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.