Moving Violation

There’s part of me that could care less about Roman Polanski’s current predicament. Arrest him, don’t arrest him–who cares? Thirty-plus years after the fact, is pursuing one criminal really so important? Surely, the Los Angeles DA’s office could use their resources toward more pressing matters, like bringing Vic Mackey to justice.

But then I read sophistic articles with cherry-picked morality, like a guest op-ed by Robert Harris in yesterday’s New York Times. That’s when I think, lock him up and throw away the key. Because Polanski doesn’t seem to have a leg to stand on, save for those extended by famous folks who want him to remain free because he’s such a wonderful artist, and his crime was committed more than 30 years ago.

Did you know that once enough time has passed, everything’s okay? Hoorah! These same folks never seem to mention the fact that he raped a 13-year-old. (I heartily recommend an excellent takedown of many of Polanski’s defenders penned by Kate Harding at Slate).

And yes, I realize that for some offenses, statutes of limitation mean that enough time = okay. Rape is not such an offense.

The piece by Harris (a novelist by trade), like many defending Polanski, hinges its case on a few items that stem more from personal biases than any legal or moral grounds. In Harris’s case, it’s because he works with him. And so have other people. And some people seem to like him so, hey, it’s all good!

For more than two and a half years I have been working almost continuously with the director Roman Polanski…I have never collaborated with anyone more closely.

So when…the news broke that Mr. Polanski had been arrested …my first response was to feel almost physically sick. Mr. Polanski has become a good friend. Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me, any more (presumably) than it did the three French presidents with whom he has had private dinners, or the hundreds of actors and technicians who have worked with him since 1977, or the fans who come up to him in the streets of Paris for his autograph.

If a friend of mine was arrested, I’d feel pretty awful too. But if that friend was arrested because he’d eluded a rape conviction for 30+ years, I might feel a little less awful. That’s just me.

I’m sure fans come up to Roman Polanski and ask for his autograph. I’m also sure if John Wayne Gacy was walking down the street, he’d be approached for autographs, too. They’re both famous. For many people, the reason why you’re famous doesn’t matter; they just want to approach Fame.

Hundreds of actors and technicians have worked with him? Great. Most of those actors and technicians are working people not in a position to turn down a paycheck, no matter who provides it.

As for French presidents’ opinion of Polanski, which presidents? You could say someone was admired by an American president, but if that president was Dubya, I’d hold that admiration in low regard. Just because someone’s an elected official, that doesn’t make them a great person, or even a good person.

If Mr. Polanski is such a physical danger and moral affront to civilized society that he must be locked up, even at the age of 76, why was he not picked up earlier, when he was 66, or 56 — or even 46? It would not have been hard to grab him at his home: his name is on the doorbell.

Except that France would be unlikely to extradict him on “he is such a great artist!” grounds. Also, keep in mind that France ain’t exactly the most sensitive nation when it comes to women’s issues. (Serge Gainsbourg is a national hero there so, ’nuff said.) Over there, Polanski is being portrayed as the victim, because his victim’s mother “forced” the girl on him. And just look at what she was wearing! She was asking for it! And by it, we mean “being fed champagne and quaaludes, then sexually assaulted while repeatedly saying ‘no’.”

On only five occasions — right at the outset, when he flew to London; in 1986, when it was rumored he might visit Canada; in 1988, when it was suggested he might be headed to Brazil, or elsewhere in Europe; in 2005, when he went to Thailand; and in 2007, when he visited Israel — do overseas authorities seem to have been contacted by the district attorney with specific information about his presence. This is hardly a red-hot manhunt.

A local DA’s office–even for a large city like LA–doesn’t have the resources to track a fugitive around the globe. In order to make inquiries like the ones Harris alludes to, a DA’s office has to have cause. In order to have cause, you have to have tips. Where do these tips come from? Wherever they can get them. And the longer a case goes unresolved, the less frequently tips trickle in.

Plus, they would need to nab Polanski in a country where the government would be likely to hand him over to the US. All of this needs to be considered before you send someone on a plane to fetch him. You can’t go send a spare cop to a city where he might be and the local authorities might let you extradict him. Because if you do, and he’s not there–or worse yet, he is there but you’re not allowed to arrest him–it’s much less likely you’ll ever get another chance to bring him to justice.

It sounds very much as though Mr. Polanski became overconfident, both in the rightness of his own cause and in the safety of Switzerland as a refuge — a country that after the credit crisis suddenly seems to be much more eager to cooperate with international authorities. Its volte-face on its famous guest has drawn understandable contempt and Mr. Polanski, in his cell, now has plenty of time to ponder the limits of Swiss hospitality.

I admit, I find it odd that Switzerland of all places would turn over Polanski. Especially since they’re still holding onto Nazi gold.

I make no apology for feeling desperately sorry for him. The almost pornographic relish with which his critics are retelling the lurid details of the assault (strange behavior, one might think, for those who profess concern for the victim) makes it hard to consider the case rationally. Of course what happened cannot be excused, either legally or ethically.

“Except I’m totally excusing it right now.”

But Ms. Geimer [Polanksi’s victim] wants it dropped, to shield her family from distress, and Mr. Polanski’s own young children, to whom he is a doting father, want him home. He is no threat to the public. The original judicial procedure was undeniably murky. So cui bono, as the Romans used to say — who benefits?

Yes, it’s okay to feel sorry for Polanski, if you feel that way. Yes, the coverage of his arrest has been salacious and sensationalistic. Yes, his victim says she forgives him. Yes, I’m sure he’s a loving father and his family misses him. Yes, there were some issues about his original trial.

The response to all of these questions is: So fucking what?

Your sympathy doesn’t excuse his crime. Nor do salivating news networks. Nor does him being a wonderful father (how many horrible, horrible people love their own kids?). Nor do the details of his trial. Nor, sadly, does his victim’s feelings on the matter.

Why not? Because he was tried and convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl. He’s never denied doing it. And nothing he’s done in his life since then has forced him to pay for that. Since fleeing to Europe, he’s lived the opulent life of a celebrity and continued to make films. What kind of message does it send to not arrest him? Stay out of the country 30 years and you too can beat a rape conviction?

You may enjoy Polanski’s films, and that’s fine. That has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he goes to jail. Would you feel better about his arrest if he was a Roger Corman-esque director of schlock? How about if he was just some ordinary schmuck who raped a 13 year old? Think he’d be able to hide in plain sight for the last 30 years and get op-eds in the Times written to defend him?

Roman Polanski did a horrific, unforgiveable thing. Does Rosemary’s Baby mean he doesn’t have to atone for it?