Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
9 is a 2009 computer animated film released by Focus Pictures, and surprisingly enough, it is not a children’s film. In fact, it is the only adult animated film to be released by Universal Pictures through Focus.
I remember this movie catching my attention because it was produced by Tim Burton, and I had grown up in the 90’s Burton era, with such classics as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The film was actually created by a man named Shane Acker, whose short film Burton saw at a film festival. Burton was impressed enough to get the guy a movie deal, and now here I am, eleven years later, writing about it.
The Underlying Theme
When I saw 9, I loved it, completely oblivious to its coded themes. I mean, the story was about cute robot ragdolls fighting big evil robots in a post-apocalyptic world.
It was right up my alley.
Looking at this film eleven years later, however, I can’t ignore the theme of science versus witchcraft versus religion (thus, the title). To me, the film seems to be saying that religion is useless and that science is dangerous. Only magick aka manifestation – when used by someone aware rather than oblivious – is ideal.
Keep in mind that I’m not saying this. It’s my theory that the movie is. These are just my observations of the film.
Let’s look at the evidence for this theory, shall we?
The film opens with a scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) explaining how science and technology has destroyed the world. Robots were invented. Robots turned evil. Robots went on a kill spree.
The scientist who invented the robots comes to the belated realization that it was a mistake to create beings that – without a soul – could easily be perverted by whoever took control of them -- which is exactly what happened when the dictator of the country decided to take the robots and use them for war.
So the scientist, realizing that religion is useless (again, this is what the movie is saying) and that science and technology are dangerous, decides to turn to witchcraft.
Witchcraft is essentially what the scientist is doing when he puts his soul into the dolls. He’s basically creating tiny voodoo dolls of himself and then expecting them to run out and somehow fix his mess.
Though Number 1 (Christopher Plummer) refers to it as “dark science,” what he really means is “witchcraft.” I’ve noticed that the film is careful not to use that word, though, lest they get some angry Christian parents on them. But I believe that’s truly what the movie is saying: that witchcraft is superior.
Ideally, witchcraft is about exploration, curiosity, the pursuit of knowledge, faith, courage, and taking control of your life through willpower and self-empowerment. Science and religion are distortions of this.
Religion vs "Dark Science"
“Witchcraft” used to be how people referred to science, the reason being that true “witchcraft” is science. Witchcraft is the manipulation of energy, and according to quantum physics, energy is all there is. Everything is made of energy, energy never runs out, and human beings can manipulate energy through thought. That is the “magic” that the religious fear.
That is witchcraft.
So in a sense, the movie is correct to call what the scientist did “dark science,” though there was nothing really “dark” about it.
Number 1 is the character to say it because he’s obviously posed as some kind of religious figure. He dresses like the Pope, gives himself airs based on half-true fairy tales about the past (notice that we don’t know the full story until 7 takes 9 and 5 to the library), and forces the other doll-robots to hide in a church.
1 also has a coin on his hat, which is a cheeky acknowledgement that most religious organizations only care about money. Charlatans like televangelist “healers” and the like take money from desperate people, who could – according to witchcraft – take their lives in their own hands and heal themselves for free.
What’s more, Number 1 is terrified of posing questions, challenging his reality, or exploring his options. He is content to accept things the way they are, without questioning anything he is told. He prefers to live in ignorance and fear, so long as it gives him some illusion of safety.
It's religion to a T.
Science vs Religion
True to a priest, 1 is also perfectly willing to sacrifice others. It’s revealed later in the film that Number 2 (Martin Landau) was sent out on purpose to die after he kept exploring, challenging their situation, and asking questions. (Number 2 is a scientist/inventor but not really a sorcerer – aka someone who practices witchcraft.)
Say what you want, but religion has a long and bloody history when it comes to ritualistic sacrifice. The people who were sacrificed or murdered or otherwise silenced were always people who posed questions, people who were smart, people who challenged the establishment.
Scientists who said the Earth was round instead of flat, for instance. Or the women who died in the Salem Witch Trials. They were killed not only for practicing “witchcraft” but because their intelligence was perceived as a threat by religious men, who wanted to continue wielding power over them. The tool that they used to do this was religion.
Women who were adulterous (i.e. claimed ownership of their own s*xuality, rather than settling for being sold into arranged marriages) were bullied, shamed, and terrorized into remaining the property of whatever man they were given to. Those women who were smart enough to see through the religious ranting to the real reason behind all the “moral outrage” (hint: sexism) were also killed.
The word “witch” means “wise woman.”
A Sorcerer as the Protagonist
While 1 is a representation of the rigidly fearful religious, 9 (Elijah Wood), the titular character and protagonist, represents the curious young sorcerer, who challenges everything, questions everything, and isn’t afraid to explore his world, take charge, and take power, facing his challenges head-on.
Throughout literature, the sorcerer is often interchangeably referred to as a magician or an alchemist, and the movie’s description even refers to what the scientist does in creating the ragdolls as “alchemy.”
Alchemy is about transformation. It’s about taking lead and turning it to gold. 9 is an alchemist in the sense that he can make real change for the current state of the characters in the story and even for their world.
The sorcerer is resourceful, using whatever is available to succeed in his pursuits. Where others see lack, the sorcerer knows that he has everything he needs at his disposal. He just needs the proper imagination to create from nothing.
Hell, 9 even has a staff with a “flame” on it. He is the person the scientist became, while Number 1 is the fearful, dogmatic person the scientist used to be.
The evil robots are eventually defeated because 9 insists on asking questions, exploring history (looking at the mistakes of the past to see how to make the future better), and looking for ways to move forward. He is progressive, while 1 is regressive, content to sit in the dark and hide.
Religion is Obsolete
At one point, 1’s church even burns to the ground, symbolic of the movie’s theme that religion is now obsolete. According to the film, there is no more need for hiding behind the doctrine of the church when science and technology (the robots) have destroyed it.
With the church now in ashes, there can be no more hiding from the truth, no more complacency, no more fear. The dolls are forced to find a way forward using their bravery and wits alone.
But for all his cowardice and ignorance, I somehow . . . like 1. I can understand why he would be fearful and bitter. He is heard muttering, “They left us nothing. Nothing. Why should we fix their mistakes?” right before heroically sacrificing himself so that 9 can defeat the machine.
I agree. I think it’s crappy that the humans messed up so profoundly and then expected the little dolls to fix everything. 1’s line is the movie’s way of saying that religion once served a real purpose: it was a comfort to the hopeless in times of despair.
But the movie is also saying that while religion did once have its benefits, it has ultimately always been a tool used to control people. After all, Number 1 only wound up making his heroic sacrifice because he was prodded out of his hidey-hole by 9 and forced to confront reality.
Witchcraft Wins the Day
In the end, the evil machine is destroyed by a magic talisman. In the beginning, 9 used the magic talisman incorrectly, and it caused chaos: it awoke the giant machine, more machines were built, and more of the dolls were killed.
I think the movie is saying that science and religion are what happen when people apply the values of witchcraft incorrectly. Instead of relying on gods and machines, we should believe in our own power: we are the Universe.
The movie makes its message clear with the end of the final battle: once 9 figures out how to use the talisman properly, its use begins a whole new world.
After the machine is defeated, 9 draws a circle (again, very symbolic of witchcraft) and uses it to release the trapped spirits of the other dolls. The souls lift into the sky, leaving 9, 7, 3 and 4 alone on a desolate planet.
Most people who follow a spiritual path believe that the Universe is the “god” the religions worship. It is often referred to as the Source because it is the source our souls came from and to which we return.
Number 6 (Crispin Glover) even says in the film that the dolls must return “to the source” when referring to the scientist, from which their souls came. This is a reference to the real Source.
Christians believe that "new agers" have taken God and are referring "him" as "the Source/Universe." But it's actually the other away around.
Religions have deified the Universe.
A New World
With their friends now freed, 7 (Jennifer Connelly) asks 9 what they’re going to do now, and 9 replies, “Whatever we want.” Meaning, the world now belongs to progressive, young individuals who wish to use the craft to forge a new world.
I don’t believe this movie was about hating religion or hating science or weird Satanic symbolism. I believe this movie was about young people moving forward into a new era – because that’s exactly what’s happening in the world today.
More and more people are rediscovering the ancient laws of the universe. The more people discover this knowledge, the more obsolete everything else becomes, and before long, we will be living in a world where we use more than a mere 5% of our brains.
Notice how Number 9 (brave progression, powerful manifestation), Number 7 (daring, strength, and compassion), and Number 3 and 4 (history books) are the only dolls left in the new world?
After crawling from the ruins of greed, poverty, and war our ancestors created, we will forge the world anew. All fear (Number 5), all cruelty (Number 8), all ignorance (Number 1), all elderly frailty, aging, and sickness (Number 2), and mental illness (Number 6) will be gone. We will usher ourselves into an era of peace, prosperity, agelessness, and perfect health.
That is what can be had when the entire world practices the laws of the universe.
That is the hopeful message I believe the movie is imparting.