OK, here goes. I’ve been fretting about this Polanski business ever since his arrest – like practically everyone else in the western world I hadn’t given it more than the occasional thought before that, which is part of what makes it all so problematic – because it is problematic, however much people would prefer it not to be. And I’ve found myself flip-flopping in line with whatever I’ve found myself reading, but not happy, or not entirely happy, or entirely not happy when Woody Allen threw his ill-advised oar in. I’ve been shocked by the details in the trial transcript, which I’m sure you’ll have read by now, perturbed by the knee-jerk support of people in the film business, perturbed, more ambiguously, by the people whose rage seems so insistent, and personal, as though they’d been drugged themselves, and sodomised (because abortion was already an issue?), and wondered, as the girl must have done at some point during what should have been a photo session (though for what? with whom?), where her mother was and why she’d been left alone with this famous, influential man, as though these people – columnists, opinion-makers, moralists - were victims themselves. As though they’d been raped themselves, and had only just remembered, because, let’s face it, every journalist in the western world has known for three decades – during which they watched The Pianist (*****) and Frantic (****) and Oliver Twist (**) - what Polanski did, and remained silent, as though the girl had never existed. This isn’t what they say now, of course. But the strange thing, when you reach the punch line of most of these intensely-written and passionate articles, is that it doesn’t seem to be about the girl at all. The people who appear to be most upset don’t put themselves in her shoes, but in those of her parents, as though the only way the abuse of a teenager can be appreciated is through the idea of one’s emotional property, one’s own child, being damaged, although this didn’t appear to be an issue at the time, to the people (person?) whose child she was. What about her? I wonder. Why can’t we ask ourselves what it might have been like to be her? Isn’t that vivid, and dreadful, enough? But the big question seems to be: How would you feel if he’d done that to your daughter? And to deal with this sense of displaced outrage these people invoke the notion of justice, that vast transparent edifice in which all deserts are just. Suddenly all their capacity for empathy, employed so liberally (if that isn’t too dirty a word) in defence of an imaginary victim’s putative parents (How would you feel...?), is replaced by the law, the law that treats all of us as one, as equals, whether we’re Nazi war criminals or their victims, or their victims’ children. Well, I can’t argue with that. That’s what law does, it’s inexorable, and indifferent, and grinds on, and so on, and we couldn’t live (safely) without it. And, of course, that’s what it ought to be doing with Polanski, and now that it is I only wonder, if perhaps it had all been a little clearer after he’d plea bargained and then run scared because it looked as though someone, a judge, was about to pull a fast one, whether it might not have been better done three decades ago, when the crime took place. Still, this is what justice does, and it does it by pretending that the state of the judicial art it applies has a kind of permanence and isn’t influenced by mood and ethical fashions, but somehow rises above all that, and is atemporal, and belongs to all of us. And as a social being, and respecter of justice, I respond to that, however much it suspends disbelief. But justice isn’t all we have. Because we know that justice may be absolute, but the truth is never that. The truth is temporal, and relative, and riddled with doubt. Maybe what our heart of hearts should be concerned with is not what justice requires, but what it must be like to be the other, to put ourselves not only in the easy, blood-stained, commodious shoes of the victim, but in the narrower, less forgiving, toe-pinching footwear of the perpetrator.