Sunday, October 4, 2009
Weekly Rant: Punish Polanski
When the news broke a little over a week ago that Roman Polanski had been detained in Switzerland relative to an international alert from 2005 and a crime from 1977, I had no reaction. No joy. No outrage. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to yawn, though such a gesture would have accurately reflected my feelings. My thoughts at the time were that, yes, Polanski absolutely deserved to be arrested but that, no, it didn’t make sense for the American legal system to waste much time on a 76-year-old man who as a result of his flight from justice has been out of the United States for three decades and who in 1993 settled a lawsuit with his victim, Samantha Geimer. But as Hollywood has rushed to support Polanski, creating a petition demanding his release that’s been signed by, among others, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Mann and (you can’t make this stuff up) Woody Allen, I find myself with a strong opinion. I hope Polanski is extradited to the United States and winds up in a courtroom, hopefully for a long and humiliating trial.
Why? The better question is why not? In 1977, Polanski (1) brought a then-13-year-old Geimer to his friend Jack Nicholson’s empty house, (2) encouraged the girl to let him photograph her, (3) gave her champagne and quaaludes and then (4) had sex with her (5) against her will. This is rape. It’s also something else: premeditated (no matter what Polanski says). And it’s something even more: totally and completely wrong from the get-go. I’m not suggesting that if Polanski had only invited a 13-year-old girl to spend time alone with him at Nicholson’s house that he should be jailed for that potentially harmless offense, but right then and there Polanski was stepping over the line, the same way NFL player Mark Chmura made a mistake the moment he got into a hot tub with teenage girls at a prom party in 2000, regardless of what happened next. Even before you get to the part where Polanski forces himself on an under-aged girl, Polanski’s transgressions are entirely indefensible and, you know, illegal.
Having said that, I have tremendous empathy for those who love Polanski’s films and find his crime difficult to reconcile, but I’m flabbergasted by the Hollywood mob that considers Polanski’s arrest some kind of injustice when in fact it’s a step (and only a step, mind you) toward the opposite of that. According to the Guardian, via Hollywood Reporter, producer Henning Molfenter (The Pianist and Inglourious Basterds, among others) decided to boycott the Zurich film festival, where Polanski was heading when he was detained, because “you can’t watch films knowing Roman Polanski is sitting in a cell 5 kilometers away.” Huh? So apparently Molfenter is quite comfortable watching films in the company of a rapist but takes offense when said rapist is prevented from having a good time like the rest of us. Sure, that makes sense.
Somehow many of Polanski’s supporters seem to think he has been punished enough by his exile. They ignore that Polanski has been allowed to pick his own punishment – if you can call living in France, making movies and a winning an Oscar punishment – and that Polanski has always had the option to return to the U.S. and face the music, but he hasn’t. Instead, Polanski has hidden in plain view, proving himself a coward as well as a criminal. Yes, I understand that the enthralling documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired raises important questions about the ethics of the judge who handled Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Ritterband, thus putting Polanski’s 1978 flight from justice in somewhat less nauseating context. But Ritterband died in 1993. Polanski can face a new judge now. He just doesn’t want to. What criminal does?
In that sense, the fact that Polanski has gone 32 years without taking his medicine makes his arrest more justified, not less. I don’t care that Geimer is ready for this to all go away and seems satisfied with Polanski never again appearing in a court room. She has moved on, as she should. The trouble is, until last week, Polanski had moved on too. He violated a girl who was closer to 9 than to 18. This wasn’t something that just happened, as Polanski has claimed. He didn’t trip and wind up raping a girl. He committed a crime, and until now he’s gotten away with it. Polanski thought he was above the law then. He continues to think he’s above the law now. That bothers me.
This bothers me, too: I wonder, what if Polanski had raped the 13-year-old daughter of Jack Nicholson rather than raping a non-celebrity 13-year-old at Nicholson’s house? What kind of petition would the Hollywood elite sign then? Quoted in the Guardian, Harvey Weinstein says he wants to “fix this terrible situation.” Well, that’s simple, Harvey. Get Roman Polanski back to the United States and march him into a court room. Allowing a rapist to go unpunished is the thing that’s “terrible” here, and all of this should have been resolved a long time ago. If you want to blame anyone for Polanski only now being detained, blame Polanski.