The moral limitation of Polanski’s work derives from his being, to some degree, a sufferer from the symptoms he identifies, writes Leo Robson.
The backbone of Polanski’s body of work is formed by three kinds of narrative – the testing of an unequal marriage, the humbling of a complacent professional, and the crumbling of a lonely mind – and few of his films buck all trends to any significant degree. Frantic, for example, a cleverly exasperating thriller about a Paris kidnapping, has similarities with other humbling narratives – Chinatown, The Ninth Gate and The Ghost – including a tendency to frustrate a major star, this time Harrison Ford, in petty ways, but it lacks some of the things they share: a corpse in water, the sense of thwarted rebellion against one’s place in the food chain, a downbeat ending. The Pianist, one of two films, along with Oliver Twist, that deals directly with the personal experience to which Polanski’s other work gives oblique or allusive treatment, belongs to the lonely-mind genre only in its second half, once ghetto turns to wasteland. (Polanski started off writing his own films, or working closely with the authors of original screenplays, then, having found his formula, turned to adapting source material, much of it strikingly well-matched to his interests and strengths.)
Roman Polanski photograph: SNAP/Rex Features