I have so little interest in celebrity that I didn't know exactly what he had done when I read that he was arrested in Switzerland. I knew vaguely that it had something to do with sex with an underage girl. I admit with some embarrassment that I was momentarily swayed by the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum, who opinion I respect. She has this:
Polanski's crime -- statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl -- was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial. There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age.
Reading that a second time, there are all kinds of things wrong with it. But the worst is that it gives the reader no idea what Mr. Polanski really did. Kate Harding at Salon fills in the details. Warning gentle reader: this is not pleasant reading.
Let's keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her, before we start discussing whether the victim looked older than her 13 years, or that she now says she'd rather not see him prosecuted because she can't stand the media attention. Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let's take a moment to recall that according to the victim's grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, "No," then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.
In a perverse turn, the fact that the victim in question was underage has somewhat shielded the great director. It allows his defenders to do what Ms. Applebaum did, and apparently what Mr. Polanski did in court: cop a plea. Hollywood is terrible distraught that this man is being so victimized. From Fox News:
Actors and actresses from Harrison Ford to Debra Winger have reportedly joined the growing throng of liberal celebrities calling for Polanski to be released following his arrest in Switzerland last week… Scores of American film icons from Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese have signed a petition demanding "the immediate release of Roman Polanski," saying they were "dismayed" by his arrest.
There are at least two things going on here, both of them bad. One is that a lot of people in Hollywood and, apparently, France, think that presumed genius and celebrity confer some kind of immunity to ordinary legal and moral facts. Well, you can understand why Woody Allen thinks geniuses are exempt. Jessica Grose at Double X says that the reason Polanski escaped justice so long is that he thinks that ordinary rules do not apply to him, and he's been right up until now. That is a scandal all by itself.
The other thing is that Ms. Applebaum and others seem to think that the time elapsed or the forgiveness of the victim somehow amount to a pardon. Neither is true. The one would amount to a rule that you get off if you get away with it long enough. The other commits a grave error about justice. Mr. Polanski did not just commit a crime against the young lady, though he surely did that. He raped her. Even if it had been only statutory rape, that would have been a serious crime. But it was, as some are now calling it, "rape-rape." This was a crime against the State of California, a violation of the rights of women and fathers and mothers everywhere.
It may be true, as Ms. Applebaum says, that Mr. Polanski has paid dearly for his crime. But rapists and other criminals do not get to design their own punishments or release themselves on their own recognizance. If Polanski had submitted himself to justice back in 1977 rather than fleeing the country, this all would have been long over.
What Polanski did was brutal, terrible, and unpardonable, and so neither his celebrity nor the time elapsed can pardon it. If he must spend the rest of his life in jail rather than being wined and feted by the French, this seems to me to be no miscarriage of justice.
ps. These words were spoken by Polanski in an interview just after he fled the country:
“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”