No one can ever accuse Roman Polanski of being a director with mundane motifs or repetitive themes in his work to date, tackling horror, film noir, World War II and even Charles Dickens he proves his strength in versatility. His new piece ‘The Ghost Writer’ is no exception, a political thriller it’s relevant now more than ever and still a directorial change concerning Polanski’s previous filmography.
Looking back Polanski directed a film adaptation of Ira Levin’s occult bestseller ‘Rosemary’s Baby’; it’s still as innovative and as dark as when it was released in 1968. John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow play a young couple that move into an old apartment building in New York that also holds residence to a Manhattan Devil cult who plan to impregnate Farrow’s character ‘Rosemary’ with the son of Satan. Bringing substantial meaning to the term ‘Neighbours from Hell’. One of the few graphic horror scenes where Rosemary is raped by Satan ended up being ranked #23 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Pushing forward the horror genre by keeping the tension in the perceived overfriendly nature of neighbours and personal paranoia, further suggesting that home and community can be just as unsettling as anywhere else. In a current climate of unnecessary gore and blood there a few horror films today that manage to maintain terror through viewers own imagination.
Knowing the triumph and acclaim wouldn’t last long Polanksi quickly dived into a completely different project, leading to one of the most celebrated films of all time ‘Chinatown’. Jack Nicholson plays the familiar protagonist Jack Gittes a former cop now private investigator who becomes entangled in corruption and greed surrounding a water crisis in 1937 California, after he finds what appears to be a simple adultery case is much more than he bargained for. One interpretation is that ‘Chinatown’ is actually a metaphor for complex place best left alone and the idea of never really being able to know someone at full capacity. Jack Gittes is punished for his meddling not only ends up betraying and loosing his lead love but becomes insignificant against the higher corrupt social structure.
In The Pianist the theme of redemption through art takes centre stage although in cinema not a new focus, but it’s extremely apt for a director who has experienced so much. Without being soppy or weak, Polanski tells story of Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman and his struggle to maintain graceful art in Nazi Germany. As a young child himself, Polanski’s family lived in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow. They witnessed as a wall went up to keep them inside. A similar scene appears in The Pianist which highlights the enormous dread which leads the films suspense.
Polanski has remained prolific despite large gaps in work and a life marred by tragedy and controversy shortly after the success of rosemary’s baby August 1969, his pregnant wife actress Sharon Tate, Frykowski, Folger and two others were infamously savagely murdered by Charles Manson and three of his followers at the Polanski residence. Later in 1977 he was also arrested for the sexual assault of a 13 year old girl.
2010 sees the release of the long awaited ‘The Ghost Writer’ starring Pierce Brosman and Ewan McGregor. Its centers around a once popular fallen from grace public figure fearing imprisonment and extradition. Although it could be argued similar to Polanski’s current personal situation, on the basis of the larger plot of the film, it’s more likely to be Tony Blair. A successful ghostwriter takes on the job of writing the memoirs of previous shamed British Prime Minister Adam Lang, but soon realizes his opportunity comes at the mysterious unexplained death of the last ghost writer. At quick entertainment value it does its purpose as a high-octane political thriller.Admittedly it does lack the support of greatly weaved screenplays as ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Chinatown’ but its impossible for any director to stay at the height of their creative peak forever. Polanski shows he’s still capable of doing what he does best depicting the charm and malice in all of us.