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October 01, 2009


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As a friend pointed out to me recently, the fact that he went through so much suffering in his life should have actually given him more empathy for a powerless 13-year-old girl.




I don't want to minimize what happened in the actual incident, but for so many to crow about how we finally "got" this master criminal seems to be about more than finally serving justice. Of course the right-wing media jackals have taken up this cause and ran with it, since it touches some favorite bases: the decadence of liberal Hollywood and the lax morals of pretentious foreigners---a 2-for-1!




I wouldn't dream of defending Polanski, but your last line strikes me: "That's not how the system works nor is it how we would want it to work in an ideal world."

Which brings up the question of what exactly we want "the system" to do. What's the point of sending someone to prison? Is it simply to punish? Or is it meant to rehabilitate and reform? I know which one I'd prefer it do in "an ideal world."

You bring up the Holocaust--I'm reminded of a play I saw recently that was based on the apprehension of a war criminal involved in the mass murders, but who had spent the following sixty years working selflessly for charity. That's maybe not the form of atonement that we'd want, but does he still deserve to be tried and punished? What's the use of pure retribution at that point?

I'm not sure if there's a "true north" on the moral compass for issues like these--or that there should be.


Forget it, Isaac. It's Chinatown.



Nicely done, Art.

Aaron, I would say this: it is about punishment and about sending a message. If Roman Polanski is allowed to walk away from these acts, then why not anyone? Why would drugging and raping a 13-year old girl be illegal, if you can just walk away from the conviction and continue to have a successful career? He did something heinous, awful and unforgivable and if we, as a society, tolerate that, what don't we tolerate? I'm all for moral relativism, but there's got to be some moral center somewhere for a society to function.

Let's also be very clear about this: Roman Polanski has done nothing to atone for his actions. Yes, he paid off the victim, but, as far as I know, he's done no public works, given nothing back to society, paid no actual price for his crimes. Crimes for which he was convicted. He has done the opposite of atone. He has admitted his guilt, faced a jury of his peers, was found guilty and then decided that he didn't want to pay his debt to society. It's not the same as someone who committed atrocities and then served society in order to make up for it.

However, I would say, even the case of the war criminal, a punishment needs to be paid. For the law to mean anything, there has to be consequence and equal consequences for all.


99, all fair points, and again, I'm not defending Polanski. But whether he's been punished or not depends on what you consider punishment: he hasn't been able to return to America, and there was a time when exile *was* used to punish even heinous offenses.

I agree, it doesn't excuse rape--but I hardly think this sends the message that rape is OK (haven't the rates gone down?), and I hardly think that Polanski is likely to repeat the offense. I agree, though: some people can't learn that lesson without going to jail. The problem is that jail isn't great at teaching anything.

It *should* be about sending a message, but as the prison system (and legal system) grows more and more dysfunctional--more about punishment and less about reform--perhaps we should consider that the current message--punishment--isn't working.

Thomas Garvey

I'm sitting here looking at pictures of Michael Jackson and James Brown, and Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, and trying to work up some moral fury over Roman Polanski.

Maybe if I look at the work of Leonardo da Vinci, or Pablo Picasso, I'll have more luck. Or should I try reading some Oscar Wilde? Socrates?

I'm not trying to make an excuse for Polanski, but it's rather obvious why many in Hollywood support him, isn't it? Sexual misbehavior is common among artists, and Hollywood knows that. And in the case of Polanski, there are complicating factors. I'm not trying to "blame the victim," but I think it's worth noting, at least, that she was dressed and made up to appear older than she was (by her mother!), that she told Polanski to stop but didn't actually resist or try to escape (even when she knew someone else was in the house), and that now she has no interest in pursuing the case and has called his behavior "a terrible mistake." That's all a bit unusual, it seems to me, in a case that has dragged on some thirty years.

Then there's the fact that Polanski pled guilty as part of a plea bargain (not a trial), and fled when the judge indicated he was about to renege on it, even though psychological examination had indicated he was not a sexual threat. So wrong (as usual), 99 seats; Polanski never "faced a jury of his peers, was found guilty" etc. - better get out that troll picture, I've pinned you again!

Of course the wheels of justice will turn, imperfectly, as they always do, in this case. And what Polanski did was disgusting. But the case seems to me to tapping into strains of anger that have little to do with its specifics. How can the public embrace Michael Jackson and James Brown (who allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint), yet be disgusted by Roman Polanski? And perhaps those horrible people in Hollywood are simply saddened to see such a dismal end to the life of a great artist. For Polanski was, and may still be, a great artist - he's certainly the greatest filmmaker alive at this point, and the last vestige of the amazing generation of world filmmakers that emerged in the 50s and 60s, and has never been equaled. But then I don't think the people calling for his incarceration understand that, either.


It's weird for me to argue this point, because I know you're not excusing it and I don't mean to hold you responsible, but I do wonder if there's a larger societal issue here, separate from the human rights problems of our justice system. Oddly, this case, once I checked out the transcripts became for me really open-and-shut, with little room for nuance. He did something heinous and for society to have meaning, that kind of act needs to have consequences. And, sure, "exile" to an advanced, foreign country and retaining the ability to ply his trade and make money is a kind of punishment, I suppose, but it's not the punishment that fits the crime.

I don't think that Roman Polanski is going around raping 13-year old girls, per se, but excusing that behavior, essentially because he's rich and talented, sends exactly the wrong message and it's a message that we send a lot. It's funny: people backed away from Kobe Bryant when he committed similar acts, but faced the music. Some even complained that he got off lightly. Same goes for a lot of other rich, famous people who commit crimes. I actually see this as more about the larger society than punishing one person.


Thomas, I'll grant you my mistakes, if you admit yours: the girl in question actually states that she didn't know there was anyone else there and says, repeatedly, that she was scared of him, not to mention drunk and high on liquor and pills he gave her. She wasn't sure where she was and he was her only ride out. No matter what she was wearing or even, really, how old she was, he committed rape. Period.

And there's a long way from a case of alleged rape to a case where everyone admits the particulars.

For the record, I'm disgusted by Polanski's acts and by his cowardice, in the same way I'm disgusted by Michael Jackson's acts or James Brown's acts, or Jim Brown's acts, or Chuck Knoblauch's acts (just so we're not sitting here naming black sex offenders and criminals all day long). And by the lengths those who would defend those acts will go. I can still watch Chinatown and enjoy it.

And I can't believe that you would find it unusual that a case where a fugitive went on the lam to avoid prosecution would go on for so long. Just because he's a famous director.


99, I would say that we're not arguing so much as discussing, and that's cool. Here's a better, more direct question: What *is* a valid punishment for the crime of raping a 13-year-old girl?

By the way, has our society *not* had meaning for the last 31 years in which Polanski went unpunished? Did it somehow *gain* more value because we put Michael Vick in jail for his crime? As far as I'm concerned, if we don't care about reform, then exile is a much cheaper form of punishment.


I think serious jail time and a lifelong tag as a rapist and a sex offender isn't too harsh a penalty. I don't know that I've ever heard of a penalty in a rape case and thought it was too severe.

It's not necessarily the individual cases that lead down the ol' slippery slope, but all together as a piece. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to look at the serious lawlessness of the last eight years and put in a framework of the powerful getting off scot free for no other reason than they were powerful. That cause of justice is as important, I think, as the cause of an injust penal system.

When we're talking about exile, we're not talking about transportation to a wilderness. We're talking about the guy living in France, owning two homes, having a family and, most importantly, continuing to work, make money and garner prizes in his chosen profession. If the punishment were being sent to an island prison somewhere, unable to work, well, maybe. But that's not what happened here. Polanski escaped punishment.


Some of the responses to this situation are deeply troubling.

And I'd urge those who think that, or suggest that, what she was wearing, who dressed her, what she says today versus what happened yesterday, the number of years that have passed since the crime occurred and what Hollywood does or does not accept as okay, well, you should read Alice Sebold's LUCKY.

It'll be fairly enlightening for you.


A good article on this matter is here.

Thomas Garvey says "I'm not trying to "blame the victim," ". But he is, though he may not realize it. There's no reason that the alleged facts he mentions are "worth noting" unless they are supposed to be excuses for Polanski's behavior. As Isaac explained, the victim's forgiveness is legally irrelevant. So also, in a statutory rape case, is the conduct of the victim (Garvey's focus on it is, of course, the familiar "She asked for it" defense, with a new twist: "Her mother asked for it!")

Also, in claiming that the judge "reneged" on a plea bargain, Garvey is using one of the favorite arguments of Polanski rape apologists. And it's wrong. First, the prosecutor who said he influenced the outcome has retracted his statement. Second, every criminal defendant is told--as Polanski was--that he may have a deal with the prosecutor, but the judge doesn't have to honor it. The judge is not a party to the bargain and thus cannot "renege" on it.

That Polanski raped a child doesn't mean that he isn't a great artist. But the reverse of that isn't true: the fact that he is (for some--I have no opinion) a great artist, doesn't mean that he should be able to (a) escape serving the sentence--yet to be handed down, btw, because he fled--for the crime to which he PLED GUILTY, or (b) escape serving his sentence for flight.

IMHO, there is going to be long-term, unfortunate, fall-out from the reflexive rush of artists to defend Polanski. The next time an artist tries to lobby for a political cause, s/he is going to be met with the challenge: "Why should we listen to you? You artists all defended a rapist. You only care about people like Elia Kazan, who threaten your own privilege."


Hear, hear, Nitpicker.


99--that's not really answering the question. I mean, if he's guilty, why not just kill him? What's the point of putting him in jail for a "serious" amount of time? Do you expect that if Polanski had been in jail for the last 31 years and was just getting out now, that he'd have much of a career as a director? If your impulse is to say that's fine--a sex-offender *shouldn't* have a career like that, then I ask again: why not just kill him outright?

The important thing is that the victims are protected and the perpetrator does not repeat the crime. If jailing Polanski will accomplish either of these things, then by all means, do it--otherwise it's a waste of money, time, and other resources.

I'm sorry if the above comes across as being pro-Polanski; I'm really just playing devil's advocate at this point.

Thomas Garvey

Oh, for God's sake. Well, for some folks clearly specifics don't matter - nor do the wishes of the people involved in this particular case (and sorry 99 but you're still wrong, brush up on the case a bit). And of course civilization is somehow hanging in the balance, etc. But my advice is don't hold your breath, civilization seems to have a way of taking care of itself. And in return, I won't read Alice Sebold's LUCKY.

Oh, and by the way, it seems that Nitpicker is the one who is actually trying to blame Samantha Geimer for the rape. Don't bother denying it, Nitpicker; you just don't realize what you're doing.


In contrast to what I posted above, from Nitpicker's link, the other--very valid--side:

"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."

That's why I'm not arguing in favor of Polanski's fame, film career, wealth, or connections; I'm not even saying that he shouldn't *go* to prison. I'm saying that it's fairly sad that there's no point in *putting* him there.


Aaron: If Polanski had been in jail for the last 31 years, no, he probably wouldn't have much of a career, and that would be, partly, the point. He would have paid a price. If Roman Polanski had been in serious, in cognito, unable to be found hiding, that would be better (but still not acceptable). But he hasn't been.

I don't think killing him is appropriate, mostly because I don't think killing is an appropriate punishment. I think it actually reinforces the desire to get away the crime and to make it more brutal. But that's besides the point. What I'm trying to say, and how I'm trying to answer your question, is to say that the rules of a lawful society require a punishment in this case, if for no other reason to show that the law is equal. If Roman Polanski were a Polish janitor, he would have gone to jail. If Roman Polanski the janitor had fled to France, France would have turned him over. If they didn't, there would be public outcry. But Roman Polanski the director is supposed to get a free pass because he couldn't go to Hollywood for 30 years? I think enough cases like that do add up to a sense that, if you have enough money, the law is meaningless and breaking it does you no harm. So why follow it?

Let me ask you this: what does letting Roman Polanski go free with "time served" accomplish? What lesson has he learned from his actions? What lesson has anyone else watching his case learned? What does it say about our society as a whole?


Re the appropriate penalty for rape: no killing allowed, so no point in discussing it. Last year, the Supreme Court found that the death penalty is unConstitutional as a penalty for rape, even when the victim is a child. Kennedy v. Lousiana, No. 07-343 (2008).


What is Thomas Garvey talking about? Is he actually saying it's okay to rape underaged girls if their mothers dress them in outfits that a man might find provocative or suggestive? Does he seem crazy to anyone else?


For the philosophically-minded, here is an article by A.C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birbeck College, Univ. of London: " . . . with the regret that comes from having to acknowledge yet set aside two things, namely the existence of human frailty and the contribution gifted individuals such as Roman Polanski make to society, I conclude that it is right that the United States authorities are seeking to extradite him to serve his sentence for rape. Neither fame nor wealth, neither time nor distance, should render anyone immune to laws protecting against serious crimes against other human beings." http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6852996.ece

For myself, rehabilitation, deterrence, and the other arguments advanced in favor of punishment for crime are not as important as what I see as its primary purpose: to suppress private vengeance. I don't want to live amongst the Hatfields and McCoys, or the clans of the New Guinea highlands, and accept the price of that, which is an always imperfect system.

patrick shearer

Really interesting stuff here, guys. I'm going to go off a little bit on something that's been bothering me about this whole thing, with the caveat that I think SOMETHING has to be done to punish him, but I'm not positive what that is.

One thing that really bothers me, though, is equating those who signed the petition (http://www.sacd.fr/Le-cinema-soutient-Roman-Polanski-Petition-for-Roman-Polanski.1340.0.html) with those who are defending Polanski's crime. Sure, they made it easy for people fed up with Hollywood to attack them, but it's still driving me a little nuts.

I think there are actually two issues here.

1) The petition actually isn’t about whether or not Polanski is guilty or innocent, but that he was arrested and extradited during a film festival essentially on neutral ground. It’s like starting a war in the middle of the Olympics. Sure, you can do it. But shouldn't there be SOMEWHERE that we agree is safe ground?

I actually agree with those people who signed, to some extent. There’s a slippery slope between Polanski getting arrested there and, say, an expatriot Afghani director who’s made a movie critical of her government (or OUR involvement) being arrested at Cannes and being extradited. (That’s totally hypothetical, of course.) But I think that's what the petition is about.

2) People like Whoopi Goldberg defending Polanski and saying that he’s already paid his debt to society, which I completely and vehementaly disagree with. Living in luxury and making movies is not quite the same as spending several years in prison for raping a 13 year old girl.

However, I think I'm in Aaron's boat on this, at least in terms of asking questions re: what is proper punishment, here? I don't think it's just black and white. I think his guilt is black and white.

But if we're talking about paying a debt to society, what form of payment is that? To be removed from society? To give back to society through community service (and does art qualify as community service?) To give back to the victim? How much and for how long?

And Polanski could've been arrested in just this fashion prior to this. It's not like this is the first time he's ever been out of France. So why now?

To delve a little more into 99's criteria above: obviously Polanski has had NO jail time. But he's certainly been labeled as a sex offender, not just in his neighborhood or on some list but the whole world over. And exile isn't just a geographic thing. It's not even mostly geographic. In the old days, exile was psychological -- it was about being removed not just from your home, your family, your tribe but made an "other" by humanity in general. I'd say that Polanski (and many artists) have felt that way their whole lives, so it's not particularly punishing to enforce that upon them. They've learned how to live with it.

I'm also wondering if most people are upset simply because Polanski's life wasn't ruined. (I say this in answer to my own feelings of anger and outrage over this, as well.) And is that fair? Are people who've committed crimes EVER allowed to actually be rehabilitated?

Rambling, now...


Re punishment: what would happen to a "regular American person" (RAP) who had PLED GUILTY as Polanski did? An RAP probably wouldn't have been pursued for this length of time or extradited. But an RAP also wouldn't have had his sentencing delayed to go abroad and finish up a film in Europe, wouldn't have the money to get there, wouldn't have citizenship in a country like France, which long refused to extradite criminals like Ira Einhorn and the Italians who were convicted of killing Aldo Mori, the Prime Minister of Italy, etc., etc.

There's lots of room for discussion about what the appropriate penalty for statutory rape (the crime to which Polanski PLED GUILTY, remember) should be. Same with forcible rape, the offense that Polanski was orignally charged with but which was bargained down to spare the victim from testifying. It's also true that societal attitudes toward rape have changed a lot since the '70s (for the better, I'd argue, but that's another topic). And judges have discretion (which varies, according to the jurisdiction and crime) to tailor sentences to a defendant's circumstances.

What seems indefensible, though, is the idea that an "artistic genius" shouldn't be subject to the same processes as an RAP. Rich people, of which Polanski is one, already have advantages in criminal cases. They can hire fancy lawyers, concoct "alternative treatment" plans that poor people can't afford, hire investigators to probe the private lives of their victims, use the press to smear their victims, etc., etc. They are also probably better-looking, better-educated, and better-dressed, all of which helps their case. To add "I'm an artistic genius!" to this seems like over-kill.

And what's so special about film festivals, that they should be neutral ground? Isn't the Zurich Film Festival essentially a marketing event?

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