Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meet Humbert Polanski

I don’t want to wade into the controversy over filmmaker Roman Polanski’s arrest at the Zurich airport on Saturday for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, mainly because I don’t see any controversy. Polanski raped a child; he confessed; then he fled to escape punishment; he deserves prison time. End of controversy.

No, what has caught my attention is the degree to which Polanski’s defenders are unconsciously repeating the involved and sophisticated defense of his “nympholepsy” offered by Humbert Humbert, who did his imitation of Polanski back in the ’fifties.

Thus Polanski is a “renown [sic] and international artist,” say Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Martin Scorsese, and other film people in a petition demanding his immediate release. “The gentle and dreamy regions through which I crept were the patrimonies of poets,” Humbert protests—“not crime’s prowling ground.”[1]

“I know it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was ‘rape’ rape,” Whoopi Goldberg says on the ABC chat show The View. Such men as he, Humbert agrees, “are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet” (p. 88).

“The 13-year old model ‘seduced’ by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies,” Joan Z. Shore writes in the Huffington Post. “I am going to tell you something very strange,” Humbert confides: “it was she who seduced me” (p. 132).

“The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday,” Shore goes on, “which was the age of consent in California. (It’s probably 13 by now!)” “Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces,” Humbert observes learnedly. “Lepcha old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds” (p. 19).

The difference between them is that Humbert Humbert abandons these lame justifications when, as I have argued elsewhere, he atones for his sin, which he comes to acknowledge as a sin.

And Polanski? “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see?” he told Martin Amis in 1979. “But . . . f---ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f--- young girls. Juries want to f--- young girls. Everyone wants to f--- young girls!”

Not everyone, you monster. Not Humbert Humbert, for example. Not any longer.

[1] Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita [1955] (New York: Vintage, 1989), p. 131. Subsequent references in parentheses.


Sarah said...

I think Salon said it best: Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child

The hoohah over his arrest is extraordinary!

R/T said...

There is irony and atonement in the fictional world of Humbert Humbert. There is nothing approaching irony or atonement in Roman Polanski's egocentric world of reprehensible conduct, and there is no sense of decency in the strangely vacuous souls of his defenders. Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Whoopi Goldberg, and Martin Amis--what in God's name are they thinking?

D. G. Myers said...


Many thanks for the link to the excellent column by Kate Harding. I wanted to make sure that the author’s name got mentioned.

Andrew Ross said...

best title for a post in 2009. very nice.

DarkoV said...

Woody Allen? Whoopi Goldberg? Geezzzz, 2 pillars of moral decency, for sure.
If we'll even bother listening to the LaLaLanders on this subject, let's hear what Clint Eastwood's got to say about this matter. He may find it necessary to take some old iron out of retirement to put the exclamation point on his take.

DarkoV said...

..Addendum: Mr. Eastwood is NOT one of the signatories pleading for Polanski's release.

(The petition is question was linked to in the original posting)