Roman Polanski is a brilliant director. He's also a child rapist who ran away from the justice system of the country in which he committed his crimes and has never been held accountable for what he did on terms that weren't entirely his own. If you're one of those people who believes that the former fact outweighs or excuses the latter, then chances are you're really going to enjoy the new issue of Vanity Fair, which features a rare interview with Polanski. It's rare in the sense that it's unusual that he allows himself to be interviewed, particularly by an American outlet, but what's not at all unusual about the piece is that it appears to be hagiographic as hell, painting Polanski as a mostly misunderstood iconoclast whose "punishment may have exceeded his crime." Because that's how interviews with Roman Polanski have always portrayed him throughout the years. It seems to be a requirement for being granted an audience with him.
In the Vanity Fair story, an excerpt of which is now up online, contributor James Fox shows us a side of Polanski we've never seen before. Who could've guessed that under that pretentious exterior he's really a narcissistic prick who still, to this day, cavalierly flouts his defiance of the U.S. justice system, which sought to make him pay for raping a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and quaaludes back in 1977. Polanski pleaded guilty to the crime but left the country when he learned that he'd actually have to go to prison for it. In other words, he's not an alleged rapist, he really did do what he was accused of; he simply ran when he realized he was going to face a punishment he didn't agree with and has lived his life since answering for the rape to no one but himself.
Here's Polanski's comically self-pitying take on it, from the article:
"I escaped from the [Kraków] ghetto, I escaped from Communist Poland, I had to run from persecution. Maybe I shouldn’t have run from the ghetto either ... I thought even if I have to go back to Poland and work all my life there, it’s better than going through all this. It’s easy to say that I was working and traveling during that year [while waiting for the sentence], but it was a nightmare—hell—with this sword hanging over my neck. And it was such a shock to learn that it’s not finished, after they let you out of prison. Free! With your bundle under your arm, with the lawyer waiting for you outside, standing there, in your mind it’s all over, it’s finished. And then the judge changed his mind. And I have to go back to prison, and nobody knows how long. I just could not go through that. And that’s when I decided."
He decided what his punishment should be -- because he's a genius, and geniuses don't go to prison, they go to their homes in France.
When Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 and it looked for a brief moment like he might face extradition back to the U.S., the notoriously pompous European artistic intelligentsia rushed to his defense, drawing up petitions, expressing condescending indignation and cultural superiority, and claiming that it didn't matter if someone like Roman Polanski had broken a few eggs in his lifetime as long as the omelet came out looking like Chinatown. "(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years. He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood," said Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association, at the time, expressing a detachment from the reality you and I live in that borders on the unfathomable. Translation: "Polanski was a mere child of 44 when the rape occurred so it's okay, plus he's suffered enough by being forced to make his movies and his vast fortunes in France rather than the United States." Cry me a fucking river.
It would be presumptuous to argue that Polanski doesn't deserve mercy for his crimes or even that he may in fact have paid his debt to society in certain respects. The facts of the case against him and the events of the ensuing years can and should all be taken into consideration by an American court. But it's that court which gets to decide -- not Polanski.
The guilty get no say. And Roman Polanski is guilty.
No matter how many magazine articles or documentaries claim otherwise, the pursuit of justice in the Polanski case has never been a witch hunt. The witch in this case really was a witch and he was caught. He just got on his broom and rode off before anyone could make him pay for it.