Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Polanski's Guilt

Why are so many people rushing to Polanski’s defense? It is not a matter of loving his art. Art can be appreciated without embracing the artist. And no matter what anyone says, it is not because they think what he did was OK. Child molestation is the worst thing someone can commit these days. It is probably, in most cases, because people today are enemies of guilt. We hate guilt. If we say someone is guilty of doing wrong we have to admit that much of what we do is wrong, so we make excuses. In Polanski’s case you see a lot of justification by suffering: “Look at all he went through, the ghetto, the death of his wife… try to understand him!”

Actually, watching his movies does grant us some insight into his mind. In addition to his pessimistic view of good and evil, we see that Polanski fears the evil in himself. Sure, the Nazis and the Mansons did terrible things to him, but he fears he is capable of the same. He knows that we all are. Sometimes Polanski’s movies work on us like a Dostoyevsky novel. We begin to experience the madness the protagonist is experiencing. Consider his “apartment trilogy:”

Repulsion (1965)
Polanski redefined horror to some degree with this claustrophobic psychological terror. Not much happens, but you are trapped in the mind of the absolutely crazy protagonist as she slowly goes more insane during a weekend alone at home. Its scary because you begin to feel crazy yourself as you watch it.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
In Repulsion, we witnessed a crazy woman’s insanity. In Rosemary, we see a perfectly normal woman thinking she is going insane. We suffer for her as she is convinced that she is losing her grasp on reality. The horror is revealed in the end when she realizes that she was not going insane… the world is indeed as twisted as she thought it was.

The Tenant (1976)
The pinnacle of Polanski’s paranoia came a couple of years after he fled the States to avoid punishment for raping the 13-year-old girl. He cast himself as The Tenant, a man who slowly convinces himself that the world is conspiring to drive him crazy. Eventually he jumps from his high-rise window—twice. Interestingly, Polanski was un-credited in the leading role of this film.

Lacking in a foundation of anything absolute, Polanski has given in to the lie that right and good are pointless and weak in a world full of evil and suffering. Instead of beating yourself up when you succumb to evil, find ways to justify it and call it something else. It seems that many in our culture are in agreement with him.


  1. I am reading with interest your thoughts on these movies. Probably because I have watched "Rosemary's Baby" through my fingers, I don't like "horror" films. The occasional "B" film but not the out-right scare your mind stuff... Therefore it did not occur to me to think that these might actually be the horror and evil thoughts of the mind of the artist...thus making him the troubled one, not just some film made to scare teenagers. Thanks for your thoughts.

    On another note and not to get sucked into the "feeling guilty/sorry for Polanski" theory...but how unlucky can one guy be, to be victimized, in one lifetime, by the Nazi's AND the Manson family, both examples of ultimate evil in our society today. That has to play upon one's psyche.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Madge!

    Yeah, it is especially striking when you read his biography. He wasn't just a Jew in Nazi occupied Poland, which would be bad enough, but he was a kid who had to fend for himself as the war progressed. When I watch The Pianist I am always moved by the scene of the kid being killed as he tries to get back into the ghetto. It is moving on its own, but especially when you think the Polanski himself probably went through similar experiences.


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