By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
He has long defied that, and this may be why he is still so hated. He made amends with his former victim to the tune of a half-million dollars, has rebuilt his life and career, married and become a father, and — quite against the odds — found a way to make films so true to his gifts that one of them (The Pianist, 2002) won an Oscar for Best Director. Apart from the technicality of answering for his jumped bail, what moral or legal debt does he actually still owe society?
An answer is implied in The Ghost Writer, even though (apart from a few musical cues and postproduction nuances) it was completed before his arrest last September. The public figures that the swirling mobs so furiously denounce as guilty may certainly be guilty — most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and right place, they're capable of anything — yet there is always someone far worse, or a host of someones far more evil, who are making a clean getaway.
What has made Polanski's crime so particularly appalling is the recognition that he himself had survived being a defenseless child. How could a man with such exceptional vision be so blind to the defenselessness of the girl in his care? Having been robbed so violently of his own parents when young, by the Nazis, no less; having by some miracle managed, even so, to develop the strong conscience any artist requires — as his films reveal again and again — he nevertheless proved in a weak moment as capable of inflicting harm as any who ever inflicted harm upon him. His films ever since — particularly Tess and Death and the Maiden — are deep with the bitter wisdom of this. Cross' line about facing the fact that you are "capable of anything" is a truth Polanski has earned, in grief.
Echoes of this truth empower the best aspects of The Ghost Writer. Every character we meet is metaphorically a defenseless orphan. One feels this in McGregor's Hamlet-like uncertainty and impulsive mischief; in the rich fear and sarcasm that fill Brosnan's laughter; in the way Williams' hard, gemlike eyes are so paradoxically filled with suffering. Polanski is sensitive to every lost soul, but nobody is let off the hook. The elderly oracle played in a magnificent cameo by Eli Wallach is the only truly honest character we meet, and — this is no accident — he is also the most powerless.
Nobody is guilt-free in this map of the world, on this side of death — but as Polanski and Harris so merrily have it, that last, least-wanted of freedoms is easily arranged.
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