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ninth_gateNB: Spolier alert! See the movie first if you don’t want to know the outcome. I’m writing this review, however, for people who may otherwise be disappointed in the movie’s ending — which is better appreciated when you decipher some of the symbolism upon which it is built and have time to study the book’s engravings.

The movie “The Ninth Gate” (script here) is based on a Spanish work of fiction “The Club Dumas” by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. In it the protagonists, Balkan and Corso, respectively search for and research a fictional book called “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows”. The searcher is material and acquisitive — he knows what he wants and he goes after it. The researcher seeks knowledge, doesn’t know what the outcome will be and enlightenment is his reward. Both are embarking upon a journey, with very different outcomes, one of destruction by fire and the other of enlightenment. Keep your focus on Corso, this is his story, only he passes through the ninth gate. Corso himself doesn’t seem to realise this until the end. Decide for yourself what the role of Corso’s companion is: Is she heaven sent or come straight from hell? Could she represent the whore of Babylon symbolising a false religion and is the burning of the castle at the end a reference to the downfall of Jerusalem?

whore-of-baylon-1destruction-of-jerusalemcastle-of-puivertCaption: The Whore of Babylon, The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Castle of Puivert. The Ninth Gate references real historical books, characters, places and events to weave credibility and intrigue into it’s plot and leaves it sufficiently open-ended to encourage debate and further research. That’s probably what brings you here, right?

This is a story about two parallel lives going in opposite directions. I’ll refer to the movie, which I have seen, not the book, which I have not read. There are likely to be differences. For Balkan, the journey is downwards, as he tries to summon up the power of the devil: He descends into the Kingdom of Shadows. The fire at the Ninth Gate (of the forged image) is Balkan’s destruction. For Corso the journey is upwards: He emerges from Kingdom of Shadows. The light at the Ninth Gate (of the real image) reveals that it casts shadows upon this world — and for the worthy the journey is out of the Kingdom of Shadows. The light at the end is Corso’s enlightenment.

Three variations of an ancient book “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows” exist. Each book contains nine engravings. Three different engravings in each of the three books are signed LCF for Lucifer. Six are signed AT for Aristidem Torchiam, the fictional book’s author. One engraving signed LCF is a forgery. The nine LCF engravings plot the path into or out of the Kingdom of Shadows. The differences in the symbology of the AT and LCF images decode the underlying story.

In Latin the word “Lucifer” means “Light-Bringer” and references the morning star. The name has become associated with evil and the biblical satan — although gnostics believed quite the opposite, that he was a positive influence. You must figure out whose light is actually shining here and on whom the shadows are cast. It’s a good/god versus evil/satan story that, like a playing card, you can read well enough either way. You could make a convincing case for either — which, I think, is a deliberate dilemma of duality introduced by the author.

There are strong Kabalistic and Tarot references throughout the engravings of the nine gates. There’s minutia in each to delight the souls of researches, from Hebrew letters, Roman numerals through biblical and gnostic references. I’ll simply stick to the dominant themes which advance the story well enough.

 
ninth_gate_1_lcfThe 1st Gate: A knight on horseback holds a finger to his lips signaling silence or secrecy. The latin caption in the film translates to “Silence is golden”. In the book, however, the literal translation of the caption is given as “No one attains who unlawfully contends” or “Only he who has fought according to the rules will succeed”. The book’s caption offers a better hint at the outcome. The film trades on secrets and prefers to remain silent about the real journey — thereby robbing most who watch it of the true meaning at the end.

AT: The knight sees a castle with four towers.
LCF: The knight sees a castle with three towers (pictured here).

The castle in the distance is the destination. The number four symbolises the material world (four seasons, four points of the compass, earth/wind/fire/water etc.). The number three represents perfection (e.g. trinity and the divine triangle). The goal for one will be material for the other it will be spiritual.

 
ninth_gate_2_lcfThe 2nd Gate: A hermit looking bearded man with a pair of keys in his hand stands at door, with a knocker, latched closed. He is accompanied by a dog, with the Hebrew symbol for nine behind him and a burning lantern at his feet. The latin caption translates to “Open that which is closed”.

AT: The man holds keys in his right hand.
LCF: The man holds keys in his left hand (pictured here).

A pair of keys in symbology are often gold and silver. Both reflecting a different light, one of emotional warmth and wealth, the other of spiritual purity and enlightenment. The right hand represents the familiar material world, the left hand represents the unconscious or unknown world. Sinister means left and describes how many thought of left handed people: A misunderstanding of the unknown. His companion might be the right reading ‘dog’ or the inverted left reading ‘god’. One journeyman will see things from the left (spiritual), the other will see things from the right (material). One will open spiritual doors another will open doors to material things. There’s a strong message of duality here.

 
ninth_gate_3_atThe 3rd Gate: Captioned “The lost word keeps the secret”, a pilgrim on his path encounters a towered bridge crossing a river. A cherub in the clouds, with a quiver slung over his shoulder, aims his bow and arrow down on the path leading up to the near side of the bridge.

AT: There is only one arrow in the bow and none in the quiver (pictured here).
LCF: There are two arrows, one in the bow and another in the quiver.

Again with the duality: The LCF image reminds the reader that there are two levels of information or two possible outcomes. We see one arrow pointing down to earth and the other, in the quiver, pointing upwards.

 
ninth_gate_4_lcfThe 4th Gate: A jester looking character stands before a maze in a fool’s twin peaked hat. He walks with a stick on his right side — his left leg straight, his right leg crooked. While the entrance is shut, the exit is open in one engraving and bricked up in another. Three gambling dice lay on the path before him: The dice add up to three but the visible sides of each die adds up to six. Three (playing by the rules) vs “666″. Three is god’s perfect number, and “666″ is a biblical reference to the devil, a fallen angel. Remember the first gate’s caption regarding playing by the rules?

AT: The maze’s exit archway is bricked up.
LCF: The maze’s exit is open (pictured here).

The engraving’s translated caption is “Fate is not the same for all”. The dice suggest that chance will yield very different outcomes: A dead end for one and an opportunity for another.

 
ninth_gate_5_lcfThe 5th Gate: A old man, seated, counts out gold. They are inside a castle like chamber, foreshadowing the destination. He is being watched over by a cloaked skeleton with an hourglass and a trident. The caption translates to “In vain”.

AT: The hourglass sands are only just starting to flow (sand at the top).
LCF: The sands of time have run out (sand at the bottom, pictured here).

The cloaked figure represents both death and the devil: Death in the skeleton and the devil with a trident. The image suggests that gathering material riches are in vain. Rather than being an achievement to a new beginning — time has been wasted in vain.

 
ninth_gate_6_atThe 6th Gate: A man is hanging from the castle walls, upside down, from one leg — captioned “I am enriched by death”. A hand holding a burning sword, like a torch,
extends from a castle window. The castle door is shut. The upside down man’s hair and clothing do not hang down and he has a peaceful look on his face, not anguished.

AT: The man is hanging from his right foot (pictured here).
LCF: The man is hanging from his left foot.

We’re at the threshold to the destination. For the material acquisitive right thinking person there are obvious burning sword and hanging references. For the left minded spiritual folk there are promises of torch light to show the way to the other side of the wall — an inverted world into which the spiritual are reborn.

 
ninth_gate_7_lcfThe 7th Gate: A bearded crowned king is playing chess in a castle like room with a young man dressed like a peasant. The door is closed and a crescent moon shines in through an open window. Two dogs, one white and one black, appear to be fighting in the background. The engraving is captioned “The disciple surpasses the master”.

AT: The chess board is black.
LCF: The chess board is white (pictured here).

One chess website suggests the King plays black and the peasant plays white (from the positions of the black and white dogs) and that ultimately the game is equal — a draw. A mere mortal has become the King’s equal. Man is his master’s equal. Man is god.

 
ninth_gate_8_atThe 8th Gate: A young man kneeling in prayer. A knight is standing over him with a mace. In the background is a Wheel of Fortune and a castle with a closed door. The caption reads “Virtue lies defeated”.

AT: There is no halo around the head of the knight (pictured here).
LCF: There is a halo around the head of the knight.

I’m not sure I have a good explanation for the symbols here. The wheel, or Rota Fortunae, represents chance or fate. The castle is the destination. The knight is either (a) guarding over the praying man like a haloed angel — much like the girl in the movie appears to come to Corso’s rescue, or (b) without the halo is going to bludgeon the penitent man — as happens to Corso in several scenes. Perhaps this foreshadows the dual role of the girl in this movie: Apparently a guardian angel but, in the end, a temptress, the fallen angel?

 
ninth_gate_9_at1ninth_gate_9_lcfThe 9th Gate: Captioned “Now I know that from darkness comes Light” all three of the Ninth Gate engravings are apparently identical. A castle is in the background. In the foreground a naked woman with an open book is seated on a seven headed dragon like creature — which likely represents the whore of Babylon out of Revelations in the bible, associated with the antichrist and downfall. It is the final sexual temptation our pilgrim will encounter. Corso’s guardian angel is apparently a fallen-angel, protecting him on his journey to the Ninth Gate where he succumbs to her temptations.

The engraving in Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s book has the castle burning in the background, not so in the movie’s engraving of the Ninth Gate. The LCF engraving bound in one of the books is a forgery, made to look like the others by the Ceniza twins. The LCF original, later found at the twins’ bookstore, has a starburst of light shining out from behind the castle — the castle is not engulfed in flames but awash with sunlight casting shadows upon the kingdom below. At the Ninth Gate the misguided would be destroyed in a fire and the spiritual would, after a final temptation, become enlightened. Having succumbed to the final temptation is Corso enlightened or just a bit wiser?

Suggested reading The Ninth Gate film script | Deciphering the Engravings | Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s book “The Club Dumas” | Director Roman Polanski’s film “The Ninth Gate” | Michael F. Haspil’s website Apocalyptic Productions guide
to making your own Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows
Photobucket slideshow of all the engravings posted by silenceisgolden2 | Phillip Coppens’ The Ninth Gate Opens | Wikipedia on Luciferianism | Wikipedia on Catharism | richcapo’s comments on the IMDb.com boards Who is the girl???, encouraging me to delve more into the Catharism and reminding me how the Catholic church suppressed the ancient religions in the South of France | Chess: The Ninth Gate Problem | The rare book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is mentioned in Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s novel The Club Dumas as well as in Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate by its Italian title La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo | The Ninth Gate Interview by Caroline Vie

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11 Comments

  1. I recently watched this movie for the first time, on the recommendation of a friend whom follows occult-themed movies looking for encryptions, messages, etc. He said this one was a must see. I have watched it three times and it is amazing – I googled looking for some answers and found your site. Thank you so much! I couldn’t really see the plates that well and study them in the movie. I believe that the two protagonists, Corso and Balkan are playing out the twin pillars of the Tree of Life – Is the light of Illumination on Corso at the end still the Luciferian light, which he achieved through the sacfrifice of Balkan? Also they focus on the Shell Oil symbol prominently a few times – a clamshell,- symbol of Venus/Aphrodite, also assoiated with Lucifer, the morning star, and the whore of Babylon. This movie is so riddled with Babylonian occultism. Polanski has said that “he doesn’t believe in the occult,” yet he helped write the screenplay for one of the most adept screenplays on occult symbolism that I have ever seen. The movie was panned by critics in the U.S., yet as far as I can see, it is almost a perfect film.

    • Hey ALC, good review – one thing I disagree with you about though, I think Polanski believes in all of it; that he is an insider to something and that like Stanley Kubrick, he leaks info though his movies, and/or plants seeds in consciousness that way. I did see The Ghost Writer, and thought it was pretty good – I’ll have to check out your review also. The Ghost Writer I thought was a way of again, showing the uninitiated from a somewhat insider perspective on “how they do what they do.” Car accidents do seem to be key when information is in question, and then just disappers. But to each their own opinion. I have some definite ideas on why Johnny Depp was involved with Polanski too, but those might be too way out for anyone to wish to hear. thanx laala23

  2. Excellent review. I was very glad to find it, since you know far more about a lot of these things than I do. I agree that the movie was really underrated and ignored when it came out. (If it had come out after The Pianist, things would have been different, but this was during the years when people weren’t playing much attention to Polanski.)

    The whole movie is a puzzle, and a very carefully constructed one. I made my own small contribution to the analysis of it here:
    http://u-town.com/collins/?p=2110

    Did you see The Ghost Writer?

  3. You missed something…. Corso = Lucifer. The 7-headed beast, a term for Satan, in the ninth engraving is Corso himself making love to that mysterious woman, as they did. Corso also wears a Goatee. Goat = the beast. Another reference is the dodge-viper. In the bible Satan is referred to as the snake.The book ‘The Nine Gates’ is a way for the devil to return to heaven again, the place he resided before he was kicked out. In human-form, Lucifer does not know his true identity, due to the limitations of human conciousness. This ‘not-knowing’, or state of un-enlightenment is symbolised in tarotcards as ‘the fool’. In Tarot-cards the fool always wears a sack and a hood/cape-thing. Corso CONSTANTLY wears this long coat and his bag all the time. Also count the doors he goes through in the movie, the last shot is the ninth door. The books are designed not to raise the devil, but for the devil to return to paradise.
    Lucifer did appear to Balkan only he didn’t realize who whe was.

    • Lots of other things that carry symbolism probably, but I cant figure them out. 1 strange thing is that the old portuguese Library-twins are the same actor, and the 2 movers at the end, is also the same actor…

    • Why can the mysterious girl float?

    • The confrontation with the other book-hunter struck me as very odd.

    • The first shot of the mysterious woman goes from her head to the ground, where there is nothing to see, and holds for a brief moment. Why??

    • Shell was prominently visible a few times, but it could be just product-placement.

  4. Interesting and erudite review of a very under rated film. It is rumoured that this film was Polanski’s “apology” for “Rosemary’s Baby”. The basic gist being that, Polanski received considerable help from the alternative community in bringing Rosemary’s Baby to the screen and then allowed, knowingly or unknowingly, the final film to say something wholly unpleasant about those very same people and their beliefs.

    As for the Book of Revelations and and its’ imagery. one has to keep a weather eye out against ascribing wholly contemporary interpretations to a writing which was very much, based wholly in its’ own time. In the first place, it was inspired/written by a trip, most likely in the literal sense drugs wise, by the author to a Greek island, which at the time was well known for its’ stock of hallucinogenic mushrooms. in fact , it fair to say, one simply didn’t find oneself on that island unless one was seeking after said mushrooms. Secondly, the author quite probably had no mindset that saw a thousand years into the future, let alone two thousand and therefore one really should view the book with that in mind. Given that, it is almost certainly talking about the fall of the Roman Empire. Obviously one was not about to pen a treatise on such a subject and couch it in obvious terms, when to do so would, in all likelihood, invite punitive punishment on one’s own head. Therefore the language of the tract is deliberately obscure however, one can be pretty sure that, the “seven headed beast” is a code for Rome, who’s seat of power was based in Rome which was built on the “seven hills”.

    As for his mysterious female companion. I suspect that her role is simply to make it plain that the female side of the coin, holds one of the keys, that is one of the gates within their form. I would suggest her role is deliberately ambiguous as she seems to be essentially “neutral”, her admonishments are dealt out with an even hand towards all the chief protagonists in the film. She chides Depp’s character’s ignorance/naivety, as much as she beats on those who offer violence. Then again she also acts as a protector towards the Depp, probably because she sees his motives as driven by intellect, not simply the greed for power. in the light of that, I would suggest she can can seen as a cipher for whatever angle/faeries/spirits you personally have a leaning towards. On the other hand, it could be read that, she is simply human and yet has transcended the gates herself and is therefore, in the eyes of “mere mortals”, something more than human. That is, her seemingly supernatural talents, stem from her own enlightenment and it the seekers who project onto her, as do the audience, paranormal qualities. her sexual union with Depp under the light of the burning castle is probably one of the film’s most powerful pieces of symbolism. It can be interpreted that by joining with Depp in such a way, she gifts Depp entrance through the final gate and on towards the end of this particular cycle of enlightenment.

    Remember that, the chief lesson of the Tarot, which this film mirrors in many ways is that. Life is an endless procession from fool to magi and then back to fool to tackle the next task one needs to truly understand to become a magi yet again. Again referring back to the female character, she in occult terms, has passed through so many of these cycles successfully she has now become human+, able to, at least to the minds of those of a more mundane understanding perform *amazing feats” be it, floating, fighting, driving a car like a racing driver, travel worldwide with seemingly no means of fiscal support etc. Notice her clothing is always modest, rarely fashionable, in fact often merely functional and yet, no-one ever questions her *right* to be in any particular place, whether it be a 5 star hotel or on a plane. She always travels *under the radar* adopting an almost anonymous character and therefore allowing herself to draw little or no attention to herself unless she so chooses to. In short, maybe we are meant to see her as a “true adept”, based on the legend of someone akin to the Comte de St Germain.

    The moment Depp’s character loses his driving desire for money, note his apartment is actually quite sparse and unprepossessing, outside of books he seems to lack any real interest in worldly goods and his enjoyment seems to stem from the thrill of the deal rather than, the resulting monetary benefits, she suddenly becomes concrete in his life as oppsoed to this figure who merely haunts and tracks his movements.

    Anyway, food for though I hope…

  5. Absolutely amazing review….was quite confused when I watched the movie but you made it clear as light! Thanks!

  6. Excellent Explanations all around, expect for Plate #8. The “Wheel of Fortune” is no Gambling Device, such as a Roulette Wheel, but instead is a horrible instrument of Torture. Two individuals are illustrated bound to it. They have, are soon will be, beaten or burned to death. I see no possible Good Outcome for these two victims.

    • Thanks for the comment! Questions alway help to clarify things. The “Wheel of Fortune” referred to in Plate #8 is not an instrument of torture but the medieval philosophical concept of fate — which can result in either pain or gain. Wikipedia has an entry on Rota Fortunae/Wheel of Fortune at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rota_Fortunae — I’ll insert the link into the text so that others can benefit from this Q&A. Much appreciated, Harry

  7. Thanks so much for posting this analysis. I have always loved this movie, and just recently I decided to watch it again. This resulted in me viewing it at least ten times over the past month, looking for little clues that I might have missed before. Watching it on my computer has given me an advantage, being able to pause and zoom in on different shots. I also recently read the book, The Club Dumas, giving me even more insight into the plot/hidden gems. Here are a couple of things I discovered:

    1. ‘The Girl’ character is actually Satan in female form. In the book, Perez-Reverte mentions Jacques Cazotte in a discussion about occultists related to Torchia. I looked him up and discovered that Cazotte authored a book in the 18th century, a fictional novel called The Devil in Love. In this story, the devil falls in love with a young man named Alvaro and assumes the form of an attractive girl. She convinces Alvaro to take her into his service as his page, and she follows him around on a quest and attempts to seduce him. Based on this, I am inclined to believe that ‘The Girl’ in The Ninth Gate is based on this characterization of Satan in Cazotte’s Devil in Love, and thus is Satan. She anoints him with blood, leaves Balkin and begins following Corso instead, and she serves as his assistant or ‘page’ throughout the film. It has been suggested elsewhere that she is a helper demon or some kind of succubus, which is possible, but the way Perez-Reverte treats the allusions and historical references in his book seems to make it clear where she came from.

    2. If you look closely at the engravings from the movie, you will see that the people in them resemble or take on the likeness of the actors in the movie. ‘The Girl’ character is most noticeable in the ninth engraving, but, on closer examination, you will see that the old man holding keys in the second engraving has similar facial features to Fargas; the man aiming the arrow in the clouds looks blatantly like the Ceniza brothers in the third engraving; and in the eighth engraving, the praying man is clearly Corso, and the man swinging the mace at the back of his head bears the facial likeness of Balkan. There are larger images available on Google Image search where you can see these features more clearly.

    Just my thoughts on the matter.

  8. Not sure if I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but did anyone else make the connection that the Old City of Jerusalem has nine entrances, or gates, one of which is bricked up as it is believed that the Messiah will return through this gate? This seems to have parallels with the illustration of the 4th gate, and would further explain why Balkan is unable to enter. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the key engravings are split into 3 books. If you follow up some biblical references to the Whore of Babylon you will find; “The Woman is Split into 3 Divisions” (Revelation 16:19) Another name given for her is “Babylon” and it is said that “The Woman sits on 7 Mountains” (Revelation 17:9) and that she is ” located where Jesus was crucified” (Revelation 11:8). Jerusalem is built on 7 hills – Mount Zion, Mount Ophel, Mount Moriah, Mount Bezetha, Mount Acra, Mount Gareb, and Mount Goath and it is of course where Jesus is sais to have been crucified.
    This seems to point to the idea that Corso is somehow ‘chosen’ to be the one to pass through the ninth gate. Whether he is a heavenly or diabolical messiah is still open to interpretation.

  9. I found the myth hidden in picture VIII very interesting. The knight is about to slay the tied person kneeling on the ground… The large wheel on their back with three persons on it ,two of them are tied upsides down and one in the middle is in sitting position, whose head is touching the limit of the horizon where cloud stands…. This sitting person according to the Greek myth is the brink of the turning point of fate. The two persons on each end are infact symbols of the lives of the both persons infront (knight and the trespasser)
    The knight is on the height of his fortune of his worldly life and on the decay of his moral values and the person ready to die is on reversal point i.e. on the height of moral values through his belief in existence of God and justice. While the knight denies the vital existence by taking right of killing in his own hand.


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