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Oct 03 2009

Roman Polanski

Once again, I’ve been away from the blog for a few days, this time because I was attending the fantastic Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse, and my mind has been in movie mode for a solid, wondrous week. Which means that while ACA’ers were busily batcruising a week ago, I was a few blocks away at the Paramount theater squealing like a little girl while George A. Romero signed my ticket to the premiere screening of Survival of the Dead. Much as I love the gang, I’ll have to miss a batcruise for that one, folks. Too bad the movie was crap, though.

Anyway, another incident involving a film legend went down recently, and while it may seem to have nothing to do with atheism, it was an event that gave me lots of food for thought about matters I’ve often discussed here on the blog and the TV show. I speak, of course, of the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland on a fugitive warrant for his drugging and rape of a 13-year-old girl more than 30 years ago.

Opinions have been divided over Polanski ever since he fled the country upon realizing that the judge handling his case at the time — who, it must be said, has been revealed as something of a publicity hound — was about to renege on a plea deal. On the one hand, there are those who have categorically condemned Polanski as a slimy pedo, and on the other, cineastes who point to Polanski’s great films and stature as one of the world’s master directors, and the crime as simply some sick aberration that shouldn’t tarnish the man’s entire life. And besides, the victim, now in her 40′s with a family of her own, has forgiven him.

Debates along those lines can and will go on for ages, and they are. Following Polanski’s arrest, battle lines were drawn along familiar borders. Many of Polanski’s industry pals have rushed to his defense, demanded his release, and offered all manner of apologia for his misdeed. Conversely, read feminist blogs, and it’s clear they’ll be satisfied with nothing less than Polanski’s mutilated corpse dragged down Hollywood Blvd. behind a truck.

For my own part, I would not want to live in a world in which an artist like Polanski wasn’t able to create. His best films are landmarks. Repulsion is the great film about psychosexual neurosis. Rosemary’s Baby is a horror masterpiece, dealing with religious horror themes in a way the campy and atrociously scripted The Exorcist could never touch. Chinatown is one of the best movies ever to come from a major studio. And even his underrated adaptation of Macbeth, shot while he was still grieving over Sharon Tate’s murder, is the darkest and most violent version of Shakespeare ever filmed. So yes, that Polanski is a great artist ought to be beyond dispute.

He also drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl.

This is a bad thing.

In deciding where I should draw my own conclusions here, I had to consider the way in which I like my atheism and overall fondness for rationalism to inform my thinking. The key factor is moral and intellectual integrity. By that. I certainly don’t mean adopting inflexible dogmatic views and attitudes, but I do mean being consistent and not a hypocrite.

Repeatedly, on this blog and the TV show, I have been ruthless in my condemnation of religious pedophiles. Tony Alamo, Warren Jeffs, adult Muslims in the Middle East who enter into arranged marriages with girls as young as eight or nine — I’ve seen no reason to cut them slack. And so I cannot cut Polanski any either. Certainly, I do and will always revere him as an artist. But the crime is a crime is a crime. Time doesn’t make it go away. Nor does the minor detail that the difference between Polanksi’s rape and those committed by the likes of Alamo and Jeffs is that Polanski never tried to justify it on religious grounds. Do I plan to denude my DVD collection of Polanski’s films? No. Why? They’re great films, that’s why. But just as O.J. Simpson’s double murders don’t diminish his accomplishments as a football star, neither can his football accomplishments be waved around as if they diminish the murders.

So if I cannot cut Warren Jeffs, Tony Alamo, and whoever-the-frak-else among religious wackaloons any slack when they victimize kids, nor can I cut Polanski slack. As an atheist, I think it’s an important factor in retaining my own integrity that I do not allow personal anti-religious bias to influence my opinion, and make me treat crimes by the religious more harshly than the same crime committed in a context where religion had no role. It’s hard for people to free themselves of biases, and those of us who pride ourselves on reason must be doubly diligent that we don’t make excuses and plunge into the same hypocrisy we see from the religious.

I think the arrest needed to happen, if only so that the whole affair can now play out as it must, and neither Polanski nor his victim have to go on living with it as some sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over their lives. Polanski will always be a great filmmaker. But he drugged and raped a kid. At 76, it’s past time for him to man up and face the consequences. If the court is harsh, so be it. If it’s lenient, so be it. But it must be faced. And Polanski’s defenders ought to know better than to embrace the casual insouciance of that last line in Polanski’s greatest movie: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

26 comments

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  1. 1
    Bberryman

    I would favor a lenient sentence. He hasn't offended since, as far as I know anyway. The victim is apparently over it. He's 76 years old.

  2. 2
    Improbable Joe

    Roman Polanski also went after Natasha Kinski when she was just 15, and if recollection serves she felt "exploited" if not actually raped. Polanski was a terrible person, and admitted to his crime. I don't care what he's done since, he drugged and raped a little kid and then fled from justice. He should get whatever any other child rapist would get, whatever any other fugitive would get.

  3. 3
    ChristOnIce

    Granted, Polanski's artistic capability is irrelevant to the legal issue. Personally, I don't care if he buggers a new kid every week so long as he keeps making great films, but the law is another matter.However, what exactly is bringing him in going to accomplish? The girl has forgiven him and even filed for the charges against him to be dismissed. Reform seems irrelevant, as he appears to have gone 30 years or so without repeat offense. So what is the point of any actions against him? I get that he should have been arrested and such, but I also think that he should have been pardoned some time ago. His situation is not analogous to those of more recent pederasty cases, primarily in that the victim is now of age and does not wish for punitive action.

  4. 4
    Guillaume

    Great post, on a difficult subject. I thought a lot about and I came to similar conclusions. I wished he had surrendered to the police years ago. I think he should be punish for his crime (well, obviously), but for no more than his crime. After all, he was not a sexual predator and never repeated any rape since. On a side note, and I understand that this is not mutually exclusive, but I still find supremely ironic that the justice system that let Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson away got Polanski at last. He has not been tried yet, granted. And I do not wish that he gets away with it, but if he gets condemned, that would be a first.

  5. 5
    KaylaKaze

    I wasn't aware of the "drugging" part. Legally, a 13-year-old can't consent. Frankly, though, that's bullshit. If it had been that sort of thing, I'd say be lenient. Since it's not though, and he drugged her, I say cut his dick off and shove it down his throat. Since he's almost dead and won't serve any decent length of sentence regardless, he should be tortured the entire time.

  6. 6
    John

    While I agree with the majority of your post, I wonder where you're reading that feminists will be "satisfied with nothing less than Polanski's mutilated corpse dragged down Hollywood Blvd. behind a truck."The feminist blogs I'm subscribed to call for justice, same as you. They're just more adamant about it than you are. So why the misrepresentation of feminist blogs?

  7. 7
    Ing

    Special privledges to "special" people is the first step to fascism.Sorry to envoke Godwin's but it needs to be said.Should we give say, Mike Viedt a break since he's a good fotoball player? What about the one Klan leader who lynched a civil rights activists? He got away with the crime for some 40 years, everyone was over it, no evidence he killed anyone else after that…he was about 90 or so I believe…he was also a preacher so he was a 'special' person.Considering our law system won't give even the most law abiding, struggling, poor citizen a break even on something minor like a traffic ticket, giving a break to the prosperous and affluent for a serious crime is a double standard that is inexcusable.

  8. 8
    DagoRed

    You are a consummate intellectual Martin, even if I am merely compelled to say that because I agree with you entirely on this issue. In finance, we commonly make a list of our debts on one side and our assets on the other, then sum each column up at the bottom and we can reduce our complex financial picture to a simple single balance sheet result. This process, however, does not work for evaluating ourselves as ethically or socially valuable people. Unlike in finance, we can be entirely morally-bankrupt *and* a rich credit to society at the same time. Roman Polanski is exactly this kind of person (as are many people — sports figures Michael Vick and Kobe Briant come to mind immediately as other examples). And, as a criminal, he still needs to be punished. To use some wrongful form of balance sheet accounting to rationalize dismissing his charges because he is a great director is simply unethical.That said, while I can safely say I don't want to know any of these people personally — based solely on their morally bankrupt past — I certainly can still admire the products of their talents. I think people who cannot divorce the "artist" from the "art" — the "activity" from the "actor" — are wrongly conflating issues in order to over-simplify their thinking. They are merely giving in to their childish "icky" emotional knee-jerk responses rather than looking at the situation in a fully rationale way.

  9. 9
    ethinethin

    Would you say "lenient sentence" for a 76 year old catholic priest who had raped someone 30 years ago, Bberryman?

  10. 10
    Martin

    John: I didn't intend for the remark to be taken literally. I was simply making a point about the uniformly harsh level of reaction one sees from feminist bloggers regarding all of this. Kayla's comment preceding yours is pretty much an exemplar.ChristOnIce: So what is the point of any actions against him?I see one benefit of it as being that the matter can now finally be dealt with, instead of being this eternal albatross in his life. Even if he gets indicted, then given time served and released, which I don't think would be unfair in the least, at least it will be dealt with. And when Polanski dies a few years hence, he can be honored for his life's achievements in film, rather than vilified as the child rapist who fled justice.As for the victim being and adult and having forgiven him, that doesn't make the matter go away. Again, be careful of double standards here. Most victims of Catholic priests are adults now too, and though many of them are pursuing restitution, many of them almost certainly don't wish to relive the trauma of doing so either. Does that mean we should back off on punishing pedophile priests? I say no.

  11. 11
    John

    I know you didn't mean it literally, but aside from the comment you referred to, I haven't seen anything nearly as harsh as you described. It seemed almost like an attack on feminism in general, but I suppose I was mistaken. Apologies.

  12. 12
    Bberryman

    Yes, ethinethin, I probably would, all depending on the specific circumstances of course.

  13. 13
    Alexrkr7

    "Personally, I don't care if he buggers a new kid every week so long as he keeps making great films…"Am I reading this correctly because I keep reading it over and over and it's still incredibly disgusting. ChristOnIce are you saying that the gratification you receive from Polanski's movies is worth the rape of a child every week of his life? I certainly hope this is not the case and I would be more than happy to be wrong.The matter at hand is simple; he gets the same treatment as any other molester and rapist. It get hairier for me though since I don't see traditional prison as a means of real rehabilitation nor do I see a chance for this guy anyway seeing as that he is probably going to die in there anyway.And no, forgiveness doesn't end it; no need getting the word out that all one has to do is flee and go into hiding until the victim of your crime forgives you.

  14. 14
    Jennifer Juniper

    I'm really surprised by the reactions that because you like his work, there's hesitation in what should happen here.I understand feeling remorse that someone you admire would a) be punished severely and b) even BE this kind of person to do something like this in the first place. But to even think for a second that his art should have ANY bearing whatsoever on his punishment is astonishing!Especially since it's not like he's going to be creating much more in the future. He's old.Though I DO agree that leniency can be granted b/c of the wishes of the woman he raped…

  15. 15
    Whateverman

    Agreed 110%, Matt.I've always felt that art is a collage of the person who creates it. Influences, behaviors, philosophies – good or bad, they all a part in the creative process. That the artist is imperfect (or in this case, fundamentally flawed) doesn't impact the quality of the art. At all.

  16. 16
    ChristOnIce

    First let me say that moronic, chest-thumping righteousness such as that displayed by KaylaKaze is a big reason that these issues are problematic. Emotion-based tantrums should not have bearing on legal matters. Unfortunately such impudent crap is taken far too seriously when it comes to sex offenses.Martin-This issue could have been dealt with at many stages. One such opportunity came when the victim filed for charges to be dismissed. As for any double standard, I don't see one. Take any case, regardless of religious factors, where a crime has been committed, and the only victim, as an adult, wants the case dismissed, and I'll agree that it should be. Throw in thirty years under pretty heavy scrutiny with no repeat offense and little likelihood of any in the future, and I just can't see the point in continued effort on the part of the state. Alex-You read correctly. I said that leading in to a separation between my personal preference and the legal issue. Polanski's skills are irrelevant to the latter. However, I see no problem with considering them for personal preference. Yes, I consider my joy at watching his films to outweigh harm to people I don't care about. Sure, pederasty is bad, and society should work against it. As I am not a child, though, I can't muster much of a personal stake in the matter. Great art affects me. Children do not.

  17. 17
    Archaneus

    I take the view that the Justice System is there for the protection of people, not to carry out the vengeance of the victims, no matter how much the charge offends us. To this end, I would say a man who committed a crime 30 years ago and has since lived a good life, has no place behind bars. Perhaps probation is appropriate here, but as I said, my opinion of the justice system is rehabilitation for reintegration into society, or barring that, removal from society for the protection of the general public. Our emotion about the despicable nature of such a crime is irrelevant and not fitting for us rationalists. Vengeance has no place in a civil society.

  18. 18
    Yazbec

    ChristOnIce;While I suppose it is admirable of you to state your position and be consistent to it, DAYAMN but this is really pretty terrible…"Yes, I consider my joy at watching his films to outweigh harm to people I don't care about. Sure, pederasty is bad, and society should work against it. As I am not a child, though, I can't muster much of a personal stake in the matter."That shows an incredibly severe lack of empathy on your part, and frankly, a failing sense of priorities on morality. I am actually stunned by it. To think that its OK for an individual to harm others and possibly ruin their lives so that you get to watch movies you like, well that's just plain abhorrent to be honest with you.

  19. 19
    Barbara_K

    Thanks to John for questioning Martin's description of what feminist blogs are saying. Also, Martin, to call KaylaKaze's comment an "exemplar" just does not make sense to me. Feminist blogs make up a good chunk of my daily reading, and those sorts of comments regarding Polanski, in addition to being comments and not the posts themselves, are the exception on the sites that I visit rather than the norm. You're using a pretty big brush there, and I'm still not sure what your "point" is in using it. Which sites are you reading?

  20. 20
    HawkMom

    A very honest post about a touchy subject. Polanski has lived a charmed life over in Europe. His victim, even in her desire to sweep everything under the rug has been marked since that day. No matter how strong you are, a rape stays with you. I know from personal experience, as I was about the same age as the victim when it happened to me. I honestly think he deserves nothing less than to spend the rest of his life in prison. There's no emotional statute of limitations on rape, and there shouldn't be a criminal one, either.

  21. 21
    Archaneus

    @HawkMomYour statement shows that you are obviously speaking from a sense of vengeance for a crime you personally feel affected by. This is in no way a reasonable way to make a determination on such an issue. Do you think justice is about making people feel better by punishing someone? Well, hell, let's just torture people to death over the course of days, that will really help out the victims. You must realize that no matter your personal feelings towards a crime, or anyone's, criminal justice systems should never be about vengeance. The only concern of a criminal justice system should be the protection of citizens. If there were a man who committed a brutal murder and we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, which is impossible to do, but this is a hypothetical argument to make a point, there is no morality in locking that guy up. It's merely our sense of outrage at his actions prompting us to punish him. This is fundamentally immoral and I would think any rational person, unbound from the cruelties of religious thought, would be able to understand how such a concept is wrong.That said, I don't know exactly what should happen in this case, but the people who are saying he deserves hardcore punishment are definitely wrong. And please, before anyone says this, I despise this crime just as much as the next person, but we must separate our personal feelings from our decisions in judicial matters.

  22. 22
    Archaneus

    Okay, I left out a phrase in my last comment that entirely changed the meaning of one of my statements.It was supposed to read "If there were a man who committed a brutal murder and we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, which is impossible to do, but this is a hypothetical argument to make a point, that this man would never do such a thing again, there is no morality in locking that guy up."

  23. 23
    HawkMom

    @ ArchaneusThe word "vengeance" implies emotion. Regardless of my personal experience, I honestly don't really have any strong emotions regarding the Polanski case. I simply feel that he committed a crime, fled to a country that wouldn't extradite him, and now he's been caught. What should be the consequences of his actions? 30 years, better late than never. I'm not in the "prisons are for rehab, not punishment" camp, though. Rehab is for rehabilitation. Prison is for sane, dangerous people who do terrible things and should be removed from society. Do I think Polanski should be removed from society? Not really. Do I think rapists should be removed from society? Absolutely. He seems to be caught in my very own hellish Vinn diagram. However, this is just my opinion. I'm neither judge nor jury, so what I think doesn't really matter.

  24. 24
    Ing

    Intentionally envoking Godwin here..Damn it's a good thing HItler sucked at art or ChristOnIce would have to support him too.

  25. 25
    Ing

    Also, Jesus people, what's so outrageous about "give him a trial like everyone else and let him serve what sentence is acceptable"? It's not radical or vengeful it's calling for the fraking system to do it's job.Saying that Roman's actions are acceptable or less than another offenders is getting dangerously close to the "King David could be a douche because he was Chosen" mind set. I mean seriously, most people here would throw a hissyfit if a Church DARED to suggest that a offender be given a lesser sentence since they had converted and turned their life around since the crime. Roman Polanski has no more valid claim for kiddy gloves than Son of Sam does.

  26. 26
    maddogdelta

    Some people like Wagner's music, and despise the man and his philosophies which, were not causal in the rise of 20th century Nazism, were very supportive of all of the ideas that the Nazis later turned into governmental policy.Me, I'm not to fond of his music, either.

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