Everyday Ethics

roman-polanski-in-wing-collar.jpgAccording to CNN, legendary film director Roman Polanski was on his way to receive a lifetime achievement award in Switzerland when he was grabbed up by police on a warrant issued in 1978. Said the Zurich Film Festival that is now sans guest of honor:

“Roman Polanski, who is one of the greatest film directors of all time, would have been honored for his life’s work in Zurich today. However yesterday, on Saturday, he was taken into custody while attempting to enter Switzerland due to a request by U.S. authorities in connection with an arrest warrant from 1978.”

Polanski had pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer back in ’77, then fled the country to evade his sentence. There have been rumblings over the years that his case was mishandled, however. According to the Huffington Post’s article, Polanski had asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges’ refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it.”

And even his victim seems to wish the whole thing would just fade from memory. Says the CNN news article:

“Polanski’s victim is among those calling for the case to be tossed out.
Samantha Geimer filed court papers in January saying, “I am no longer a 13-year-old child. I have dealt with the difficulties of being a victim, have surmounted and surpassed them with one exception.
“Every time this case is brought to the attention of the Court, great focus is made of me, my family, my mother and others. That attention is not pleasant to experience and is not worth maintaining over some irrelevant legal nicety, the continuation of the case.”
Geimer, now 45, married and a mother of three, sued Polanski and received an undisclosed settlement. She long ago came forward and made her identity public — mainly, she said, because she was disturbed by how the criminal case had been handled.”

But really, it’s not only up to her, despite the sympathy we must feel for Ms. Geimer and the delicacy she deserves. The way I see it, Polanski committed a crime and it sets an awful precedent to allow him to skate free. All these years he’s been making  art, living it up in Europe, while being lauded and well compensated for his talent. Basically, he didn’t like how his case was being handled, so he decided he was above the law — an option the average person doesn’t have the resources to take, much as they might wish to. Never did he have to face up to his actions — until now.

I hear a lot of outcry that he’s a special case — so talented, so much tragedy in his life. As the Huffington Post reports, the French cultural minister responded to Polanski’s arrest by saying he was “dumbfounded” by Polanski’s arrest, adding that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.” It’s true, the man had had a lot to deal with before the incident with Geimer. Once upon a time, the whole world was agog at the news of his wife, actress Sharon Tate’s grisly murder by Charles Manson’s followers, and as a child, his mother perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

But I don’t know. I don’t see how the things done to you excuse the things you do to others — particularly 13-year-old girls you ply with champagne and a sliver of quaalude. 

So: be honest: did you watch any of the movies he’s made over the years since he evaded justice? (He won the Oscar for “The Pianist” in 2002, most notably, though he was unable to enter the United States to accept it.) Do you feel he deserves to serve out his prison term now, or have some sort of deal cut for him? Do you think he’s an example of an unrepentant Hollywood elitist? Or do you think he got a raw deal in the first place? Does talent excuse bad behavior? Do the tragedies of Polanski’s past excuse his own misdeeds? Do the celebrities who’ve continued to flock to work with him in the years since his flight from justice bear some culpability as well? So many ethical questions attend this fascinating case…

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