Screening Report: The Ninth Gate
The story within The Ninth Gate is a reasonable representation of the occult, supported by ample references to that which is secret, or the unknown. The study of occultism, much like the film, revolves around occult practices such as the divine or spiritual; the miraculous and the supernatural. Specifically, in our course Literature and the Occult, we are focusing on magic and religion in respect to scientific fact, and the blurred lines within these three components. (Tobienne Lectures: Terms and Texts) The unfamiliar and unidentified constituents of our world tend to find reason through religion and science, and in turn, we attempt to understand and experience the world through magical actions, symbols, or ritual that may not be readily accepted or believed, yet is continually performed. (T, Preface, PoM) These themes covered in our course are reflected throughout the first fifteen minute selection of The Ninth Gate. With the concepts derivative of Bill Nichols’ Engaging Cinema, I am able to process subtle signs that hold a greater meaning, and make connections between the film and the occult.
Conniving textual genius Dean Corso and his client, Balkan, are on a journey to discover the authenticity of a fictional book titled “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows,” a book presumably written by a man in alliance with the Devil himself. (Polanski, 1999) These characters have no common interest when it comes to the referenced book; Corso is simply fascinated with the unknown whereas Balkan holds faith in it. (Brindley, SlappHappe 2009) Balkan appears concerned with bringing the devil to sight, or uncovering the unknown, while Corso is merely committed to researching and expanding his knowledge while receiving wages. The sense of urgency that the extraordinary book provides is evident as Balkan introduces it to Corso and the viewers. As Saint Augustine once proclaimed, “Words are themselves signs,” and every viewer will depict said sign in various means. (T, 3, PoM) A notable verbal signal arises during the scene in which Balkan reveals the text, and that is when he mentions the book belonged to Topher, the man who takes his own life in the opening scene. The appearance of the book itself is covered by a thick, grooved hard cover, and decorated with a pentagram. The characters handle it delicately and as if it was heavy. These signs and symbols imply “The Nine Gates…” significance to the plot. (Polanski, 1999)
Additional insight to the importance of this book, “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows,” is portrayed through crafty signs with camera work or effects. The signs function to signify, or provide significance, to the signifier, which is the meaning that the viewer assigns to said sign. (Nichols, 31, EC) One specific example of an elusive sign in this film is profoundly relevant to the plot. In the opening scene, the camera pans over a step stool, and up to a noose, with which a character named Topher soon uses to commit suicide. In between the stool and the noose, the camera sweeps over his collection of books, as if they are the cause of Topher’s actions. Even further, after Topher completes the act, with the loss of one slipper to signify the deed is done, the camera lands on the one gap in his collection; the spot where “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows” once rested. This sign shares the importance of this specific book over all others to the viewer, and implies what magical power it may hold.
The symbols and signs exemplified throughout the first fifteen minutes of the film paint a picture that must be sought out to be seen. Once noticed, the signs may hint toward the theory of occultism; specifically in this case, the strange and mysterious unknown. Signifiers through character depiction welcome the viewer into understanding the personalities of the protagonists, along with their goals within the plot. In the context of the film, the secret lies behind “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows,” and the miraculous power that the strange text holds.
Interest sparked by emotional impact and visual stimulation is most valuable in film, because the skilled viewer will invest themselves completely in the subject matter for the entire duration. Without opening one’s mind to understanding new ideas, feelings, and graphics, the viewer will not fully experience the meaning behind the scenes. Annaud’s film making style in The Name of the Rose distinctly requires full and undivided attention in order to take notice of the many implications portrayed through characterization, special effects, and plot structure. Combining various aspects of cinematography and implementing these methods into meaning beyond that which is vocal or visual has enhanced my experience and understanding of the occult, and where it lies within The Name of the Rose. [Nichols, 50, EC]
Many reviewers of the film speak highly of its quality, such as a specific report that describes Annaud’s “screen adaptation of Umberto Ecco’s bestselling novel The Name of the Rose is a sturdy and engrossing work of art,” a judgment that I find appropriate. [Brussat, Spirituality and Practice] The story takes place in the fourteenth century, encompassing the mysterious happenings throughout a Benedictine abbey. Future Adso of Melk narrates the film, describing his experiences investigating these anonymities with his mentor Williams of Bakersville. The elder man looks back on this abbey with a nostalgic sense, as if his involvements at the monastery are significant to his being. The guru and novice are called upon to investigate unexplainable and sudden deaths, which are assumed to associate with the devil’s work.
Williams educates his student by taking a literal approach of investigation, rather than relying on the reason of religion to explain these deaths. As the number of deaths increase, the pair is closer and closer to explaining the cause, using intuition to take notice of commonalities between the victims. The plot thickens once Bernando Gui, a past acquaintance of Williams, arrives to take command in the investigation. It is obvious that Gui is a threat to Williams and the two do not agree on ideals. I found the conflict between the characters to be emotionally stimulating. The struggle between the individuals encourages the viewer to not only favor one side; it also inspires an emotional connection between the character and the viewer.
Gui places blame upon the hunchback Salvatore, the peasant girl, and Remigio who is presumed guilty of cult related betrayal. In a reiteration of the past, Williams denies their guilt, and will be charged for his proclamation. The three guilty parties are sentenced to burn at the stake, a distraction that provides time for Williams and Adso to search for the secret book presumed to have caused all of the deaths. The location of the book is determined by Williams and Adso to be in Venerable Jorge’s possession within the labyrinth tower of the library. Upon confrontation, Jorge attempts to add the guide and apprentice to the list of unexplained deaths. William’s took notice of each victim’s blackened tongue and fingers, and their connections to the secret book of comedy. Once Jorge realizes his plan has failed, he flees the scene with the book, instigating a chase that leads to a candle toppling over. The tower goes up in flames, distracting the monks and allowing the peasants to free the girl. Gui escapes in his wagon, which is knocked over by the peasants, leading to his dramatic fall and death on impact with a farm tool.
The victorious sentiments portrayed by Annaud and evoked from the viewer throughout the final climactic scene lead the plot to a satisfying conclusion. Williams and Adso have been reunited after the horrendous tower fire, the secrecies have been uncovered, and the unfavorable characters Jorge and Gui have fallen to their deserved fate. The timeline of events and the hints accompany each stage provides a suspenseful rhythm to the film.
Annaud surveys and interprets the many blurred lines between religion, science, and magic; an idea considered greatly in depth by Tobienne through his studies and views of the occult tradition through the materiality of literature. [PoM][Tobienne, Terms & Texts] The use of many languages within the dialogue encourages a realistic theme of the fourteenth century throughout the film, because the domination of Christian belief that had once controlled the lands was then under transformation towards a wider understanding and variety in religion. In addition to the realistic effect in dialogue, Annaud consistently practices matched editing to enhance scenes with dark and shaded lighting, which may evoke a jaded and mysterious interpretation to the audience. [Nichols, EC, 40] While these effects may interest a particular viewer, some may consider them a distraction from deducing the plot. These qualities of film editing are necessary to conjure the desired response from an audience, and if applied correctly, the majority of viewers should derive a common theme from the film. I have interpreted the constant low lighting and eerie details in setting to imply an accurate depiction of the time period depicted. A fourteenth century abbey presumably had similar characteristics, due to lack of electricity and masses of gothic style buildings. Further, the power of a film will stem from the art within. [Nichols, EC]
The viewer may feel tempted to seek a connection with the characters. I felt compassion for Adso and his innocence and idolization, later formed love, for his master; fear and sorrow for Williams as he rested his head in the tower of flames, prepared to die with the items in which he found purpose; and satisfaction towards the brutal death of Bernardo Gui. The relief and comfort found in the warm embrace between Williams and his apprentice upon his unexpected rise from the flaming tower provides a wonderful understanding of their relationship, a proper portrayal for the end of the pair’s eventful visit at the monastery. Any film that elicits such appropriate connections between the viewer and characters while provoking the appropriate responses to their experiences is one of esteemed quality.
While I am not a religious person, I am also not much of a head-strong liberal. I do consider myself a feminist, and I do consider myself pro-choice. I like to think that I can remain open minded and view any situation from the eye of the beholder. This is an interesting conversation I had with my mother regarding the recent ruling of Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court considered a corporation as a single entity, or as a person in itself.
I thought you would be interested in the following story from The Wall Street Journal.
Al Lewis questions the implications of the Hobby Lobby ruling.
I agree with his assessment of the Supreme Court considering a corporation to be a person.. Sadly it’s the law that allows loopholes like the one Hobby Lobby took advantage of. As he states, it’s unlikely for this situation to transfer over to other companies, it’s such a particular case. I still prefer the better overall treatment of employees over very specific restrictions from benefits such as plan B (they still have birth control covered!). Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.