnest. No one had a clue it would be such a shit show. I love movies like this. Does anyone remember the Madonna catastrophe Swept Away? Sure, I own it, but whatever, it’s an awful but amazing movie.

Polanksi’s strength is in beautiful tableaus. He catches the old world charm of French libraries and the dusty streets of Spain with exquisite detail and authentic understanding. The attention to detail is astounding. A scene in which Depp’s messenger bag is overturned by a lover, his stuff spilling on to a hotel floor, comes to mind. There’s a notebook and tissue and keys and a wallet. It wreaks of verisimilitude, giving the movie that extra push into decent territory. The books are so old, so well worn, you can almost smell the leather and the fading pages.

Not one of Depp’s classics, and basically the same plot as Polanski’s more recent film The Ghost Writer, The Ninth Gate is still a fun movie that I discover people secretly love. Whenever it’s on Cinemax, I leave it on. I even have it saved in on my recorded list in my DVR for those moments when I just need something on. It’s not a great film, but it’s badass, and you should definitely give it chance.

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