What I found most provocative and disturbing about “Wanted and Desired,” though, was its depiction of the ways in which Polanski’s perverse playboy image, his work, and his lifelong proximity to horror, also weighed into his prosecution. His mother had died at Auschwitz. His pregnant wife was slaughtered by the Manson Family. Polanski himself was regarded by many as “an evil, profligate dwarf” (Polanski’s own words, from his autobiography) — looked upon with suspicion for having escaped death in the Holocaust (what kind of bargain with the devil did he strike to survive in the Krak√≥w Ghetto?) and openly accused of complicity in the Manson murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojtek Frykowski and Abigail Folger. Though Polanski was in London at the time of the killings, conspiracy theorists posited that he surreptitiously flew into LA for the evening, assisted in the butchering his wife and friends, then immediately returned to the UK undetected. After all, this was the man who had made “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Tenant,” “Chinatown,” “Macbeth,” “Repulsion”…
Only a few came right out and openly accused Polanski of forging an alliance with satan, but many more couldn’t help but feel he was somehow tainted by his association with death and depravity, on-screen and off. He had been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion years before he ever faced legal charges. The actual allegations of criminal conduct (and it was a crime in California, if not in France) seemed to confirm what many already felt they knew.
And he ends his piece this way:
“Forget it, Jake…”? Not likely. This is a spectacle, which requires an audience as much as the audience requires the spectacle. And American audiences resist ambiguous, unresolved endings. We demand moral clarity, even when it’s unlikely that any can ever be found. Those of a categorical philosophical bent will say that rape is rape, and that’s all there is to it. Utilitarians will say that the solution that would bring the greatest happiness to all concerned would be to drop the charges and let Polanski come and go freely to the U.S. whenever he likes. So, some are already alleging that Polanski got away with rape (at least for the last 31 years), and others claim he was unjustly persecuted because he was an outsider, a Jew, an artist, a celebrity. If some sort of reckoning is at hand, it’s going to be unsatisfactory for many, no matter how you slice it. Justice is rarely blind. And that’s not going to change, because all of the above can be true — and false — at the same time. Comforting, isn’t it?