Roman Polanski’s 1999 thriller-drama, ‘The Ninth Gate’, stars Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, a savvy book dealer with a knack for old books and the demonic. Corso is plunged into a perilous adventure to authenticate an ancient tome known as “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows”. He soon discovers a sinister secret hidden within the book’s illustrations and must unravel the mystery before time runs out.
‘The Ninth Gate’ is celebrated for its dark and enigmatic atmosphere, immersing viewers in a world brimming with the supernatural and the occult. The film’s performances, particularly Depp’s portrayal of Dean Corso, are widely acclaimed. Polanski’s direction adds a unique touch, contributing to the film’s eerie and suspenseful tone, successfully maintaining a sense of mystery and tension as the story unfolds. Curious about the challenges Dean Corso faces in his quest to authenticate the book? Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of ‘The Ninth Gate.’
The Ninth Gate: A Quick Recap
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a book dealer who specializes in rare and highly coveted books. The film begins with Corso swindling a couple by purchasing their expensive Don Quixote for a pittance. Dean’s friend, Bernie (James Russo), introduces him to Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a wealthy book collector who seeks his services. Balkan takes Corso to his private collection, a place few have visited. Balkan’s collection is vast and filled with books that real collectors would kill for.
Balkan shows Corso a book titled “The Ninth Gate”, authored in 1666. The author and painter, Aristide Torchia, was burned at the stake by the Holy Inquisition along with all his works. Only three copies survived, of which only two are authentic. Balkan owns one copy, and the other two are in Portugal and France in the private collections of Fargas and Kessler. Balkan wants Corso to compare his copy with the other two, text by text and engraving by engraving, to determine which one is original. Balkan also offers Corso a hefty check to get him started and even promises to double the pay if he completes the job.
Corso meets Liana (Lena Olin), the widow of the late Mr. Telfer, the book collector who sold Balkan his copy of the Ninth Gate. Liana is surprised, as the book was one of Telfer’s most prized possessions. Corso questions Liana if her husband has ever tried the ritual mentioned in the book to summon the devil. Liana assures him that she has never seen Telfer engage in satanic rituals. During his investigation, Corso also encounters a strange woman who seems to shadow his every move.
Corso isn’t the only one interested in finding the original copy. Uninvited visitors in his apartment further confirm this theory. Corso meets Bernie and asks him to hold the copy for a while, claiming that he’s starting to see things, and Bernie agrees. Liana visits Corso in his apartment, offering to pay a huge sum if he sells her Balkan’s copy of The Ninth Gate. Liana even offers to stage a theft so Balkan doesn’t give Corso trouble later on. When everything fails, she tries to persuade Corso by offering him sexual favors. Liana lashes out after not finding the book in Corso’s satchel and knocks him unconscious.
Tension escalates when Corso finds Bernie dead in his shop. Fortunately, Corso finds the book where he hid it. Corso contacts Balkan, trying to back out of the deal. He reveals that his best friend Bernie died because of the book. However, Corso changes his mind after Balkan offers to add another zero to his fees. Corso continues his investigation and learns that it was Mrs. Telfer who bought the book, not Mr. Telfer. He meets the Ceniza brothers, who sold Mrs. Telfer their copy of the Ninth Gate. The duo insists that the book is authentic, not a forgery.
The brothers also reveal that out of nine engravings, only six are signed by Torchia and the other three by Lucifer. This is the reason why Torchia was burnt alive: because he sought an alliance with the devil itself to write the book. Corso encounters the same woman who has been following him since he walked out of Balkan’s apartment. Corso believes she’s an investigator Balkan hired to keep an eye on his progress.
Corso visits Mr. Fargas (Jack Taylor), one of the other two owners of the copies of the Ninth gate. Fargas is also a book collector and a proud owner of the most sought-after books. Like the Ceniza brothers, Fargas insists that his copy of the book is original. However, Corso finds some discrepancies in both books, like a slight difference in the images and the order in which the signatures of Torchia and Lucifer are mentioned. Corso relays the same to Balkan, who orders him to get that copy to him by any means necessary.
The following morning, the mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner), who has been shadowing Corso, knocks at his door and asks him to come to Fargas’ house. Upon reaching there, Corso finds Fargas’ body lying in his fountain. Corso enters the house and finds the half-burnt copy of the Ninth gate. Corso questions the woman about Fargas’ death, but she advises him to catch a flight to Paris, stating he’s running out of time.
In Paris, Corso meets with Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford), the owner of the final copy of the Ninth Gate. Even though Kessler has never met Corso, she knows him pretty well, as the latter’s name is popular among book dealers and collectors. Kessler shows Corso her copy of the book, and she also insists that her copy is authentic. Kessler continues that after Torchia’s death, a secret society was founded by the name “The Order of Silver Serpent.”
Liana Telfer is among the members of the secret society, as evidenced by the serpent tattoo on her right thigh. Liana knew Kessler and used her copy to perform the ritual to call forth the devil, but it never worked. Kessler soon realizes that Corso is working for Balkan, given his interest in exploiting the book for his own personal gain, and asks Corso to leave. After exiting Kessler’s estate, Corso is attacked by a white-haired assassin. Fortunately, the mysterious woman intervenes and saves both Corso and the book.
The Ninth Gate Ending Unveiled: Did Balkan Open the Ninth Gate?
Corso returns to Kessler in hopes of convincing her to let him examine his book, and Kessler agrees. Unfortunately, Corso is knocked unconscious in the middle of his examination. Upon waking up, Corso finds that someone has killed Kessler and has set her library on fire. Corso also finds that the killer tore out the engravings before torching the place. Corso returns to his hotel and discovers that Liana has stolen Balkan’s copy of the book. Corso tracks Liana and her white-haired assassin to a secluded castle, wherein the members of the Silver Serpent have gathered to summon the devil.
Liana finds Corso and orders her white-haired bodyguard to kill both Corso and the woman, but it proves ineffective. After that, Corso dons the cult attire and infiltrates the worshipping. Balkan walks into the castle, snatches the book from Liana’s hand, and strangles her to death. Corso tries to intervene, but the mysterious woman stops him. A photograph Corso took from Kesslar’s book earlier leads him to a remote castle.
Therein, Corso sees Balkan arranging the engravings in order to open the Ninth Gate. In reality, Torchia has hidden the secret of the Ninth Gate in not one but three books. Balkan advises Corso to leave and collect his fees from his New York office. Corso tries to wrestle the engravings from Balkan’s grasp, but the latter subdues him. Next, Balkan douses himself in gasoline and sets himself on fire.
The ritual grants him immortality for some time, but soon the fire torches him to death. Corso escapes the burning castle and finds the mysterious woman sitting inside Balkan’s car. The woman kisses Corso, and the duo engages in sexual liaison right outside the burning castle. The next morning, the woman vanishes again but leaves a clue, leading Corso to visit the Ceniza brothers again. The movie ends with Corso approaching the castle as the gates open with bright lights, suggesting the devil has opened the Ninth gate for him.
Why Didn’t the Ritual Work for Balkan?
Towards the end of the movie, the mysterious woman revealed that even though Balkan had managed to solve the nine engravings, he wasn’t able to open the Ninth gate because the final engraving was a forgery. The mysterious woman advised Corso to visit the Cenzia brothers’ shop to find the final engraving. Even though the brothers had vanished, Corso finds the real engraving sitting atop the huge wooden rack.
The engraving showed a woman sitting atop a dragon-like creature with the Ninth gate opening in the background. Moreover, the woman in the engraving resembled the same mysterious woman who had been following Corso all along. Corso picked up the engraving, returned to the castle, and was admitted into the Ninth gate by the devil himself. But how? In reality, while examining the authenticity of all three books, Corso unintentionally solved the engraving, and with the Ninth and final engraving in his hand, he was able to open the Ninth gate.
Who Was the Mysterious Woman? Who Killed Kessler and Fargas?
In the movie, the true identity of the girl remains a mystery, inviting the audience to come up with their own theories. One speculation suggests that she might be Lucifer in disguise, secretly assisting Corso throughout the story. Interestingly, Lucifer may not have wanted Balkan to succeed but rather aimed for Corso to attain immortality. The girl’s ability to constantly change appearances towards the end of the movie adds weight to this theory.
Another interpretation proposes that the woman could symbolize the “Whore of Babylon,” a figure seen perched upon a creature with multiple heads. This character is known for corrupting individuals while serving the devil. Alternatively, she could be seen as a witch, utilizing Corso in their service to the devil.
Regarding Fargas and Kessler, some speculate that they might have met a grim fate at the hands of Balkan. Despite instructing Corso to obtain the books using any means necessary, Balkan seemed aware that Corso had a compassionate nature and might struggle to do so. This could have driven Balkan to take matters into his own hands, leading to the untimely demise of both Fargas and Kessler. By eliminating them, Balkan secured the engraving needed to proceed with the ritual as he intended.