Polan­ski’s young vic­tim takes 35-year-long road to nor­malcy

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Les­ley Hughes

THIS is a jaw-drop­ping story. Sa­man­tha Geimer is a hap­pily mar­ried mother of three sons liv­ing in Hawaii, but the ap­pear­ance of nor­malcy be­lies the hellish jour­ney that took her there.

In March 1977, Hol­ly­wood was rocked by what was un­doubt­edly one of film­dom’s most shock­ing scan­dals.

Ro­man Polan­ski, revered di­rec­tor of films like Knife in the Wa­ter, Rose­mary’s Baby and Chi­na­town, was ar­rested on charges of drug­ging and rap­ing a 13-yearold school girl.

The case would not be put to rest for more than 35 years, but de­spite its high pro­file and long life, many ques­tions went unan­swered, many mys­ter­ies re­mained un­ex­plained.

Who was the guilty party? An ag­ing youth-ob­sessed celebrity who felt en­ti­tled to take what­ever or whomever he wanted? An am­bi­tious lit­tle girl who had planned to se­duce him and earn her­self a fu­ture as an ac­tress?

Per­haps it was the girl’s mother, want­ing to live vi­car­i­ously through her daugh­ter’s po­ten­tial fame, and will­ing to put the child in harm’s way.

At the time and for long af­ter, every­body had an opin­ion but no­body had the facts about the Polan­ski story.

Now the girl at the cen­tre of the scan­dal has grown up and, as a sur­vivor of not only the rape, but all the trauma that fol­lowed, has put her ex­pe­ri­ences on the pub­lic record.

Her nar­ra­tive is gen­tle, self-ef­fac­ing, thought­ful and star­tling in its can­dour.

The Girl de­scribes the child­ish con­fu­sion and help­less­ness she brought to the crim­i­nal en­counter with Polan­ski.

It lays out the harsh de­tails of the in­juries she ex­pe­ri­enced at the hands of an ar­bi­trary, self-serv­ing jus­tice sys­tem as well as a sav­agely pruri­ent me­dia, but ex­tends for­give­ness to Polan­ski, whom she con­sid­ered also suf­fered un­nec­es­sar­ily over three decades of le­gal stu­pid­ity.

Sa­man­tha and her fam­ily wanted only for Polan­ski to ad­mit what he had done. They were con­tent with a pro­ba­tion­ary sen­tence in ex­change for pro­tect­ing the young­ster’s iden­tity and her hope for a nor­mal fu­ture.

But the vic­tim’s rights move­ment in the U.S. was still in the fu­ture, and the fam­ily’s wishes meant noth­ing. Mean­while, ev­ery­one but the vic­tim and the de­fen­dant, who could face spend­ing the rest of his life in prison, wanted a trial: the judge wanted to sit on top of the in­ter­na­tional me­dia frenzy; de­fence lawyers had suc­ceeded in de­stroy­ing the teenager’s cred­i­bil­ity and thought they could win; the press lob­bied for a trial like sharks on a crowded beach.

Polan­ski, at the same time, was a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent — a one-man money-mak­ing in­dus­try for Hol­ly­wood and its in­hab­i­tants. Mas­sive sym­pa­thy per­sisted for the 1969 mur­der of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of Charles Man­son.

Pub­lic em­pa­thy was in his cor­ner. Fi­nally, when a judge re­neged on a ne­go­ti­ated deal for his free­dom, the di­rec­tor fled the U.S. and never re­turned. A high-pro­file at­tempt to ar­rest and ex­tra­dite him in Switzer­land in 2009 failed.

Geimer writes that she for­gave Polan­ski not for his ben­e­fit but for her own. Clearly, she is en­joy­ing her new-found strength and free­dom from hate and se­crecy.

Read­ers will find her book a lu­cid and in­spir­ing tri­umph over an ap­palling event in Amer­ica’s celebrity cul­ture.

Les­ley Hughes in a Winnipeg-based writer and broad­caster.

The Girl A Life in the Shadow of Ro­man Polan­ski By Sa­man­tha Geimer

Atria Books, 265 pages, $30

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