by Douglas Messerli
Robert Harris and Roman Polanski (screenplay, after the novel by Robert Harris), Roman Polanski (director) The Ghost Writer / 2010
Just when it appeared that Roman Polanski had disappeared from an active film career—after a five year hiatus in directing a full-length feature film and imprisonment in a Swiss prison for his crimes in the USA in 1977 (see My Year 2009)—the noted Polish director has appeared to have outdone Houdini, recovering his art in an elegantly complex political thriller, The Ghost Writer, a work at once visually stunning, excitingly scripted, and heighted by a well-crafted score with near perfect sound.
It is hard to imagine that Polanski was forced to edit this film in prison, but he has always battled adversity in his work, and it is apparent that when he is cornered, he pours his life into his art.
A man (Ewan McGregor), named throughout the film only as The Ghost, has been hired, with much resistance on his part, to replace the former Ghostwriter to the British ex-Prime Minister, Adam Lang. Lang refers to him only as "Man."
Although Lang's lovely home is as moderne as they come, it might as well be a creepy Victorian mansion the way Polanski infuses it with dark intrigue. Lang's wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) screams out at someone upstairs, while Lang's blonde secretary (Kim Cattrall) cheerily organizes and protects her employer while simultaneously oozing sexuality. Even the cook and driver seem suspicious. The Ghost is permitted to read Lang's original version of his memoir only in one room, and is unable to take any of its pages from the house, where it is locked away in a code-protected cabinet. An attempt to download the manuscript on his own computer sets the house afire with warning bells. As The Ghost proclaims this haunted tomb-like domicile is "Shangri-La in reverse"; "I'm aging."
Although The Ghost may now be haunting the Langs, he is, strangely enough, completely innocent and therefore doomed to repeat the pattern of his predecessor. Worried about his absence, Ruth comes to bring him home, whereupon he tells her all that he has discovered. She, it is clear, is highly troubled by the news, and, after a long walk in the rain, returns home to crawl into The Ghost's bed.
It is suddenly clear that The Ghost is "in the gap," caught between both sides, even if those perimeters are not yet clear. Having now told both Ruth Lang and Kroll everything, The Ghost has little chance to survive.
Despite all he now understands, The Ghost is still a fool, as he writes the phrases he has discovered on a piece of paper and passes it forward through the crowd to Ruth. She now knows that he knows. But surely it does not matter. The Ghost was dead before the story began. And this Ghost, it is apparent, living only in the shadows of others, was never, as Ruth taunted him, able to do anything of his own.
Los Angeles, April 8, 2010