"Yes, there are cigarettes!"
An article about The Ninth Gate and cigarettes, written by Okagesan
Yes, Johnny Depp is known to smoke in real life, but in this movie, we have atleast a pair of brand cigarettes to analyze. I will compare them to the signs of evil and death, and also the sexuality of the entire movie. Not to mention, Depp looks good with a cigarette in his hand, right ladies?
Here, we have Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), as a rare book investigator, working for the big book publisher, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella). Corso is sent on a mission to seek out the other two copies of a book that Balkan just received, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Along the, in this thriller Corso has a number of cigarettes.
Dean Corso’s signature cigarette is the Lucky Strike. The product originated as a "cut-plug chewing tobacco" but eventually evolved into cigarette before the acquirement of it by the American Tobacco League (ATC). This allowed the ATC to have a rival product against R.J. Reynold’s Camel. "Lucky Strike separates the men from the boys….but not from the girls" was their tag line in the early ’60s.
Aside from being considered "the absolutely best cigarette in the world.," it is considered high class and gourmet, much like the alternative cigarette-type, the kretek (see Djarum Blacks), notably for its lack of filter, which was the acclaimed reason for the strong and scrumptious taste. The current distributor, Brown & Williamson, introduced filtered styles in 1996, in San Francisco. This made the cigarette once more popular among the primary cigarette demographic (which is disputably all 14 to 24 year old males).
The next cigarette in this show case is the ever-so-famous kretek (and my personal favorite), the Djarum Black. Kretek’s are made of a clove and tobacco blend. The "Black" is 40% clove and 60% tobacco. This makes the "Black" considered roughly the same strength as "Medium 100", the primary medium-strength Marlboro. The resulys of a loose survey say that the "Black" is much more potent than the "Medium 100", perhaps due to the clove smell. Aside from the herb in the cigarette, there is more to the "Black"; it has a "sauce" composed of cinammon, clove and cardomom. This flavoring is absolutely apparent once you take a drag and then lick your lips. One description of the taste is "like a gingerbread cookie".
The appearance of the single most popular kretek is during the seduction scene in Corso’s apartment. The widow, Liana Telfer (Lena Olin) attempts to recover the book from Corso, through sex. Before committing the deed, she opens up a small cigarette case (a tin big enough for 6-10 cigarettes of varying sizes) and retrieves a "Black". One infuriating detail about this scene is that Telfer only has 2-3 drags from the expensive cigarette before putting it out. Many smokers would refuse to put out that cigarette so soon, even for sex (which was the case, in this instance).
Symbolically, the "clove", because of its tasty reputation, is a female cigarette, particularly in the United States. Much like how tasty alcoholic beverages (Smirnoff, Bacardi, Pina Colada, and so on) are called "bitch-drinks", clove is looked at as a "bitch-smoke". Female characters in movies often smoke a clove cigarette, especially "Blacks", Djarum Specials, or any sub-brand that has an off-colored rolling paper. These darker rolls convey a sense of seduction, match the traditional "little black dress" and obviously look richer than the average Marlboro Ultralight.
Cigarettes, such as the olde-tyme favorite, Lucky Strikes, ring out nostalgia. A book collector like Corso is very much involved with older cultures, and all about the time periods that produced the classic literature he trades. He seems to be a bachelor that is very much in touch with his roots, although he may not announce such a thing. Even though Corso is a bastard of a mercenary, his choice of cigarette easily heightens his attractiveness (which may actually have more to do with his character being played by Depp).
Any smoke, including cigars and marijuana, has a very powerful theme involved. Death is very much an undertone in a movie such as Polanski’s latest. Smoking causes harm to the body, with tar, nicotine, fumes, tobacco, and ashes. It is a very simple way to cause premature death. One who smokes will always be attached to the stigma of a "dead person walking". Amongst cancer, emphesema, and heart trouble, the smell of a cigarette can be related to a corpse burning, perhaps from the inside out. It is common knowledge that burning flesh is not a pleasant smell.
Cigarettes are very much the most general thing about our world, these days. You could argue that more people smoke than are able to eat. But even when cigarettes are this popular, very rarely do they play in a movie as a silent character. When watching The Ninth Gate or any other movie featuring a cigarette, don’t just rub it off as a logo-placement. Think of the implications these cigarettes make—what type of cigarette it is will help determine what type of taste the character smoking them prefers. It adds to the environment and develops the habits of a character.
July 3, 2006, Okagesan, Indeppth.com