For Roman Polanski, the long, unspeakable nightmare of being confined to his three-story chalet in Gstaad, the luxury resort in the Swiss Alps, is finally over. The fugitive director is free once again to stroll into town, have a nice meal, maybe do a little shopping at the local Cartier, Hermes or Louis Vuitton boutiques.
Or he could just scurry like a rat into France or Poland, the two countries where he has citizenship—and where authorities have a long history of acting as if Polanski’s celebrity and talent somehow negate his sexual brutalization of a 13-year-old girl.
I’m betting on the rodent option, even though Swiss authorities are doing their best to convince Polanski that he can relax and enjoy the fondue without ever having to answer for his crimes. After all, they did force him to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for several whole months. The horror. The horror. After authorities announced Monday that they were denying the U.S. request to have Polanski extradited, one of the famed auteur’s lawyers called the decision “an enormous satisfaction and a great relief after the pain suffered by Roman Polanski and his family.” That statement should stand as the definitive textbook example of unmitigated gall.
Anyone tempted to feel Polanski’s pain should take a closer look at the case. In 1977, when he was 43, Polanski lured a 13-year-old girl to a house in the Hollywood Hills owned by Jack Nicholson—the actor was not home at the time—and plied her with drugs and champagne before having sex with her.
Polanski and his lawyers claimed that the sex was consensual. That’s absurd as a legal argument, since the girl was too young to give her consent. But the girl’s grand jury testimony makes clear that this was anything but a no-fault romp. She testified that Polanski, on the ruse of photographing her and wanting to make her a star, convinced her to pose nude and then assaulted her.
She testified that Polanski raped and sodomized her, against her will, and that she was distraught before, during and after the act. The director was indicted on six felony charges, including rape by use of drugs and child molestation, but was allowed to plead guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse. Polanski, who spent about a month and a half in jail, thought he had a deal that would get him off with nothing worse than 90 days in confinement under psychiatric observation. But when the judge had second thoughts about going through with such a lenient deal, Polanski fled. He has been on the lam ever since.
Polanski is a great filmmaker, and his Hollywood friends and supporters have blithely taken the position that his genius outweighs his crimes. Whoopi Goldberg opined last year that what happened between Polanski and the child “wasn’t rape-rape.” More than 100 movie-business luminaries—including Martin Scorsese, Mike Nichols, Harvey Weinstein and, yes, the inappropriately libidinous Woody Allen—signed a petition asking Swiss authorities to set Polanski free. I hope they’re satisfied now that their prayers have been answered.
The decision by Switzerland to release the artist from his gilded cage was based on a technicality. The issue was “not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said. She’s right; Polanski is guilty by his own admission. What the Swiss have decided is that despite admitting his crimes and fleeing from U.S. justice, Polanski will never have to be punished.
It’s relevant that Polanski has never shown remorse. He claimed in a 1979 interview that he was being hounded because “everyone wants to [have sex with] young girls.” It’s irrelevant that the victim, now a middle-aged woman, has no interest in pursuing the case and reliving a traumatic episode. What matters is what Polanski admitted doing to her 33 years ago—and the fact that Polanski decided to run away rather than face the music.
Swiss officials noted the obvious: that Polanski never would have visited Switzerland if he had thought he was putting himself in legal jeopardy. Since he’s not a legitimate candidate for kidnapping and rendition by the CIA, he’s now home free—unless he somehow makes another mistake. He’ll always have to look over his shoulder.
That’s punishment of a sort, but not nearly enough. How about this: As long as he steers clear of U.S. justice, why don’t we steer clear of his movies?
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group