Donner/Tahoe development, Truckee, California

We hiked along the one of the ridges overlooking Donner Lake this afternoon, going about a mile to the Negro Canyon overlook. We saw a young buck deer near the trailhead and lots of birds along the way. At a 7,300+ foot elevation one might have expected a tougher hike, but this was more a casual stroll along a pretty and dusty trail than anything strenuous. Looking down on Donner Lake, the highway, and railway line turned my thoughts to the nature of human progress, a reverie I stayed in until we headed back toward the car and talk turned to politics, a topic about which for better or for worse I’m rarely without an opinion.

In the evening we watched Roman Polanski’s The Nineth Gate starring Johnny Depp as David Corso. Although a little slow-moving, it’s also an intellectually engaging and deeply engrossing film about a rare “book detective” who is hired to authenticate a book purported to be written by the devil himself in the 16th century. On this level, Depp is good, Polanski is his usual visually expressive self, and the film succeeds by-and-large despite being a touch ponderous.

Where it gets fascinating, however, is in its sub-text regarding knowledge and evil. My initial thought is that the gates of Hell that the protagonist passes through are stages of knowledge, and indeed, ultimately we see his motivation shift from obviously evils such as money or wanton sex to forbidden knowledge for its own sake. The parallel in this respect to Adam and Eve’s fall from grace after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge could not be more clear. Many of the “gates” toward Hell are similarly interesting on an intellectual plane, though I confess that I need to go back and see the movie again to insure that my thesis here actually works. Silence being necessary for evil to flourish fits, and temptation is a no-brainer, but I can’t remember all the gates so I don’t know if my theory holds up. If so, I will say that I thought that Carnal Knowledge, one of the final gates to Hell, was an interesting choice by Polanski, especially since it’s the very thing that got him in trouble with law enforcement in the United States. I wonder if it’s at all a statement about the life of exile he’s had to lead because of the choices he made.

This is a brilliant work by an excellent director, but if you’re expecting Hollywood-style action, you’ll be disappointed. The Nineth Gate is a European intellectual tour de force, not the mindless eye candy of typical formulaic flicks. I suspect it will easily sustain repeated viewing for those who wish to plumb its depths, and I know I need to see it again before making a more definitive statement. For now, I’ll leave it at this: The Nineth Gate may be one of the best movies I’ve seen, and the fact that I need to see it again to tell only endorses its quality. Highly recommended.