Hollywood loves sheltering abusers. Until the #MeToo movement, people Like Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein roamed free like wolves in sheep’s clothing. While Polish and French filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested in 1977 for raping a minor in Jack Nicholson’s condo, he fled the country and has been a fugitive ever since. Polanski has, however, continued making films and even won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2003 for an Adrien Brody classic which is now streaming on Netflix.
While Hollywood was divided in their opinion regarding a serial abuser taking home this award and raised the art versus the artist debate, Polanski’s controversial notoriety found its creative outlet in various films that continues to this day.
Known for films like Rosemary’s Baby, Knife in the Water etc., Polanski was a survivor of the Holocaust and lost his parents to raids during the invasion of Poland. Holocaust formed an integral part of his formative years and was the dominant theme in the 2002 film The Pianist, starring Brody.
Adapted from an autobiographical narrative, the film is based on a Polish-Jewish pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose life undergoes a sea of change with the commencement of the Second World War.
After being forced to flee his home and his family and forced into the Warsaw Ghetto with other Polish Jews, he is saved in the nick of time by a friend during Operation Reinhard. He starts smuggling arms for a Jewish rebellion yet is forced to be on the run once again as he narrowly escapes capture.
He keeps going from one place to another, trying to find shelter and supplies while fighting illness. He is finally given shelter by a kind German officer named Hosenfeld, who provides food before Soviet forces defeat Germany.
As Szpilman, Brody became the youngest actor at 29 to win the much-coveted gong for Best Actor. The film is a harrowing commentary on the atrocities meted out to the Jews by the Nazis in the wake of the Second World War and receives a haunting, dramatic twist. Raw, moving and compassionate, the film is a powerful commentary on the brutality of warfare. Strangely poetic and haunting, the film records the devastation and chaos of those times and prevails as one of the best Holocaust films.
While Brody’s performance and the film, in general, are appreciated, one cannot escape the ghosts of Polanski’s past that continue to taint the film. While the Academy took less than a few days to evict Will Smith for his infamous outburst of violence at the Oscars in 2022, where he slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage for poking fun at Smith’s wife, the Academy took years before they suspended Polanski, but not before bestowing an Award upon him.
While we do not condone Smith’s actions and condemn his inability to control his emotions, it is appalling to see how Polanski managed to stay relevant and is still making films. While the other side of the spectrum might agree against the debate and laud Polanski’s artistry, it is important to acknowledge his victims’ continuous trauma and how their experiences are invalidated every time people like him receive some appreciation.
The Pianist is indeed a brilliant classic but a controversial one. Can you separate the director’s creative vision from his perverted personal quests while watching the film? Only you can tell.