The talk and counter-talk about Roman Polanski has grown so fierce, I can't even think straight.
Let's separate the facts from the chatter. These are the facts:
1) Polanski had a horrible life before 1977.
Both his parents were in Nazi concentration camps, and his mother died in Auschwitz. His seemingly fairy-tale marriage to actress Sharon Tate ended tragically, in 1969, when she was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers.
2) Polanski was a talented filmmaker before 1977.
His early career was marked with some terrifying thrillers: "Knife in the Water," "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby." His "Chinatown," bolstered by Robert Towne's Oscar-winning script and Jack Nicholson's performance as J.J. Gittes (not to mention Polanski's nostril-slitting cameo), is a noir masterpiece.
3) Polanski committed a terrible crime in 1977.
Having sex with a 13-year-old girl is rape, plain and simple. Giving that 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne beforehand is also illegal.
4) Polanski and his lawyers made a plea bargain.
In a plea deal with the L.A. County district attorney's office, Polanski pleaded guilty to a single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He was ordered to submit to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, and served 42 days in a state prison in California.
5) Polanski fled the U.S. before final sentencing in 1978.
Fearful that the trial judge, Laurence J. Rittenband (who died in 1994), would renege on the agreed-upon sentence, Polanski flew to Europe -- where he has lived ever since.
6) Polanski has continued to be a talented filmmaker since 1977.
He's made some stinkeroos, like "Pirates" and "The Ninth Gate." But "Frantic" was an exciting thriller, "Death and the Maiden" was a solid adaptation of the one-set play, and "The Pianist" in 2002 (for which Polanski won a best-directing Oscar) is one of the best movies about the Holocaust ever made.
7) Polanski was arrested in Zurich on Sept. 26.
Swiss police nabbed Polanski at the airport, on an outstanding arrest warrant from Los Angeles. Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the United States -- something France, where Polanski is a citizen, does not.
Everything else about the Polanski case is speculation, chatter and moralizing, on all sides.
On the one hand, there are the voices in the film world in support of Polanski. In the days after his arrest, some 100 directors and actors -- including Woody Allen (write your own joke here), Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar and David Lynch -- signed a petition demanding Polanski's release.
Others have raised arguments to downplay the crime: It was so long ago; he's a great artist; the victim has forgiven him; he's an old man and no threat to anyone.
There's also suspicion on the motives of the L.A. County D.A.'s office, springing to action after such a long dry spell. It's possible the D.A.'s office was reacting to the embarrassment over last year's acclaimed documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" -- which highlighted Rittenband's questionable conduct in the sentencing phase of Polanski's case.
The documentary's influence can be seen in the fact that a retired prosecutor, David Wells, who talked in the film about coaching Rittenband, last week recanted his statements in the film. (The Wells about-face was reported on the Web site The Daily Beast by Marcia Clark, who argued O.J. Simpson's murder case and is a living reminder of the skill of the L.A. County D.A.'s office in blowing high-profile cases.)
On the other hand, there are those who believe a rapist is a rapist is a rapist -- and no punishment, especially not the 42 days he already served, is harsh enough for him. (ABC News commentator Cokie Roberts said, in the online epilogue to Sunday's "This Week," "just take him out and shoot him.") Also, any argument that shows even a smidgen of sympathy for Polanski is an example of Hollywood elitism and immorality.
The facts are that the Polanski case hits so many of society's hot buttons -- rape and child abuse, celebrity privilege and celebrity obsession, Hollywood and foreigners -- that nobody can think straight about it.
The reality of the Polanski case falls somewhere between those two extremes. Polanski should face justice, once and for all, but the messy reality of his life -- and of the particulars of the case -- must be taken into account.
If resolution comes, it will be when Polanski finally stands before what he ran away from in 1978: a California judge. Even then, I'm afraid, this Hollywood story has no ending.
Sean P. Means writes the Culture Vulture in daily blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/vulture