Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The truth about Roman Polanski

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As you may know, famed Polish-French director Roman Polanski was recently arrested in Switzerland. In 1977, he was convicted in the U.S. of "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor" (a disturbing euphemism). He has been on the run ever since, avoiding extradition in Europe while continuing with his career.

Polanski has many fans and admirers, of course. I especially like Chinatown and The Pianist, though I generally find him grossly overrated. (Knife in the Water, his early "masterpiece," is pretty good, but most of his films have been mediocre or worse.) But, with respect to his disturbing crime, he also has many apologists. WaPo columnist Anne Applebaum, for example, who wrote on Sunday that his arrest was "outrageous." (Although what she failed to mention is that she's married to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and that the Polish government with Sikorski directly involved is lobbying the U.S. to dismiss the case against Polanski, an obvious conflict of interest. So much for her credibility.) Hollywood has also rushed to his defence, unsurprisingly. (If the case was politically motivated or mishandled, or if Polanski is actually innocent, let the evidence be presented in a court of law, not in the faux court of the pro-celebrity press.)

Thankfully, there are others who are having none of it. I'm not sure if Polanski should go to jail or be subjected to some other punishment (what that could be, I don't know, as community service or a fine hardly seems right), but it does seem to make sense for the U.S. to press ahead with the case. As WaPo's Eugene Robinson put it yesterday, Polanski "doesn't deserve a happy ending."

But let's get back to what really happened in 1977. Kate Harding has the sordid details at Salon -- read them, then apologize for Polanski, if you can -- and is, I think, right about this:

The point is not to keep 76-year-old Polanski off the streets or help his victim feel safe. The point is that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not -- and at least in theory, does not -- tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no matter how many really swell movies you've made.

*****

The reporting on Polanski's arrest has been every bit as "bizarrely skewed," if not more so. Roman Polanski may be a great director, an old man, a husband, a father, a friend to many powerful people, and even the target of some questionable legal shenanigans. He may very well be no threat to society at this point. He may even be a good person on balance, whatever that means. But none of that changes the basic, undisputed fact: Roman Polanski raped a child. And rushing past that point to focus on the reasons why we should forgive him, pity him, respect him, admire him, support him, whatever, is absolutely twisted.

But "twisted" is what we're getting. Whatever you think of the cinema and celebrity of Roman Polanski, it is the truth that should matter most, including the truth about what happened over three decades ago.

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2 Comments:

  • When did it become trendy to not acknowledge what is right and what is wrong? Justice demands that this man serve out his sentence. Anything less is truly criminal.

    By Blogger Ben Oravetz, at 9:32 AM  

  • Things are not so clearly right and wrong in this case though. i don't mean rape should be forgiven if you're a special guy like Polanski; or that people should lighten up about pedophilia. no one serious would make such a defense and i would disagree with any defense of that kind. indeed that ship sailed 30 years ago as polanski confessed. he served 42 days in state custody, was offered a sentence of 'time-served' in exchange for pleading guilty, (as i understand it, the state's case was rather weak as the victim refused to testify against polanski, prompting the plea arraingement from the DA)which he accepted, he then left the country, legally, for work and returned for a hearing months later but did not show up to the hearing and fled to France when he heard the judge was going to send him to jail in contravention of polanski's agreement with prosecutors. It seems more harmful to justice to have judges and other court officers colluding outside the courtroom to "get" defendants, even ones who have admitted guilt, than it is to hand out what is arguably a very light sentence. i think the system and its agents must follow the rules, even when that demands letting Polanski off with his 42 days served; which is what seems likely based on the new judge's statements; that is, if the extradition actually occurs. this may all be a whole lot of trouble for nothing, which would just be typical government: protecting and propping up its institutional ego. (see: afghanistan "war/occupation?", renewing "important" parts of the patriot act, indefinite detention, suspension of the 4th amendment at will, and the total lack of any rational justification for the aforementioned government strategems.)

    By Blogger Matt, at 2:01 AM  

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