Contrary to what you’ve probably been hearing, Samantha Geimer’s new memoir The Girl (out today) doesn’t excuse Roman Polanski’s conduct. She calls it rape, records her initial impression that he “looked like a ferret,” reiterates that she said no multiple times and that he knew she was 13, states that he lied about the incident in his autobiography, and says she wasn’t particularly affected by an apologetic note he sent her in 2009. In other words, the book, co-authored by journalist Judith Newman, is a pretty solid effort by Geimer to control her own story without excusing a thing. The prose and tone are restrained, reasonable, and she tells a convincing story of having been too young to know what she was in for — with Polanski, with prosecutors, and with the press.
But an inability to hear Geimer out has marked this whole case, so we might expect to read reviews that are determined to reduce this whole thing to a Polanski Good/Polanski Bad food fight. The nuance she says she’s looking for will undoubtedly continue to elude the coverage, which clings to the idea that Geimer has “forgiven” Polanski and that therefore we should too.
The truth is rather more complicated. In a passage that will no doubt be quoted in both Geimer’s and Polanski’s obituaries, she even identifies with Polanski:
As different as our lives have been, we do share a common sense of battle fatigue when it comes to the court system and the media. We’ve both been punished. We both want to move on.
That’s not a plea for forgiveness; it’s a request to back the hell off. It is only hard to swallow if you’re a simple-minded sort, one of those people who believes that there is a script according to which Rape Victims Must Behave in the event of prosecution of their rapist. The theory seems to be that if the crime of rape is unequivocally wrong, which it is, then there must also be a set-in-stone way that its victim must react to it. She must be devastated, ruined, and eager to prosecute. Any less, and she just wasn’t raped, full stop.
It’s not hard to see how that kind of reasoning actually makes the victim into a moving target. Imply, at any point, that the circumstances of your rape did not match the roving-monster-in-an-alley scenario that Geimer says was her own picture of rape before her experience with Polanski, and you’ve launched a thousand op-eds on the countervailing evidence in the case. Suggest that in fact rape is a social phenomenon which exists in a real-life context where some people make terrible choices, and suddenly, according to everyone, you’re “forgiving” the rapist and calling for his exoneration. That’s just the kind of hand you’re dealt, as a rape victim.
And if you choose not to say anything, it doesn’t mean other people will exercise judgment and hold back on their views either. Not even the normally reasonable and intelligent ones. Questioned about the case, even the well-respected — even beloved — critic Gore Vidal told The Atlantic, in 2009: “I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?”
Take one look at that quote, and you can see that periodic flare-ups of activity in this case have been nothing but the same old bum hand again and again. She is understandably tired of it. You can only dance the no-win dance so many times before concluding that everyone involved is inescapably terrible. And that you’d like to move to Kauai, as Geimer did, and ignore all the earnest paeans in the newspaper about justice, written mostly by people who are hoping to make names for themselves on the back of a notorious event.
Earnest newspaper paeans about justice, after all, are not usually able to accommodate many competing facts about the case, certainly not as well as this book does. Such as:
1. Roman Polanski had a horrific childhood, not least because of the Holocaust, which may have warped him in some way only a professional ought to diagnose;
2. Roman Polanski made some great movies, most of them concerned with themes of horror and innocence, which now seem kinda creepy in retrospect;
3. Roman Polanski gave champagne and Quaaludes to a 13-year-old and proceeded to rape her;
4. Women, no matter how slutty you may believe them to be based on sixth-hand badly reported hearsay, and no matter what motives you might attribute to their mothers, have an absolute and unquestionable right not to be raped;
5. The people who prosecuted Roman Polanski for his rape of Samantha Geimer frequently found “justice” of secondary concern to “personal advancement by prosecution of famous person”;
6. The judge in the case, as with many judges in this country, repeatedly broke the rules and oaths of his profession as he presided over the case;
7. The process of proving that a rape occurred, even under a better judge, is so often a circus sideshow of the adversarial process that it is reasonable to doubt that “justice” is something the “justice system” is even designed to deliver;
and 8. We can’t even begin to discuss how “justice” can be done as long as everyone fails to recognize that all of these facts can all be true at once.