Tag Archives: Lolita

XL Popcorn – Lolita

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 627/1007
Title: Lolita
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1962
Country: UK/USA

I recently had the delights of updating the 1001 Movie page because of the latest edition of the book. For the first time ever, my numbers have remained static as I had seen as many of the entries that came in as those who went out. I still live in hope that there will be a complete overhaul of the list since years like 2011 are chronically under-represented, but I may have watched everything before that happens.

Anyway. How do you make a movie out of Lolita? I know that’s a bastardised version of the tagline, but it’s a valid question. You’re talking about adapting a novel where a grown man has sexual relations with a 12-year-old.  They couldn’t even do that in the 1997 version let alone in the years of the Hays Code. Still, you have to credit Kubrick for trying… and making the compromise of her being played by a 14-15 year old Sue Lyon.

As someone who has read the book, it was interesting to watch Kubrick’s take on it. The biggest issue with this adaptation, at least for me, was the loss of the unreliable narrator. Humbert Humbert is a charmer and charlatan who spins a web of fiction around his real story that he tells through a series of monologues. That was the true beauty of reading Lolita and is incredibly hard to do in visual media. So, I can’t blame Kubrick for leaving it out.

In it’s place Kubrick is a lot more explicit in showing us the Humbert’s cruel and psychotic side. Rather than him narrating his plans to drown his wife (Shelley Winters did wonders with this role) he laughs at the note she leaves declaring her love for him. Similarly, we now have no history or context for Humbert’s hebephila… it just appears that there is something special about Lolita rather than this being a pattern of his. Again, something is lost.

What I cannot deny is the level of acting on display by the four leads. Of course Peter Sellers steals the entire thing because, you know, it’s Peter freakin’ Sellers. However, I have to give huge props to Sue Lyon who is able to stand her group despite the fact that she is surrounded by seasoned actors. Such a pity that her career stalled within a few years of this being released.

I’ve said things that would make it sounds otherwise, but I did enjoy this take on Lolita. It isn’t completely true to the book, but neither was The Shining. In all of these changes I only have one big gripe that I wish would be edited out since we no longer live in the Hays Code world. As a cheap epilogue it is announced that Humbert dies of heart complications as he is awaiting trial (since in Hays Code world a murderer must be seen to be punished or killed). It’s such a throwaway and I cannot help but wonder if it was the inspiration for this sight gag in The Simpsons:

It’s a small thing that marrs the ending of a good film. I didn’t think this was as great as I have been led to believe, but I guess that’s the issue with reading the book first. So much was lost in the translation from book to screen and Lolita suffers for it.

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Let’s Get Literal: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 28/100Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Year: 1955
Country: France

I am really conflicted about this novel. I have no doubt about the fact that I am really happy to be able to say that I have read Lolita. I am also glad that I did NOT read this when I was a teen, because I might have missed the point entirely.

Humbert Humbert (the narrator and central paedophile of the novel) is a sociopath and a monster. He is not necessarily a monster just because he wants to have sex with 12-14 year old girls. There are enough people out there who suffer from this predilection without acting on it. People who hate themselves and end up taking their own lives because they can never be rid of their urge.  Humbert, however, does act on it and he doesn’t care as long as he is able to get off. No doubt about it, he ruins the life of the titular Lolita (name: Dolores Haze) as he never really makes the connection that she is a person and not his dream made flesh.

AND YET

Humbert is charming. He is a smart man, who enjoys word play and is able to generate sympathy. At no point in this book did I forget that it was Humbert who was meant to be writing this book. He tries to generate pathos early on by explaining the reason he fancies young girls (due to a childhood girlfriend dying). Here’s the thing though, he’s probably lying.

In fact, there is very little in the book that could be considered 100% truthful apart from his feelings of infatuation with this young girl. It is clear that, in his own way, Humbert truly loved Dolores (I am reluctant to call her ‘Lolita’ since that is the name he uses). He is obsessively in love with her to the point that he murders one man and is culpable of manslaughter of someone else.

He shows little emotional awareness of others until towards the end of the book, where he talks about moments when he realizes that Dolores was scared or afraid. As she grows, he becomes aware more and more of how he has effected her. It’s more than a case of too little, too late. However, it goes a long way to explain why, as he sits in jail, he is admitting to these crimes.

To Humbert, maybe this confession is his attempt at atonement. Most likely, it’s an act of ego-stroking. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking book.