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Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in Arts & Entertainment, International, Society | 22 comments

The Truth About Roman Polanski

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 also 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.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)