"Floating on water is nothing; it's nothing."
Knife in the Water
"I don't believe man has free will. Man's choice is always the result of his experience."
"This negation of history takes two different forms in modernist literature. First, the hero is strictly confined within the limits of his own experience. There is not for him – and apparently not for his creator – any pre-existent reality beyond his own self, acting upon him or being acted upon by him. Secondly, the hero himself is without personal history. He is 'thrown-into-the-world': meaninglessly, unfathomably. He does not develop through contact with the world; he neither forms nor is formed by it. The only 'development' in this literature is the gradual revelation of the human condition."
Georg Lukacs on modernist literature, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism
The Ghost Writer is so sleek and efficient, so perfectly calibrated as a thriller that bids to be working on five cylinders when most others work on about two, that it may be easy to miss the theme within its formal perfection. This is a film about the end of history, the futility of recorded knowledge in a world overrun with machinery, hypertexts, and automation. Indeed all history, all story, is set into gear by the motions of machines which we see free from human hands in several instances. The sardonic ideas sewn into this overall sense is vintage Roman Polanski, where the story – history – must go on as the show must, but The Ghost Writer seems to be telling us through the travails of its almost comically unfortunate protagonist, "the Ghost" (Ewan MacGregor), that the organization of actual events as they happened with the integrity of moments kept intact and truthful is, ultimately, impossible. There are no solutions in The Ghost Writer, and even when the film's central conspiracy is revealed, too many holes remain for us to be completely certain of what has happened.
History is something recorded, revised, and stressed to be put to press or the evening news ASAP. As audiences, we are compelled as human beings to assess good guys and bad guys, femme fatales and fair maiden victims, and usually there is enough spin provided by the storytellers that we can do this without a problem, resting assured of our safety as passive onlookers. The Ghost is also passive, though he is framing the story of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), and so his arrangement and use of language will be responsible for how history may judge Lang. His acquisition of the secret knowledge hidden within the obscuring vines of words and sentences is an embrace of his own annihilation. The writer lives by words and dies by words. What he wrestles with, and what kills him, are those things that words cannot begin to address. The absurdity – social, political, historical, existential – is reinforced when we come to understand that none of those words mattered anyway, and Lang's biography and reputation thrives as an event, a mere headline to be saturated in a larger media technoculture sustained on caricatures and constructions rather than complex human beings or experiences.
This is all-too-pertinent, and yet must be approached very cautiously by any writer (ahem), when thinking about the context of The Ghost Writer and how it relates to its director. For most people, Roman Polanski is little more than a headline or type, a fugitive child rapist, a deranged pervert, or as he has said, "I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf." We know that Polanski had sexual intercourse with the 13-year-old Samantha Gailey in 1977 at the home of Jack Nicholson. We know that Polanski was in contact with the girl's mother, Susan Gailey, and her stepfather, and was going to shoot some provocative photographs for Vogue magazine. We know that champagne was involved. From there on, things get murky in terms of hearsay and what actually happened. It is certain that the act was unlawful sexual intercourse, or statutory rape, at least according to the laws of California in 1977. Polanski had confessed to this much. Samantha Gailey's testimony, at the time, paints an incident where it looks like Polanski aggressively took advantage of her against her will, and she was plied with Quaaludes in addition to the champagne. There are also allegations of sodomy.
There is no way that one can rearrange things so as to not make Polanski look bad in this situation, including if the girl's sexual history is a topic, or how forensic evidence apparently proved that sodomy did not occur, or that Samantha Gailey was already a copious champagne drinker and Quaalude user, caught up in the craze of "luding out" in 1970s California. The girl's testimony is quite damning. Polanski's recounting, on the other hand, is candid, and paints a picture with a different sense. To an objective reader, it's still wrong, and yet less wrong. As the years have passed, Samantha Gailey, now Samantha Geimer, has also given a different vantage of the incident. She believes the press and the legal system were far more harmful to her than Polanski, and has said that what happened, while wrong, was not rape, or at least the picture of rape that many people have projected onto the incident. She wants the case to be dropped and Polanski to be a free man.
Understandably, the counterpoint is that Geimer is not thinking about the event, but her privacy: She wants to be left alone, and that's why she wants the case dropped. The whole debate then becomes a sticky spider web of coercion, asking who is taking advantage of who for political, social, and legal ends. After Polanski thought that he and his lawyer, Doug Dalton, had clinched a deal with prosecuting attorney Roger Gunson, the media savvy Judge Rittenbrand was threatening to renege on a plea bargain and possibly put Polanski in prison for a long time – even though the Gailey family did not want him to serve any time in prison. Polanski, whose life has a recurring motif of evasion from oppressive circumstances, saw his only safe move on the chessboard was to flee the country, understanding he would probably be a fugitive for life. In doing so, he may have preserved his (limited) freedom, though he certainly also fed into his infamy.
Even if a voyeur to history could examine all of the things that happened that one night in Jack Nicholson's house, seeing that what transpired was indeed "less wrong" than what was immediately presumed to have happened, the words rape, sodomy, plied, alcohol, drugs, and 13 years old still steer our processing and formulation of a narrative. The picture is already constructed in the casual onlooker's mind: a 43-year-old rich man named Roman Polanski plied a 13-year-old with drugs and alcohol, and sodomized her. Even if he did not aggressively rape her, it is still legally statutory rape. He is a rapist, and being that she is well under the age of consent and just on the other side of adolescence, he is a pervert and child molester. Roman Polanski rapes 13-year-old girls. And as a wealthy and successful part of the Hollywood elite, he was able to secure his escape and now lives the high life in Paris. What a sleazy scumbag douche. God, I'd wish he'd go to prison so a lot of burly and hairy men with rhinoceros penises could do to him what he did to that poor and sweet little girl. The logic of the narrative follows a very understandable trajectory.
This is scary stuff. Not in and of itself (the rape) or anything like that, but as I write about the event, I realize that every sentence I am constructing will be held against me, and in voicing any sympathy to Polanski – which may be mistaken as an excuse – I am making myself a sort of accomplice. The content of the Polanski/Gailey case is potent as nerve gas; the word rape is something that should be handled delicately like a canister of anthrax. Only George Carlin, that master deconstructionist of language, fearlessly treaded over it. Reading about the context of the event, I find it appropriate that Polanski would serve a small sentence with probation (which he did, including some time in solitary confinement). I understand why he fled, though it was probably not the right decision. Consequently, I feel history has shown the world has been better for his being a part of it. But I've found that voicing this opinion on the matter makes one a complicit rapist or apologist. The language becomes maddening, and now we know how Polanski may be seeing things: "Rape" is "Rape." The word is a thing in itself, a block of stone without plasticity or nuance or context. And all rapists must be put away for life, in addition to being castrated and being themselves raped several times by fellow inmates. This is the excuse laid out: rape is rape, end of story. There is no escape from the tyranny of the word, and though I expect the height of human thinking is to try and make our words and definitions appropriate to the happenings of historical occurrences, instead we format our definitions of history in accordance to the words we use. Of course, any writer understands the anxiety of his task in this: there is simply too much stuff in a moment. A picture tells a thousand words, and two pictures set alongside each other say about a million. Trying to figure out any truth in history is a good way to crash one's own mental CPU usage.
That said, I think that anyone's life would be infinitely more easy in simply going along with the popular opinion regarding Polanski, declaring that he should be extradited to the United States and serve out his last years in prison, in addition to simply admitting that he is, to his core, a scumbag of the lowest order. I would love to think that way, but I can’t. Maybe it's because my introduction to the case came in a different order from most other people; I read Polanski's autobiography before I read the Gailey testimony; I've read several subsequent interviews with Polanski where he addresses the incident; I've seen Marina Zenovich's documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which details the whole court case and seems to come out on Polanski's side (even though a lot of his perspectives on the event are omitted); and of course I've seen his films. Indeed, I've grown up with them, and Roman Polanski is someone responsible for how I see not only movies, but for how I see the world around me. It is then my own bias, pitting me as a student in my teacher's corner against his accusers.
In spite of all that, I have my own doubts. I've read Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, and I know that belief and unbelief create a never-ending circle where doubt is essentially always an irritant scratching the back of one's neck: when I was an adolescent Christian, I was torn apart by the specter of non-belief and the possibility of a godless universe; as an adult atheist, I am haunted by the possibility that God exists. Absolute certainty for me is impossible. If you were to ask me if I was troubled about the possibility that one of my heroes was a sexual miscreant and terrible human being, I would answer yes. It tears me apart at times, and the only thing I'm sure about is that I can be certain about nothing.
This brings us back to The Ghost Writer. There are many right-wing viewers who will be quick to accuse the picture of being anti-American leftist nonsense. Certainly The Ghost Writer is about American imperialism to a large degree, but that's not the great Satan it seeks to point out. Polanski is not a leftist, and he hasn't trusted any political ideology, particularly Marxism, since growing up in Communist Poland. The question of whether Prime Minister Adam Lang is simply a tool for the imperial machinations of a United States neoconservative agenda is not the primary issue. At the end we discover that Lang certainly has agency; he's not a moral black hole, he's not simply an actor – indeed, the notion that he's little more than an actor annoys him greatly. We know that Adam Lang approved of the arrest of some Islamic extremists who were alleged terrorists; the same operation deported the men to undisclosed locations where they were tortured, one of them dying. Adam Lang has thus committed a "war crime" and is a war criminal. He should be arrested and summarily prosecuted as such. The question of The Ghost Writer, regarding Lang, is not really his relationship to the United States, but rather his own moral character. But even then, it's not simply whether or not he is a war criminal. Lang is an elected figurehead and charismatic statesman, though in his pampered office where everything is settled for him, he is estranged from the kind of decision making process that everyone else has to deal with. He's made a decision that is against universal statute, though he was unaware of it. In fact, he believed he was doing the right thing. For other people, he is "war criminal," "murderer," "liar," and plainly evil. Is he evil? What is the content of evil, when words determine the form? This is what The Ghost Writer is about, and it is what Roman Polanski, the man and the artist, is also about.
The Ghost Writer begins as a symphony of machines. Alexandre Desplat's phenomenal score pulses onward with the opening image of a ferry boat moving forth on the rippling water. The boat docks and the cars leave, save but one. The faceless and uniformed ferry employees are perplexed by a BMW whose driver is missing. The other cars drive carefully around it as the workers confusedly search. There's no trace of anyone. The film cuts to a tow entering the left side of the frame as the BMW is solitary on the ferry bay. We should notice the motifs of automation, as machines move ahead without human beings: the ferry doors, the tow lowering, the truck dragging the BMW away.
Polanski cuts away from the mystery of the missing ferry passenger to the concrete solution: A dead body washing up on a lonely beach. The corpse is found. Being that there is a concrete solution to the incipient question – where is the Body? – the mystery is solved for the greater society. The body belonged to Mike McAda, Adam Lang's ghost writer, and there was an abundance of alcohol found in his blood. End of story, right? But there are too many gaps to fill for anyone to probably understand what really happened to this body and the body's relationship to the BMW. Immediately The Ghost Writer jolts the viewer with an uneasy sense of what is happening between processes of automation and the human body.
As briefly as we see the beach during this prologue, a careful viewer of Polanski will instantly recognize the motif. The beach setting, or more specifically water, has fixated Polanski his whole career, going back to the early short Two Men and a Wardrobe, an absurdist film where two men emerge from the sea with their beloved wardrobe. They are rejected by society, and so go back into the water; Knife in the Water, Pirates, and Bitter Moon are all set on boats; Cul de Sac, What?, and Death and the Maiden feature big houses by the sea, the tide coming in and threatening to swallow unfortunate souls like poor Jack MacGowren in Cul de Sac, trapped in his car; the opening of Macbeth finds the epilogue to a gruesome battle on a Scottish beach, and later we see Macbeth (Jon Finch) stare into the Weird Sisters' cauldron of liquid that shows him a hall of mirrors decorating his destiny and hidden nature; Chinatown is all about the distribution and theft of water, and getting too wet becomes life threatening; the climax of Frantic occurs on Paris' sculpted shores of the Rhine River; in Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) has traumatic dreams of what seems like sexual molestation on a boat; and then there's that bathtub in Repulsion, where Catherine Deneuve puts her suitor’s corpse.
We can't really say for sure what the water represents for Polanski, but its archetype suggests enough. The fluid abyss of water has kinship with the undefined, the depths of the absurd, the spaces in between civilization's markers. Water brings with it uncertainty and chaos, like in the marriages of Knife in the Water and Bitter Moon, where bourgeois relationships are torn asunder by unexpected temptations and simmering jealousies. It's the abyss of guilt, confession, and unnerving desire into which Dr. Miranda (Ben Kingsley) stares near the conclusion of Death and the Maiden. In Frantic, it's where Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) throws a nuclear detonator, the protagonist's climactic revolt against the absurd policies of a civilization that has no regard for private familial or symbolic relationships. And in Chinatown, it's what Noah Cross (John Huston) seeks to control, as controlling Los Angeles' water supply is to control "the future!"
Immediately the meaning of the water then comes clearer to us in The Ghost Writer, as this mystery is a definitive Polanskian exploration of the conflict between civilization's markers and definitions, and the cloudy opaque nature of reality. Bodies go into the water and come out, but the reasons remain unknown and leave only trails of speculation. The ambition of the film, dismissed by some as an entertaining but trite genre exercise, then also becomes Polanski's most resonant summation of the modern political condition in a flat interwebbed planet. There is a difference between political, recorded, or "public" truth and any kind of actual, natural, or "private" truth. Everything in our society is form. The mass of content is so large that it cancels itself out of any regard or deliberation. Indeed, an astute viewer will pay attention to the main set of The Ghost Writer, the Martha's Vineyard seashore house where the Langs are staying, and how the modern art within is all abstract form with no deducible content or meaning.
The film's protagonist, the Ghost (his actual name is never given to us), has a mildly successful career as a ghost writer, a talented hack able to arrange the words of celebrity subjects, his own authorship negated for whatever personage's title as autobiographer. We see him at a hip London cafeteria with his agent, Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthall), a charismatic sleaze who is pressuring the Ghost to grab hold of a "great opportunity," the chance to take over the job for former Prime Minister Adam Lang's autobiography after McAda's death. The incentive is not personal or artistic but financial. The Ghost is hesitant, and Polanski and his fellow screenwriter Robert Harris (who wrote the mass-market bestseller upon which the film is based) begin a cheekily funny leitmotif of the Ghost's caution: "I don't know, Rick," which is then always followed by him just going along with it.
In central London, the Ghost goes to Rhinehart Publishing to interview for the job, though he's instantly sneered at by the book's editor, Roy Quigley (Tim Preece), an old foe who greets him with disdain at the security door. The Ghost is screened and scanned by gadgets. "Who are you expecting to bomb you, Random House?" the Ghost asks Roy, who answers that the content of Lang's memoir necessitates extreme security measures. In a few moments Roy will nervously joke that the memoir is "more like a bomb" than a book, Polanski then pointing out that books are not literature with content, but social events. This scene in the Rhinehart Publishing office is a very complicated and important sequence, and a wonderfully subtle – though typical – display of Polanski's talents as a director in an enclosed environment where people passively-aggressively are vying against each other. Set in Quigley's tight office, five characters interact for the Ghost's interview: Quigley, the Ghost, Ricardelli, Lang's American attorney Sidney Kroll (Timothy Hutton), and Rhinehart Publishing's chief executive, John Maddox (James Belushi).
Maddox, conspicuous because of his bald head (and the surprise cameo of Belushi), is the most powerful force in the room and mostly silent for the first part of the interview. Ricardelli is intent on selling his client. Kroll explains how McAda was irreplaceable, "and yet he needs to be replaced." Quigley, for whatever antagonistic reason, wants to dismiss the Ghost from any hope of acquiring the job ("His last book was about a magician, I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered," uttered sarcastically). The Ghost is surprisingly honest about why he would be the best candidate for the position: he doesn't read political memoirs. "Who does?" It is the Ghost's disposition as an outsider, he says, that will get to who Lang really is. "Adam Lang wants a place in history. Not on the remainder tables," and what sells autobiographies is not the flat relay of events, but "Heart."
The Ghost's maverick approach to the interview piques both Kroll's and Maddox's interest, though probably not for the same reasons that the Ghost is proposing. For Maddox, it's about getting "the jolly old tone right," the form of the publishing event. He takes the Ghost's word of "Heart" and says it again with a British accent, "Remember, Hawt," tapping his chest. Roy voices his dislike, adding that, "Let's not forget that I will be editing the book." Maddox, who does not look at Roy once during the interview, responds, "Well, we need to discuss that." The idea is that even though this is Roy's office and Roy's country, and Maddox is the outsider, American imperialism extends far beyond geopolitical policy, and goes into the arbitrary avenues of basic book publishing. The quickness and perhaps faceless anonymity of the Ghost is too perfect for Maddox, who gives him the job on the spot. Before he exits, the Ghost is handed a large manuscript by Kroll, a book "by another client" that Kroll would like the Ghost to read for some feedback.
The Ghost accepts the manuscript, along with the job, for which he will be paid the handsome sum of $250,000. Heading home in a taxi, The Ghost Writer jokes to us about one of the bigger problems of content in this event-and-ritual laden performance-based world: the task of reading. The Ghost doesn't look at the actual manuscript to see who wrote it or what it is about, but instead looks at the last page to see how long it is: well over 600 pages. He rolls his eyes and sighs, acknowledging that this gesture of feedback to his employer will indeed be something of a pain in the ass. Fortunately for him, the task is taken off his hands when he's mugged outside the cab, his masked assailant stealing the manuscript and quickly hustling off on a motorcycle. The Ghost understands that whoever attacked him was probably interested in acquiring Lang's memoirs. Things heat up more when he waits for his plane in Heathrow, looking at the television. Accusations of approving torture and war crimes have made Lang the top news story. The Ghost says, "I knew this whole thing was a bad idea." Of course, he still passively goes along with it, saying "I don't know" along the way. The money is good.
The Ghost comes to America and is taken to the Langs’ Martha's Vineyard house, immediately confronting a contradiction. Adam Lang's personal secretary, Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) greets him smiling while we hear another woman off-screen angrily shouting. There's an odd duplicity to Amelia, who exudes power and calm determination. We learn that she is in a probable competition for Lang's affections with the former First Lady, Ruth (Olivia Williams). Even so, Amelia tells the Ghost that she is married. "I noticed you weren't wearing a wedding ring." "I can't," Amelia answers. "It's far too large. It bleeps when I go through airport security." Polanski is joking about the impact our technology has on us, when personal ornamentations that are meant to symbolically communicate something important about us are discarded because of social demands. Amelia also lays out the rules for the Ghost, showing him the manuscript that Mike McAda completed (probably also at a resounding 600+ pages), and the small disc where the whole manuscript is on file. The Ghost asks if he can copy McAda's manuscript, but Amelia refuses, stating that the security measures determine that the manuscript is not allowed to leave the Ghost's office. The Ghost has to re-type the whole thing, something that greatly irritates him. We again are treated to the (dis)pleasure of reading, as the Ghost reads, falls asleep to, and finishes McAda's Lang memoirs in one painful sitting. (Yes, I know, readers of this blog, The Niles Files, may experience a similar feeling).
Reading the book aloud, we can sense the main problem with the book: There's too much of it. McAda's Lang book starts from the very, very beginning, tracing Lang's historical lineage to Scotland. The book is much too thorough to be entertaining. The Ghost says later, "All the words are there. They're just in the wrong order." This is the writer's dilemma, to artfully sculpt the overabundant chaos of History into something accessible. We can probably also surmise another problem is that Lang's memoir, while having so many facts, also gives a rather blank psychological picture of its subject. When we meet Lang, who calls the Ghost "Man," he is a little reluctant to be candid. Lang is nonplussed that his whole book can fit on a little plug-in drive. He comes clean to his biographer: This is the life of a Prime Minister. Everything is done for you, and you have no capability of learning new technology or even having access to money. The figurehead is simply that: a metaphor, a pampered symbol. When he hears this, the Ghost instantly begins exploring it as an element in the book. Lang protests, "I can't say that. Everyone would think I'm a complete idiot!" But this is exactly the meaningful content that the Ghost would offer any autobiography, the complex psychological portrait of a man who is "out of touch" with his world, and as such is hated and loved in accordance to how he is presented as that symbol. This early back and forth between Lang and the Ghost is another terrific intimate and dramatic scene for Polanski, cross-cutting with distinct lenses catching powerful close-ups.
The early meetings establish the bizarre, hyperreal quality of the film's production design and necessary visual effects. The office has a glass wall that overlooks the beach and sea. For continuity reasons, to say nothing of his exile, it would be impossible for Polanski to have this quiet dramatic interior conversation and keep a stable exterior to complement it. The interior was designed and constructed in a studio with greenscreens behind all of the windows. The exteriors, shot elsewhere on second unit, were then digitally placed on the green areas in post-production. Audiences who don't recognize this will still be struck by the subtle weirdness of the image, which carries a sharp crispness a normal interior with windows would lack. Experienced filmgoers may dismiss it as an "obvious" special effect. But I feel that it effectively feeds into the image's strangeness, a hyperreality, something that is not authentically real, but more like the clone of some reality that has an indeterminate origin. To quote Polanski about his directorial approach, "What I like is an extremely realistic scene in which there is something that does not fit with the real," as reality is not to be trusted. Polanski's atmospheres are "a little false, artificial, very studio, very 'cinema'...a world created anew" (Wexman). At the same time, Polanski perfectly measures his visual strategy with his dramatic mastery, so as to never have the visual effect become overpowering or distracting. It’s similar to how David Fincher creates many sequences in 2010's other great mainstream movie, The Social Network, with digital breath, snow, computer screens, and human beings (the Winklevi). Polanski has had to use this visual approach before to similar (but never as stirring) effect in the skyscraper windows overlooking New York City in The Ninth Gate, and the Warsaw ghetto long after its liquidation in The Pianist. The aura of this approach also fits in with the whole resonance of The Ghost Writer, where the lines of real and unreal are uncertain.
This is the question of Form vs. Content again, which comes to a head in the second meeting between Lang and the Ghost. In the previous encounter, the Ghost had set up a new formal parameter for the memoir, beginning Lang's adventure into politics as a romantic journey. Lang recounted for the Ghost how he first got into politics. He was a Theatre student who had never cared about politics until a canvasser knocked on his door. It was Ruth, working on behalf of the Labour Party. "I'm in love," Lang recalls, patting his chest. The Ghost writes out the first sentence of the memoir: "I first got into politics out of love." However, when the Ghost investigates Lang's dramatic background at Cambridge, Lang becomes apoplectically obstinate. The press has accused him of being little more than a "fucking actor" (the U.S. PG-13 rated cut has Lang say "bloody actor," but the dubbing is rather obvious, something that happens about three more times in the film), the Times of London even saying at the end of his tenure, "Kindly leave the stage." The honesty of Lang's actorly background cannot be touched; Lang admits that he enjoyed performing as a character, that he enjoyed the applause, and that he loved the girls. Lang's blunt refusal to allow any of these confessions into the book feeds into a negative historical cycle, where the actor who creates dramatic characters necessitates the enduring performance of another character off the stage and as biography.
So Lang's life is essentially scripted, which is the melancholic point of The Ghost Writer’s politics, and which really fed into Robert Harris' conception of it as a novel. Harris was familiar with Tony Blair before Blair was Prime Minister, as both of them were linked to the New Labour movement beginning in the early 1990s. As the Ghost tells Ricardelli early in the film, "Adam Lang wasn't a politician, he was a craze." This could be said about any number of left-wing politicians who seem to bear intelligence, wit, charisma, and a message of hope: Blair in Britain, Clinton and Obama in the United States. And as the Left had a falling out with the Clintons in the late 1990s, so too did Harris and a large fraction of the UK Left fall out with Blair. Harris observed that Blair, so dashing and smart when he first met him in 1992, was now disconnected, not even picking up books. The politics of change and hope are transformed into the politics of "let's make a deal," sustaining the status quo with more breath and eloquence in speech, much like the American Left's disenchantment with the current administration. Most damning to Blair's legacy was the alliance with the United States in invading Iraq, and stances on the War on Terror. The problem of Lang is how an intelligent and learned man can find himself in compliance with a reactionary and unprogressive foreign and domestic policy, the question then being if this "intelligent man" even ever existed to begin with. Is he indeed nothing more than a "fucking actor"?
As the media squeezes in on the war-crime allegations, the Ghost shifts from his biographical duties to being Lang’s complicit scripter. The Hague decides it wants to indict Lang for war crimes, and the British government is willing to cooperate. The Ghost writes a public response for Lang, and so is then recording history just as he is creating it as a kind of one-dimensional charade performance, where nothing is real and every movement is a formal maneuver. His interests are then complicated when he receives a call from Maddox who says, "This can only be good for us." The media firestorm of war crime allegations is exactly what Rhinehart Publishing wants to work on. Instead of Lang’s psychological background (dismissed as "crap" by Maddox), Rhinehart demands "focus on wars." The memoir is neither going to be an honest psychological history of an individual or an objective life portrait. The book is a social event to be published in accordance with media hype, so as to make a quick financial killing. Maddox even asks that the Ghost speed up his revision of McAda's draft, from one month's work to two weeks. A biography is about the news of Right Now, not the details of a Life.
History is something that is quickly read in headlines, not in books. The Lang memoir, if published in this context, will be more talked about than read. "Readers" will mainly be interested in impact, not content. The world of The Ghost Writer is oversaturated in media information and moving screens relaying tid-bits of information giving pertinent information without delving into anything on a deep level (something that fans of The Ninth Gate will recognize). As Lang and his lawyers wonder what to do, a news helicopter films them from outside. They can all see their live images on the room's flatscreen television. Ruth assumes that the British government will never go along with the Hague's indictment, to which Amelia responds, "British government will cooperate fully with the investigation." "Really?" Ruth says, irritated. "And what makes you think that?" Amelia answers with a reply that I believe Polanski wants us to think about: "I'm not thinking it, Ruth. I'm reading it." She flips on the television's sound where the headline notes how the British government will indeed be cooperating with the Hague. The idea here – which is something that relates to Polanski's infamous case – is how truth is conveyed not through dialectical or abstract thought, but is rendered automatically, read in a neat headline or news note. Research is negated for something to be didactically stated. The headline serves Lang's political enemies just as it serves his publisher. "Perhaps Rhinehart's PR department organized the whole thing," the Ghost admits to Lang, who doesn't know what to do.
Lang has the option to return home, and is encouraged to do so by Ruth, but for him it's too much of a risk and perhaps more of an insult to his pride than anything else. Being in court may annoy him less than being "led away from Heathrow in hand-cuffs." He's conscious of his image and will stay put, seeing how the United States does not have to extradite anyone (a trait, Polanski and Harris point out, shared with totalitarian regimes in China and North Korea, in addition to Israel, Iraq, and Indonesia). In response, Lang and his colleagues go on performing, wearing "big smiles" when they greet the angry protesters who carry large placards calling Lang a murderer and liar. Lang recites his anti-terrorist message as the protesters lift up their caricatures of the former Prime Minister, an amusing juxtaposition.
The Ghost is curious to investigate the circumstances of his predecessor's death. He discovers that McAda had hidden information about Lang, probably acquired from Lang's chief political enemy, Richard Rycart (Robert Pugh), including documented proof that Lang's initial story about falling in love with Ruth and joining the Labour Party could not be true (he had become a member of the Party two years before). He also finds some photographs showing Lang as a Theatre student, and reference to a man standing in the background, Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson). The Ghost dials a phone number found with the information, which puts him in touch with Rycart. Petrified, the Ghost hangs up.
The Ghost's phone continues to eerily buzz, vibrating across a countertop. This was an image that Martin Scorsese used to great effect in The Departed (2006), a film that was also about a world becoming more technological while human beings were increasingly cybernetic at the expense of any moral sense or historical link to the past. The cell-phone moves like a living organism across surfaces, interrupting conversation and demanding acknowledgment. The Ghost's curiosity is roused (even if it's a "bad idea" again) and he heads onto the beach searching for clues. An eccentric old man (Eli Wallach) lays out the details of McAda's death, informing the Ghost that there was no way that the body could have washed up where it was found, unless somebody dumped it there. There's also another old woman on the beach who may have seen something, but she met with a bizarre accident that has put her in a coma.
Polanski's trademark of using eccentric grotesques not only stirs the mystery, but also adds a cheeky element of offbeat humor, often to the point of howling hilarity. It's impossible for me not to cackle when Eli Wallach raises his eyebrow, or when the Langs' Asian maid gives the Ghost a harrowing look as the phone buzzes across the table. A learned scholar of genre norms, Polanski is not wasting his energy on hackneyed plot points so much as giddily embracing and playing with them, though not in a reflexive post-modern way. This flavors his films with uncanny nervous energy, absurdity, and a taste that goes beyond Hitchcock's sardonic sense, which is really the stuff of Kafka. The world is simultaneously familiar and alien. The protagonist is thrown into its absurdity, alone and dependent on his own subjectivity. These are the literary and artistic traits of the modernist/absurdist mindset that was so powerful an influence in Poland during Polanski's formative years. The Ghost Writer’s mysteries do not cleanly unspool; there is far too much cloudiness. It is the same with the webs of corruption in Chinatown's Los Angeles, where too much knowledge is dangerous, the Holocaust of The Pianist, the social dynamics of pre-Victorian England in Tess, the cults and secret societies of The Ninth Gate and Rosemary's Baby, or the mazes of organized crime in Oliver Twist's London. All of these films have a main character – in many instances not necessarily without moral fault – thrown unexpectedly into these unnerving settings where everyone is a little strange, and communication is guarded and closed. When the Ghost explores, he garners fewer answers and more questions. If one thing is certain, it's only that the world is more uncertain than it was before.
The plot takes a delicate turn after Ruth confronts the Ghost on the beach. The two become closer while watching Lang make blunders on television. Sharing a drink together, Ruth's bitterness ferociously comes out. Terrifically played by Williams, Ruth is a character whose masks are legion. We are on to the seduction going on here, and Polanski knows that we have seen it in hundreds of other genre thrillers. But his delicate touch, interplaying with the Ghost’s passivity, makes it subtly hilarious. Ruth knocks on his door and ends up crying at the side of his bed. He tries to calm her and she nudges closer. Even after going to the restroom and collecting himself (talking to himself in the mirror: "No."), he is automatically drawn into the seduction. Upon discovering Ruth underneath his covers, he does not stop himself from taking his robe off – being buck naked underneath – and hopping into bed. Lying there, she attacks him and the seduction is complete.
The next morning, the Ghost assumes a kind of romantic posture. He says that he will "restore" Ruth to history and save her from nothingness. He leaves the house and hops in the same BMW that began the film. Technology again takes its lead: The Ghost cannot switch off the GPS system that vocally directs him where to go. Heading back to his hotel, he decides to embrace the obstinate mystery of McAda's death, being that McAda was the last one to use the car and the GPS coordinates would reveal his final destination on the mainland. The Ghost gets on the ferry and finds himself going to an isolated house surrounded by forest. The mechanical eye (Cyclops Security) of the surveillance system follows him, and he peers through the gate and looks at the mail: Paul Emmett lives here, the man in the old Lang photos.
Tom Wilkinson's Emmett is another fantastic creation of grotesque exaggeration, with a soft lethality that comes through the briefest and smallest of gestures and cadences. Emmett is an Ivy League professor mentioned in a chapter near the end of McAda's draft, very much responsible for neoconservative intellectual movements, teaching that English speaking countries should bring democracy to the rest of the world. The passive aggressive interview that transpires between the Ghost and Emmett is a sequence of lies, followed by a counterpoint, after which Emmett makes some admissions, but which in turn only open up more loose ends. Emmett admits that he and Lang have some relationship over something called the "Arcadia Project," a high-brow neoconservative think tank organization. The Ghost tries pressing Emmett for information on his relationship to Lang, as indicated by the morally suspicious photographs from Lang's theatrical days, but Emmett remains reticent to speak of anything. "I hope you won't publish the photos," Emmett says of one where Lang seems to be holding a joint. "My children would be mortified. They're so much more puritanical than we were." This is a lovely middle-finger on Polanski's part, referring to how the generation after the 1970s has a much tougher take on his crimes than Polanski's contemporaries did, and as such it bespeaks Polanski's breadth as a director who is unafraid of identifying with his darker characters, whether it be Lang and Emmett (who refers to his debaucheries in the 1970s as "a blur, a very happy blur") in The Ghost Writer, Dr. Miranda in Death and the Maiden, Noah Cross in Chinatown, or Alec in Tess (Polanski has said that he finds himself often be on the rapacious Alec's side, whereas the Marxist idealist/romantic "good guy" Angel represents a sour naivete; he is right).
Emmett dismisses the Ghost soon after their interview begins, but not before indicating that his questions are a little impertinent. His dialogue is filled with eerie (and funny) underlying threats to the Ghost, though he admits that he'd like a copy of Lang's book when it comes out. "I'm an avid reader of political biographies," Emmett says, though earlier in the film the Ghost said that no one reads them, and Emmett's own testimony of events indicates that he reads very little and voices only what needs to be voiced and wants people to know only what they need to know. Knowledge, history, and truth are dead things to an Emmett, and he would believe that's for the better.
After leaving Emmett, the Ghost is followed by a black car. He races to the ferry station, but his pursuers have caught up with him. He understands that history is repeating itself, and he is probably reliving exactly what happened to Mike McAda. He gets out of the BMW and jumps ship just in time, the dark figures following him stuck onboard as the ferry ushers out to sea.
Unsure who to trust, The Ghost turns to Lang’s biggest rival, Rycart, for protection. Rycart informs the Ghost that a man will show up in his motel room soon. Meanwhile, the Ghost investigates on the internet. He looks up Emmett and surfs on a series of hypertext links. The information paints a picture of how Emmett is a CIA operative who has helped further an American imperial agenda. The Ghost lands on a website for an energy company, "Hatherton" (which sounds like "Haliburton"), and clicks on the website's explanatory video.
The Hatherton advertisement is something to which Polanski wants us to respond aesthetically, because its presentation is so different from his own directorial style. Told with soft editing, animation, calming electronic music, and a smoothly voiced narrator, Hatherton is responsible for a world of American militaristic dominance, shown in such a way that it communicates progress and prosperity. The Hatherton video has the spirit of the automated internet world of easy gliding on hyperlinks, obscuring awful truths. The video is almost completely comprised of machines operating, usually vehicles equipped for war. Only at the end do we see a soldier walking hand in hand with a child, probably in an occupied country. This kind of aesthetic, which is the stuff of most Hollywood thrillers today, is indeed "a shelter from harm," which is what Hatherton purports itself to be.
The hidden narrative thus is formed: Hatherton, which has links to the CIA, is the financial strong-arm of Emmett and the CIA, and so has a strong philosophical directive for world dominance. Emmett's CIA has infiltrated the British government, using Adam Lang as a puppet actor on its behalf. There is no stopping the English speaking world from complete imperial domination.
Some critics have complained that this internet summation is an easy way out, and a by-product of our own times to neatly wrap things up. But Polanski realizes that the story is not wrapped up; it's impossible to be conclusive about anything. The smooth efficiency of web-surfing is something that, while it gives us clues, is symptomatic of a mechanical world not unlike the style of the Hatherton video, where gritty aspects of war (the content) are obscured by the aesthetic form of the video (the form).
The Ghost's inconclusive research is interrupted by a knock at the door. What follows is a wonderfully tense moment beginning with the Ghost's perspective from the spy-hole (one of Polanski's favorite visual motifs) revealing an imposing man. The film has been so successful in creating a world where no one can be trusted, and the character looks so physically threatening by virtue of his facial bone structure alone, that we are on edge when he comes inside and frisks the Ghost. It would indeed make as much sense, given our familiarity with movie conventions, to have the mysterious individual head-butt the Ghost and steal his briefcase. But we are relieved to see that this is Rycart's man. They leave and the Ghost meets with Rycart.
Rycart has sour grapes about being expelled from Lang's cabinet, and has political motives of his own for publicly criticizing his former boss. "Everyone knows [Lang] didn't have a political thought in his pretty little head," Rycart whispers. "Name one decision Lang made that wasn't in the interest of the USA." You cannot. Rycart examines the McAda manuscript (called "the cure for insomnia" by the Ghost), saying that McAda indicated the "beginning" gave an urgent clue about Lang's relationship to United States influence.
The Langs contacts the Ghost, interrupting. Rycart says that they have to move out so that no one gets suspicious. Rycart gives the Ghost a directive: tape record incriminating evidence against Lang. The Ghost doesn't want to do this, but he is compelled by Rycart, who reveals he has recorded their entire conversation. Once again, the Ghost discovers that no one can be trusted. "Frank is recording every word. Aren't you, Frank?" Rycart speaks into his breast pocket, and behind him a dark car "answers" with blinking headlights. Technology has more genuine voice here than human beings. To be a real person in this world is to be a digital person, which is to be a person who is duplicitous (interchangeable as a 1 and a 0 of binary code) just as they are mechanical cyborgs. Notice earlier how the motel clerk jokes with the Ghost, because he only has cash to pay with. "Who's got the card? The nanny?" Cash is analog and Old World; credit cards are an aspect of the Digital.
Rycart tries to ease the Ghost's fears ("You can't kill two ghost writers. You're not kittens," a wonderfully droll Polanskian remark), but the Ghost angrily tells him that all of this is meaningless. "He'll just stay here and tell you to go fuck yourselves," not unlike how Polanski has handled many of his years in exile from America, suggesting that he understands how his crime warranted punishment (which he believes, in addition to his victim and the prosecuting attorney, he has fulfilled), but that the political interests involved in trying to extradite him back to the U.S. are in some ways suspect and insincere. "You're working for the good guys," Rycart says, but in this world there are no good guys or bad guys. There is only moral cloudiness, uncertainty, and a sequence of postures for official documentation and public record, onto which the narrative of history is rendered.
A Hatherton jet picks up the Ghost near his motel, and the final confrontation with Lang begins. Lang knows the Ghost has been lying to him about where he has been, which leads to the Ghost unfurling the narrative constructed from the previous 24 hours: his confrontations with Emmett, the internet, and Rycart. The Ghost says that Emmett is Lang's "handler," and that Lang's affiliation with the CIA has resulted in war crimes. Lang becomes apoplectic. He refers to Emmett as a "windbag" and makes it clear that the decisions he made as a leader are based on his own reasoning. "Whatever I did, I did because I believed it was right!" Lang says that he would hypothetically propose two airport lines, one where everyone was screened and there was information garnered from any necessary means, and the other where no civil liberties were harmed. The question he asks, in a burst of anger, is which plane the Rycarts of this world – with their "bleeding heart bullshit" – would put their fucking kids on? "And you can put that in the book!"
It's probably the most truthful utterance Lang has approved for his biography, said in a moment of frustrated and liquor-buzzed rancor. The Ghost, who insists that his story is verifiable "by the internet" (as much as the stories of Polanski's accusers and defenders are), has to confront the notion that he is not dealing with a moral vacuum, and that the “bad guy,” Lang, is rather a man who was led by principles, however unexamined they may be. The protesters outside the plane hold up their "Murderer" signs, but Lang is hardly a villain. In Polanski's world, a politician may be just as passive and helpless in the tide of history as the Ghost is in his own situation. And like the Ghost or McAda, a politician can be a pawn whose existence is pliable and meaningless, written out in the interest of more powerful forces. The climax of the picture showcases the director's mastery of handling a suspenseful set-up. We have a retread of a shot we saw early in the film, where Lang walks out of a plane. But this time, photographed in a long shot, the camera is jittery. Unease enters the audience's subconscious and expands. Lang continues to talk angrily to the Ghost when exiting the plane, with Ruth waiting on the ground. Polanski employs his love for deep focus to increase tension: we see a blurry assassin readying himself in the background. He fires at Lang, shooting him squarely in the head. A tumult begins. Security officers shoot the assassin, recognized as the decorated father of a young man who died "in one of Mr. Lang's illegal wars."
The narrative seems to be neatly closed. With Lang's funeral on the television, the accusations of war crimes are conveniently forgotten. The assassin has erased a war criminal and created a hero. Rycart is interviewed, claiming that "Lang was a patriot and a great friend." Political posturing is important, the ethical issues of war and torture being thrown out. One more time, the Ghost is compelled to finish the book ("Adam Lang's voice from the grave!" Ricardelli calls it). It is quickly put to print, being mass-manufactured and spit-out by a printing press (again an image of automation without human hands).
So we see History reduced to a Publishing Event, and any kind of pursuit of genuine truth comes to little more than a cocktail party attended by the rich and famous. Amelia turns out to be much more vulnerable than we first imagined, inviting the Ghost to be her plus one. (As a side note, I should like to defend Kim Cattrall's performance as Amelia; critics and bloggers, both professional and amateur, have slammed her "fake British accent" in this film. I confess it didn't bother me, and I thought she gave a fine performance. Also, Cattrall was born in England, raised in Canada, then had acting training in England as a teen; her mother and sisters all have natural British accents; in other words, I think she knows what she's doing, and her critics are probably a little too familiar with the fluff she's done on Sex and the City, a show I've never seen. The only Cattrall roles that come to my mind are The Bonfire of the Vanities and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I think she's great here. Sorry). He gives her McAda's manuscript as a gift, after which she tells him that "there was something about the beginnings" that made the manuscript a security risk, and so it was to be closely watched by the CIA. Rycart was wrong, and the context of the word "beginning" gives a hint to what McAda was actually trying to code into his manuscript. He reads the first words of all the chapters and interprets the code: Ruth Lang is the CIA mole of Paul Emmett, not Adam Lang. In the main conference room of Rhinehart Publishing, Ruth speaks glowingly of Adam (she had nothing but bad things to say about him for the entire film, up to this point), remarking, "He was so brilliant at making speeches. And I'm so terrible." Though Adam Lang was led to action by his beliefs, he was easily manipulated by Ruth, who was able to pull the strings and use her husband as a front for her own ends. The Ghost makes his presence known at the party, delivering a note with the secret knowledge that is passed through the crowd towards Ruth Lang. It’s a fantastic shot designed by Polanski and cinematographer Pawel Edelman, ending on Olivia Williams' face which immediately transforms upon recognition of the meaning.
The Ghost tries escaping with the manuscript, but one more faceless machine ends the film, and his life, off-screen. He scampers to get a cab, walking out of frame. Polanski's deep focus catches a black car in the background, the headlights flashing on, which speeds forward. It collides with something and screeches away. The pages of the manuscript float on the street while the shocked crowd investigates. History ends up nowhere, the pages disparate and broken from any meaningful context. Lang's postered face overlooks the squander of any meaning to his private existence. Emmett and Ruth have won, and history is prevented truth. The Ghost had no family and few friends. He is transparent, digital, meaningless, and easy to discard. The film ends.
Despite only making one feature film there, the map of Poland seems emblazoned on the whole of Roman Polanski's body of work. In addition to the issue of his arrest and possible extradition from September 2009 to last May, the tragic repetitions of history once more made a turn for the director's native country. On April 10, 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and most of his cabinet were killed in a plane crash. The plane was on its way to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre, where thousands of Polish officers were slaughtered by Soviet secret police. The multi-layers of tragedy built upon depressive tragedy almost – by perverse necessity – evokes a nihilistic cackle, a kind of humor that exists as a defense mechanism to ward off the absolutely brutal reality of a country's fate, plighted with too many bad coincidences. It's a desperate laughter of despair, not unlike Shakespeare's Titus, who laughs because he has run out of tears.
Roman Polanski has spent most of his life now out of Poland, moving elsewhere when opportunity knocked after Knife in the Water, and spending most of his time in England, America, France, and Switzerland. But he is fundamentally a Pole, and his whole style and narrative obsessions attest to this. Poland's history is a cycle of abuses, where the nation stands as a passive central character not unlike any number of Polanski protagonists, as larger forces to the East and West (Russia, Germany) and their political machinations (Communism, Fascism) pummel the populace, killing multitudes along the way. Poland is like a stranger on its own soil, because it is so confused by the barriers, ideologies, and perimeters imposed upon it from outside forces.
The confusion of Poland, and a lot of Eastern European countries, melded well with the Theatre of the Absurd and Surrealism in the early 20th century. Characters in such art carry on laconic conversations, any kind of development in the narrative always undercut by sudden entropy. The nation seeks progress as the characters do, but an alien force or incident (the Nazis or the Soviets, or a plane crash) is sure to arrive and make pawns of everyone. During World War I, the Poles were bartered off to Austrian, German, and Russian armies. After the Germans were defeated and Poland was liberated at the close of World War II, the international community passively consigned Poland to its longtime historical enemy, Russia. One of the best scholars on Polanski, Virginia Wright Wexman, writes in her book on the director, "Polanski's Polish background has conditioned him to see the past as an endlessly repeated series of catastrophes. His view of history is rooted in the repeated frustrations suffered by his homeland in its attempt to achieve its dream of greatness." Polanski's experience as a Pole could only be exasperated by his Jewish identity in conflict with the prevalence of anti-Semitism. This was more frustrated during his status of hiding during the Holocaust. His family was taken away to concentration camps, his mother being quickly gassed at Auschwitz. When his father was being taken by Nazi soldiers, young Roman approached his father. The father told him to "piss off," as if the child was an irritating beggar. The father was, Polanski understands, saving his life, and Roman left for safety. But hiding with a Catholic family, Polanski had to assume a Catholic identity, even as the Catholics around him were vocally anti-Semitic.
During these years in Poland, Polanski recognized how morally murky the world was. There were good Germans and bad Germans, good Jews and bad Jews, and good Poles and bad Poles. You could not make any judgment based on a person in terms of an "essence." For Polanski, the holocaust proved that human nature was something of which to be weary. In studying history, the Holocaust was not an aberration of history, but something that could happen anyplace and at anytime. "Anyone is capable of anything at a given time in history," Polanski has said. There is no dichotomy of the good and the bad. The Russians and Communists were as malicious as the Nazis. As the Poles were organizing uprisings against the Nazis, Russian troops waited placidly, because the Polish revolutions were not Communist revolutions. After the Nazis had been beaten back, Polanski was horrified by how Poles and Russians handled the corpses of Nazi soldiers. The tide turning in World War II was as much of a liberating victory as it was an exercise of the same kind of sadism under a different flag.
The Communists in Poland were a more benign form of oppression, but no less exhibitive of the absurd. The adherence to dogma, schema, words, and nonsensical laws bothered Polanski, bureaucracies resembling the literary world created by Franz Kafka. Thought was not free, something very irritating to a precocious and theatrical personality. Making money was often restricted by black market operations. In 1949, young Roman was involved in a bike purchase. The seller lured him to an alley and nearly beat Polanski to death with a brick. It turns out that the perpetrator was a serial killer wanted for a half dozen other murders.
Polanski escaped through cinema and the world of imagination, a private landscape. He was enthralled by Hollywood spectacles and melodramas like the swash-buckling adventures of Errol Flynn. He could never watch a movie without envisioning himself behind the camera, or even as the actor in front of it. One of the most troubling – and fascinating – movie experiences for him had to do with the Holocaust. Under his assumed Catholic identity, Polanski would see documentary newsreels of the Krakow ghetto, propaganda films created by the Nazis. He became aware of how powerful Film was, how it could both manipulate and placate, an idea reinforced later by how the Communists handled Poland's young filmmakers. What strikes Polanski with the most curiosity while watching the documentary films about liquidating the ghettos and the capture of squalor is that the eyes behind the camera were Nazi eyes, and though we are horrified by what we are seeing human beings do to other human beings, the makers of such pictures were documenting this degradation as if it were a triumph of their new architectural design for a new Jewless Europe. Oppression was part of public policy. The ties that bound human families together were meaningless when compared to this system of record keeping, documents and efficiency. This conflict between the Public and Private is a vital theme to Polanski, and it is very murky and hard to discuss, particularly when we go so far to relate it to his own criminal proceedings, where the Private parties involved want the case dropped, but the Public or Official perspective is to sustain it, even if there is no practical service other than fulfilling an abstract notion of Justice – though this is all the Justice is, an abstraction, a hypothetical to be robotically deliberated on.
Polanski's life has then been all about hiding and running, escape and barely surviving on the journey. He hid into the hills after being target practice by Nazis, the rest of his family going away to the camps. Later on, he had to hide from social obligations to the Communist Party in Poland, and being drafted into the military. His only hope was being enrolled into the Lodz Film School in Poland, a grueling six-year educational program that also offered the best kind of freedom for young people. Lenin believed that Film was the most important political tool, and so filmmakers had to be groomed and royally nurtured. Getting into Lodz assured Polanski good room and board, a healthy social environment, and also the opportunity to be shown films from the West, which were in many cases otherwise banned by the state censors. He mastered every avenue of filmmaking at Lodz, dramatic and technical, while also making several enemies with his outspoken opinions, in addition to his disdain for how the Communists treated Polish citizens. The feature film Knife in the Water (1962) incurred the wrath of those same public officials, just as it garnered acclaim and awards in the West. A masterfully economic picture, the Communists hated it because it lacked any "social relevance" or socialist position, exactly the kind of thing from which Polanski was seeking to flee. The film's international success was used by Polanski as a means for escaping his country and becoming a cosmopolitan director, jumping from England (Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac) to Los Angeles (Rosemary's Baby).
The motifs of his absurd survival are too sensational and horrific to dismiss. Forward to 1969. By chance Polanski remained in England for a couple extra weeks, just to wrap up a screenplay entitled The Day of the Dolphin. In Polanski’s Los Angeles home, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate and some friends were gruesomely murdered, victims of the Manson family. Polanski could have been there, either to be another victim, or to protect Tate. In any case, the whole atmosphere and circumstance of the Tate murder all too closely resembles the horrifying trajectory of a Polanski protagonist. The recurrence of flight and escape culminates for many people nearly 10 years later, with the rape case, and then again 30 years later with Polanski's arrest in Switzerland, his house-arrest, possible extradition, and finally release based on an unlikely decision by Swiss officials.
Polanski is both heroic and anti-heroic in his journey, depending on how one looks at things. The critic David Thompson has described him as a "rat," which does not seem inappropriate. Polanski's life involves recurring incidents that are beyond good and evil, with the same ambivalences or incongruities that we see in the whole history of the 20th century. As influential and powerful as his films are, Polanski the individual did not happen to history. History happened to Polanski, as it happens to all of us on the Hegelian chopping block. The questionable quandary of Shakespeare's blur of free will versus fate certainly made Macbeth the most appealing of plays for him to adapt, and Polanski's Macbeth is as much driven by a desire to fulfill a foretold destiny as much as that destiny ultimately governs him and deprives him of any will whatsoever. History molds him. In Polanski's original ending for the film, we see another character approaching the witches' heath, where more prophecies will be unspooled, more blood will be shed, and the nightmare of History will continue, sound and fury indeed signifying Nothing, and no one learning anything.
The title character in Tess is another tragically passive victim to History, sent off by her drunken father to claim the title of the D'Urberville crest from a cousin who will only take advantage of her, making her his mistress. She finds true love in the Marxist Angel, who believes that History brings progress. But when she tells him of her past, he rejects her as a symptom of decadence, the markers of his own study and philosophy damning her to isolation. When she takes justice into her own hands (murdering Alec) she is subject to the laws of the land and will be hanged.
Elsewhere, in Frantic, a San Francisco doctor and his wife find themselves embroiled in Cold War nuclear age espionage. Oliver Twist has its title character undergoing abuse by both forces of Law and Criminality in Victorian England. Nothing is more forbidden than the individual trying to assert himself (such as asking for "more"). We also again recognize the same patterns of the individual against Civilization in The Ghost Writer. These patterns are rooted, I believe, in Polanski's Polish identity.
Polanski returned to Poland with The Pianist in 2002. Polanski won a surprise Best Director Academy Award, and the film was named Best Picture of 2002 by the National Society of Film Critics, also being selected as the Palm d'Or winner at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. But the film's straight linear narrative, written by Ronald Harwood, in addition to its Holocaust subject matter, resulted in some criticism asserting that The Pianist was a convenient soft-sell for the director. Indeed, studying the film's first half-hour that follows the family of pianist Wladislaw Spilman (Adrian Brody) can be sometimes frustrating in its banality. The characters undergo tired melodramatic moments of daily work, romance, and tension as Nazi-imposed laws become increasingly bothersome and threatening, moving too fast for any conventional development to take place. This is of course the point. The banality of evil is more pointed in its distraction and seemingly benign evolution, and before anyone knows what has happened, it is too late. Spilman is alone and his family is shipped away on boxcars directed towards certain death.
Polanski describes his experience of the Holocaust, asking first, "Why did the Jews allow themselves to be slaughtered during World War II? Why weren't they aware, from the outset, of what was in store for them; why didn't they grasp the truth earlier and rise en masse against the oppressors?" He answers the rhetorical question, "The main reason why their apprehensions were only gradually and belatedly aroused was that the Holocaust had yet to come. It was outside any known frame of reference. Pressures built up slowly and did not at first seem more than mildly threatening. The Germans' method was to lull people into passivity, to foster a sense of hope, to persuade the Jews that things couldn't possibly be that bad. My own feeling was that if only one could explain to them that we had done nothing wrong, the Germans would realize that it all was a gigantic misunderstanding."
This path of harsh new rules being enforced while the superficiality of normal life returned is exactly the spirit that The Pianist achieves in its conventional expository section. After this, when Spilman is thrown into the alien world of the Warsaw ghetto after liquidation, The Pianist achieves a character that is closer to Kafka than to Schindler's List, its accent on Spilman's subjectivity making the whole film a product of Polanski's Eastern European tastes more than an Oscar baiting historical motion picture. The world of Polanski's Holocaust is tragic, yes, but it does not call attention to its depravity by howling for our pathos. Rather, the atmosphere here is strange. It is completely random, and strewn with uneasy fear and tension. There is no moral light or dimension. There is no theme other than the motif of survival. Spilman is not more virtuous than anyone else, or less virtuous. He is not particularly talented or strong. He is not resourceful. Life just happens to him. There's no reason or rhyme to it. Why should Spilman survive? Why should the rest of his family die, or for that matter millions of others, many of whom were wiser and more able-bodied than he?
The Pianist resembles the landscape of dreams more than it does the gritty landscape of Holocaust movies. This is no sell-out picture, but the definitive Roman Polanski. As the bearded and starving Spilman ascends the Warsaw walls and lives in the ransacked and abandoned buildings, desperately scavenging, he becomes an emblem of the Last Man, an absurdist manifestation. The Good German soldier, Holsfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), who listens to Spilman play during the emotional climax of the film, says, "Thank God. Not me. He wants us to survive. Well, we have to believe that at least." There is no God for Polanski. All we have are belief structures accompanying us on our journeys. Polanski throws in one more absurdity at the end of Spilman's story, when Russian soldiers shoot at him because he's wearing Holsfeld’s German officer’s coat.
The Pianist, for all of its numbing deaths and absurdity, is not a tearjerker like other Holocaust pictures, such as Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, or Sophie's Choice. That kind of emotional engagement is not Polanski's method. Spielberg's film is as much of an amusement park ride as Jurassic Park (albeit much more macabre), like when we follow Schindler's Jews into the Auschwitz showers. We are also safe in the narrative order of history, as all the central characters survive. The brutal deaths in the picture are Jews who die minutes after we are introduced to them. We are safe in the benevolent hands of Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson), and at times even Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). At the conclusion, Schindler's Jews visit Schindler's grave, memorializing him in thanks. The Holocaust is resigned to History, to the Past. The Pianist does not offer a safe harbor. We meet characters, stay with them for a while, and then they die or we suspect that they have died. We can trust nobody, as good and evil dichotomies do not exist in accordance with races (Germans, Jews, Poles). History just happens. We are never safe in Polanski's world, and what more, what we are seeing is thus something not to be marked as a historical monument in the Past, but is rather something that can happen any time at any place.
A friend of mine complained about Polanski's autobiography and how he wrote about the Samantha Gailey rape incident, mainly because of how unemotional Polanski's written tone was. Because of this, there seemed to be no remorse or acknowledgment of anything wrong having happened. However, the tone is really no different from the tone of the whole book, which is not to say that Polanski fails as an autobiographer (if it isn't the ghost writer's fault), but rather his autobiography succeeds at being completely Polanskian. A great blogger and critic, Kim Morgan, writes eloquently about Polanski's art, thinking mainly of Repulsion: "Polanski's removed morality is exactly why he is often brilliant: He is so empathetic to his characters that, like a trauma victim floating above the pain, he is personally impersonal. He insightfully scrutinizes what is so frightening about being human, yet he doesn't feel the need to be resolute or sentimental about his cognizance." In essence, Polanski's book brings us closer to the Holocaust and his crime, just as he brings us closer to Spilman in The Pianist, precisely because of how un-Spielbergian he is. He grasps the absurdity: floating on water is nothing, it's nothing.
Another perceptive writer on Polanski, and like Morgan a defender of his, is Professor Barry M. Dank, who notes how Polanski has probably suffered from survivor guilt most of his life, if not because of his mother, then because of Sharon Tate's murder. Dank is interested in the 1976 little seen marvel, The Tenant, where Polanski not only directs and writes with his collaborator Gerard Brach, but also plays the leading role, Trelkovsky. Dank believes that Polanski made The Tenant as an exercise of his own "survivor guilt," and needed to play the role of a lonely man who moves into a Parisian apartment where the prior occupant had committed suicide. Trelkovsky slowly loses his mind, or the world around him is losing it for him. He jumps to his own death not once, but twice, in a freakish kind of identification with the former tenant. He is acting out his death wish. Dank writes, "[His] filmmaking may be viewed in part as representing a survivor mission, as a way of his expiating his guilt and his creation of a 'monument' to those he loved and to those whose deaths he could not prevent." Dank then quotes from Polanski's book, "In moments of unbearable personal tragedy some people find solace in religion. In my case the opposite happened. Any religious faith I had was shattered by Sharon's murder. It reinforced my faith in the absurd."
It did strike me as odd that Polanski did not spend a lot of time writing about The Tenant in his autobiography, indicating that there is something so personal to its insanity that it cannot be articulated. The film is a vivid, sardonic, and horrifying projection of a traumatized mind grappling with survivor guilt, Trelkovsky being one with Polanski, and the former tenant – identified as female – being an amalgamation of his mother and Sharon Tate, though at the conclusion we will note that the former tenant and Trelkovsky are one in the same: Polanski's futile exercise of fusing with the Dead.
The Pianist is another exercise of Polanski's survival guilt, made perhaps more palatable by using another historical figure's memoirs. There's a sense that the director is returning to the darkest corners of his childhood, which is to say the darkest terrain of the last century's collective memory, with the opening documentary images of Warsaw. There is no triumph at the end, or even crushing devastation. The sadness is of a banal flavor, with Spilman playing the piano as he did before the Holocaust. Despite what has changed, and as much that he and so many others have gone through hell, there is a feeling that nothing has really changed other than the absence of the dead.
The problem of Form and Content is the problem of the Public versus the Private. I mentioned that it was a theme in The Ghost Writer, and it is another of the filmmaker's great obsessions. The universe as he sees it is absurd, where there is entropy instead of progress. The reinforcing agents of the absurdity are the public rituals, ornaments, and laws of the social order that are fundamentally logical in their illogic. The public world always takes precedence to the private relationships between individuals. Polanski, after all, saw his private relationships sheared apart by the State, in Nazism, and then Communism. He describes himself as an Anarchist. His disregard for public laws was his undoing in America, as he engaged in an act that he did not understand was wrong in and of itself, even though he has confessed as much now. Adam Lang is told that he is guilty of war crimes because he made a loose authorization. "That's very sweeping," he says, perplexed that his lack of knowledge could possibly result in his imprisonment.
There is adherence then for the Laws, the Statutes, the Concrete explications of the world. But the Human problems, ephemeral and dealt with on a situational basis, with any number of vague causalities that defy a linear explanation, are ignored. The robotic world in The Ghost Writer reflects this, like Amelia Bly not wearing her wedding ring because it "bleeps" at the airport. Private contexts do not matter and everything is determined by language. The Ghost speaks of a past romantic relationship to Ruth, perfectly expressing problems of understanding and interpretation: "40,000 years of human language and there's no word to describe our relationship. It was doomed." If there is no word for it, no simple explanation, it does not exist.
And yet for the void within human interactions, we still insist on decorating our civilization quite ornately. Polanski's The Ninth Gate is fascinating in this regard. Panned on its 1999 European and 2000 North American release, the bizarre aura of the film turned off viewers expecting a bloody, supernatural horror film. It anticipates The Ghost Writer in its lack of answers and plethora of questions, as book hunter Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is hired by a collector, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), to verify the authenticity of a book authored by Satan. Corso travels from New York to Portugal to Paris in his quest, running into grotesque figures who soon become corpses. What is marvelous about The Ninth Gate is, much like The Ghost Writer, its perfection and attention to details, and how this relates to Corso's own profession. Throughout the film, Polanski focuses on characters handling wonderful leather-bound books that are hundreds of years old, creations of "master craftsmanship" in the binding and the paging. Yet for all of the literature we see in The Ninth Gate, whether it be the devil's autobiography or a four-volume 1780 edition of Cervantes' Don Quixote, there is a frustrating lack of talk regarding the content of the literature. Balkan and Corso are obsessed with books, but do not seem too preoccupied with reading. The magnificent books, as decorative objects, matter. Not their meaning. So at the end, their meanings are quite arbitrary, based on facile deconstruction as Balkan puts together a fuzzy interpretation of some artist's etchings. He believes he has identified with the devil, but is a victim to interpretive fallacy. He sets himself on fire and burns to death (or rather, Corso puts him out of his misery with a bullet). Like the gorgeous books, the sumptuously mannered film Polanski is directing, magnificently photographed by Darius Khonji, suggests so much based on its surfaces, while giving away few of its secrets. Perhaps there are no secrets to unspool, only the damning allure of them. The Ninth Gate’s conclusion is a cackling joke for Polanski, which made it hated upon its release just as it makes it beloved by many retrospective viewers now.
The mysterious "guardian" of Corso, a beautiful woman who may be the devil (Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner), has sex with him in front of Balkan's burning castle, Wojiech Kilar's thunderous gothic music rising to a crescendo with a female soprano screaming. As the woman's eyes change color and her face grows more satanic in sexual intensity, we feel something cataclysmic in proportions will happen. But no – the film cuts to the morning after. As they drive, Corso dully asks, "Is that it?" An atheist interested in the occult just as he is a pessimist enamored with romantic Hollywood conventions, Polanski is having a good laugh at our expense, as we, a horror film audience, are not unlike the cultists depicted in the film, expectant viewers waiting for the "mumbo jumbo" to happen. The devil is devoted to Form, not meaning or fulfillment. Corso is the devil's chosen one then. Balkan cares too much. The devil must be apathetic. Corso also becomes obsessed with the drawings that Balkan was bent on interpreting – but it's doubtful that he would bother interpreting them any more than he would discuss Cervantes.
Frantic is another Polanski thriller that seems linked to both The Ninth Gate and The Ghost Writer, and like the former it is probably a little undervalued. Released in 1988, Frantic is Polanski’s most mainstream film, with a big star (Harrison Ford) and a plot that steers into Cold War espionage territory. Dr. Richard Walker is in Paris with his wife to read a paper for a convention. Jet-lagged and with promises of lovemaking to come, he steps out of the shower to find her missing without a trace. His confusion turns to panic. The hotel clerks and the French authorities are no help to him, nor is the United States embassy. Everyone he encounters insinuates that he is being cuckolded, and when the details of the disappearance emerge (she left with a mustached man, his arm around her) it is increasingly difficult for him to tell his story and not think that he has been chumped. But Walker has faith in his wife. He says to an embassy official, "You're talking about my wife. You must be thinking about yours." Nevertheless, the whole of Frantic is seething with the foreboding of infidelity and the possibility that Sondra (Betty Buckley) is a duplicitous spouse.
It becomes clear that Sondra is not cheating, though. Middle Eastern terrorists have kidnapped her, believing that the suitcase mix-up at the airport has jeopardized the smuggling of a nuclear detonator. At this stage in the plot, Frantic seems to derail a little bit into Reagan Era clichés, gun fights, and car chases, but it remains fascinating to study Walker as a private man as compared to the public officials he has to deal with. Walker is an apolitical man ("We don't even vote," he tells the French police), dedicated solely to his family. He has no time for bureaucracy, and so is frustrated that he is forced to be engaged bureaucratically when his wife has been kidnapped. Not until the authorities understand the stakes – terrorists believe Sondra has access to a nuclear detonator – do they put forth much effort to help Walker. The idea is that the sentimental attachments of human beings are trifling to any governing structure or interests of the State. The only thing that matters to them is the acquisition of political and militaristic power, an old theme but an important one to Roman Polanski. At the conclusion of the picture, Walker recovers the detonator over the corpses of the terrorists and of the young woman that has helped him (Emmanuelle Seigner). "This?" he says to them, and throws it into the river, walking away with his wife. It's Polanski's middle-finger to bureaucracies that have plagued him his entire life, whether Fascist, Communist, or democratic. The ending of Frantic shows a garbage truck driving away from the camera, as if Polanski is acknowledging the 1980s action-movie clichés his film is embracing. Frantic deals with familiar action conventions, but it's also a movie very much focused on the precedence of private lives over public ones.
This may even make us think of Rosemary's Baby, where Rosemary has spent much of the picture keeping her unborn child from the organizations that would claim and control it, and whether that organization is a witches' coven or the law, it does not matter: They are, in Polanski's world, one in the same. Rosemary succumbs to the witches, becoming part of the organization, the coven, mothering her child Adrian. To obliterate the sanctity of privacy is a pact with the devil. We witness this again in Tess, where the strength of the title character (Nastassja Kinski) relates to her perseverance while trying to progress, only to be repeatedly rejected. She is sent to meet with her "aristocratic cousins," and ends up as a rogue's mistress; having a bastard son, she asks the local minister to baptize the child when it becomes deathly ill. She is told that to do so is impossible. She would rather leave Alec than be his mistress, and she will not allow her child to stay perpetually in purgatory; she baptizes him herself. Her strength remains unrewarded. Marrying the love of her life, Angel (Peter Firth), she is rejected when she admits to him her painful history. Broken and out of options, she saves her impoverished family by going back to Alec. But his mockery of her love for Angel (who comes back, begging forgiveness) drives her to kill him, the ultimate act of private and public rebellion. Tess triumphs where Rosemary fails. At the end of her journey, she is at Stonehenge, resting at a place older than history, "older than the d'Urbervilles." Death is the only place where individuals can be free for Polanski, and it is longed for by Tess throughout her adventure. When death approaches in the guise of police, she awakes and looks to the future: "Have they come for me? I am ready."
Polanski's magnificent adaptation of Oliver Twist is also about a character's flight from any kind of imposing structure, from the Law, where boys are sent to workhouses and made to work like machines, or from Crime, where boys are given perks and a stronger sense of camaraderie but are nevertheless owned and exploited by creatures like Fagin (Ben Kingsley) and Sykes (Jamie Foreman). Made after The Pianist with much of the same crew, Oliver Twist is almost a perfect accompaniment as a double feature with the earlier picture, where two characters are thrown into worlds, struggle to survive, and endure albeit with sadness in remembering those who did not end up as lucky. The Law is obstinate in Polanski's world, and very concrete. He gets a marvelous dig at the United States Justice system in his scene featuring the Magistrate Fang, who is eager to send Oliver Twist back to the workhouse even though the individual from whom Oliver has stolen, Mr. Brownlow, insists that the charges be dropped.
Judges and lawmen, or criminals like Sykes, are all equally sociopathic. They love to deal "justice" on others. Fagin tells Oliver, "They'll hang you for anything nowadays! They're so fond of hanging!" The ending of Oliver Twist is one of the most oddly moving moments in Polanski's body of work, and certainly in any film adapted from Charles Dickens. Oliver wants to see Fagin in his prison cell, just as the gallows are being prepared for the next morning. The moment that Fagin recognizes Oliver – whom he victimized as much as he took care of – the old man rushes to the child and embraces him, as if he were the only anchor to his sanity. Oliver is overwhelmed and looks to the ceiling, "Please have mercy on this poor, wretched man!" The heart of Oliver Twist, which is set in an unjust world, relates to this question of mercy and forgiveness, a sentiment bespeaking the greatest elements of our Nature, while also often standsing so contradictory to our statutes and the robotic reasoning of Law. Does Fagin deserve to hang? Probably. Does Polanski? Maybe, maybe not. The ecstasy of Oliver Twist is the kind of ecstasy that many of Polanski's pop-culture critics cannot begin to approach, namely the acknowledgment of the perpetrator's soul. Polanski's Fagin is much more soulful than Dickens', and a masterpiece of literary adaptation on the part of Polanski, screenwriter Ronald Harwood, and Ben Kingsley. In London, no one wants to understand Fagin anymore than bloggers and commentators want to understand Polanski.
Maybe a problem is that to meaningfully deliberate over the psychology of another human being, particularly a deviant human being, makes us privy to "the awful truth" about our own nature, something to which Polanski has devoted himself in his art. The awful truth is the History of Poland, which is rendered in his magnificent short, When Angels Fall, where the history of the country is a withering memory in an old spinster's mind as she oversees a public lavatory. In that instance, much like in later pictures such as Tess, The Pianist, and Oliver Twist, there is poignancy. In other films, the awful truth is completely horrifying, numbing. There is no certainty to sexual relationships at the conclusions of Knife in the Water, Cul de Sac, and Bitter Moon. Our best consciences and dreams of normality crumble under the weight of psychological duress in Repulsion, Macbeth, and The Tenant.
Chinatown is all about forbidden knowledge, and how knowing too much is to die of the truth. The film has several Oedipal allusions, beginning with the cuckolded husband (Burt Young) seeing Jake Gittes' (Jack Nicholson) photographs of his wife having sex with another man. The man beats on the blinds, a visual pun. Gittes understands that in such cases it would indeed be better to be blind (the wife will be rewarded with a black eye). Evelyn Mulray (Faye Dunaway) has a "flaw in her eye," and at the end of the picture, it is her eye that is shot out as her corpse slumps down off the steering wheel (an image created by Polanski, against screenwriter Robert Towne's wishes). At the center of forbidden knowledge and Oedipal allusions is Noah Cross, the millionaire who wants to control "the future." Cross had sex with his daughter Evelyn, and produced a child. Now Cross wants custody of the teenage girl, his granddaughter/daughter. Gittes confronts Cross about these perversions, to which the old man replies one of the most unnerving declarations in any film, particularly when we relate it to the director: "I don't blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people don't have to face the fact – the right time, the right place, they're capable of…anything!" Noah Cross is one of the most heinous villains in cinema, but he addresses a truism. He is as illuminating as Shakespeare's best villains, like Iago or Edmund, who both seem wiser than their heroic counterparts. The theme of Polanski is the theme of the 20th century, and beyond that, the theme of human nature in conflict with our civilization; that civilization is structured so as to save us from that nature, while at the same time in its gross efficiencies and stiff architecture, it exhibits some of the worst qualities of that nature. Noah Cross is the abyss, just as he is the most respected figure of society.
Death and the Maiden, adapted from Ariel Dorfman's play, has the victimizer facing not simply his victim, but the abyss of his fantasies, open to every human being. Dr. Roberto Miranda (Ben Kingsley, in what I believe is his best screen performance) may or may not have raped and tortured Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver). At the conclusion, Miranda is compelled to confess, peering over a cliff into the ocean. Miranda is not only Paulina's private rapist, but is emblematic of the fascist regime that has recently been overthrown and is in hiding from the democratic courts, headed by Paulina's husband, Gerardo (Stuart Wilson). Miranda is indeed duplicitous, but not evil, however much he acted with malice. On this cliff he confesses, and his confession is an act of suicide as much as it is his salvation. Revenge becomes meaningless. Everything in reaction is animal behavior. The world of the law, represented by Gerardo, is necessary. But it is a very thin veil over an absurd universe that, in its awful truthfulness, moves to a different beat and often may infect that veil of civilization that covers it. There is a little more knowledge at the end of Death and the Maiden, but the universe is just as mad and unresolved, perhaps more so. The revolution that would solve History only comes to confirm the frustration with labeling History.
Roman Polanski is one of the most important artists in the history of film, because of his unparalleled handling of these dark spaces, dealt with impeccable craft and manner, frustration, irritation, poignancy, and anger. To engage with Polanski is to engage with the elements of our Nature that we wish to ignore, and that we must reconcile with if we want to acquire a fuller sense of self-knowledge. Polanski the man may indeed be a villain. His films are not interested in judging private individuals because he believes that people are ceaselessly compelled by the impersonal structures governing under a flag of benevolence and justice. The Ghost Writer is a remarkable late installment in this marvelous life which is cosmopolitan and yet bound to his Polish heritage. It is a cinema that despairs over our collective and private histories. As terrible things continue to happen, the human race scampers, sometimes pathetically, to survive, and so does Polanski. It's a terrible world and a terrible life, where bliss is snuffed out by unseen circumstances, impulses snuffed of conscience. And yet any hope we have as viewers in conquering the abyss may be to acknowledge and gaze into the dark. For that, I am thankful for this man's existence, where the line between Being and Artist is confused, and magnificently – if terribly – so.
The Cinema of Roman Polanski
The Early Shorts (All Featured on Knife in the Water's 2-disc Criterion DVD)
Teeth Smile. 1957.
Break up the Dance. 1958.
Two Men and a Wardrobe. 1958.
The Lamp. 1959.
When Angels Fall. 1960.
The Fat and the Lean. 1961.
Knife in the Water. Scr. Jerzy Skolimowski, Jakub Goldberg, Roman Polanski. Neon Niemeczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanawicz. Kamera film Unit for film Polski, 1962.
Repulsion. Scr. Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach. Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Ferneaux, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Patrick Wymark. Compton/Tekli Film Productions, 1965.
Cul-de-Sac. Scr. Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach. Donald Pleasance, Francois Dorleac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran. Compton/Tekli Film Productions, 1966.
Dance of the Vampires / The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck. Scr. Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski. Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Alfie Bass, Jessie Robins, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne. Cadre Films- Filmways Incorporated, 1967.
Rosemary's Baby. Scr. Roman Polanski. Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Charles Grodin. Paramount Pictures, 1968.
Macbeth. Scr. Roman Polanski, Kenneth Tynan. Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Nicholas Selby, John Stride. Playboy Productions/Caliban Films, 1971.
What? Scr. Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski. Sydne Rome, Marcello Mastrioianni, Hugh Griffith, Romolo Valli, Guido Alberti, Roman Polanski. C.C. Champion/ Les Films Concordia/Dieter Geisler Produktion, 1973.
Chinatown. Scr. Robert Towne. Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrel Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski. Paramount Pictures, 1974.
The Tenant. Scr. Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski. Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Shelley Winters, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Bernard Fresson. 1976.
Tess. Scr. Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn. Nastassia Kinski, Peter Firth, Leigh Lawson, John Collin, Arielle Dombasle. Renn Productions/
Burrill Productions, 1980.
Pirates. Scr. Gerard Brach, John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski. Walter Matthau, Cris Campion, Charlotte Lewis, Damien Thomas. 1986.
Frantic. Scr. Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach. Harrison Ford, Emmanuelle Seigner, Betty Buckley, John Mahoney, Alexandra Stewart. Warner Bros, 1988.
Bitter Moon. Scr. Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach, John Brownjohn. Peter Coyote, Emmanuelle Seigner, Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Victor Banerjee. Fine Line / Alain Sarde, 1992.
Death and the Maiden. Scr. Rafael Yglesias, Ariel Dorfman. Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Stuart Wilson. Fine Line, 1994.
The Ninth Gate. Scr. Enrique Urbizu, John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski. Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner. Artisan, 1999.
The Pianist. Scr. Ronald Harwood. Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, Michal Zebrowski. Focus Features, 2002.
Oliver Twist. Scr. Ronald Harwood. Barney Clark, Ben Kingsley, Jamie Foreman, Harry Eden, Mark Strong, Leanne Rowe. Tri-Star, 2005.
The Ghost Writer / The Ghost. Scr. Robert Harris, Roman Polanski. Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Eli Wallach. Summit Entertainment, 2010.
God of Carnage. Scr. Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski. Kate Winslet, John C. Riley, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz. 2011.
Dank, Barry M. "On Roman Polanski." Dankprofessor's Weblog. 2009.
Edemariam, Aida. "I Think Tony Blair Would See the Joke." The Guardian. September 27, 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/sep/27/books.generalfiction
Eagleton, Terry. On Evil. Yale University Press, 2010.
Feeney, F.X., and Duncan, Paul. Roman Polanski. Taschen, 2006.
Irving, John. "A Regular Right-Down Good'Un." The Guardian. September 16, 2005.
Lore, Novalis. "The Tenant of Chinatown." September 17, 2010.
Morgan, Kim. "Rage, Roman and Repulsion." Sunset Gun. September 29, 2009.
Polanski, Roman. Roman. Pan Books, London. 1985.
Roman Polanski: Interviews. Paul Cronin, Ed. University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Dir. Marina Zenovitch. HBO Documentary Films, 2008.
Samskara Impressions. http://samskara.org/journal/
Sanford, Christopher. Polanski: A Biography. Palgrame Macmillan, 2008.
Toobin, Jeffrey. "The Celebrity Defense." The New Yorker. December 14, 2009.
Wexman, Virginia Wright. Roman Polanski. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1985
Painting: Polonia / Poland by Malczewski (1914)