Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Ah Lolita...has there ever been a novel cum film that has aroused ( ha ha ha, puns!!! ) so much controversy that was nothing more than a storm in a tea cup??? I have not yet read the novel and have meant to for some time...well since 1997 in fact when I saw Lolita at my local theatre!! I more than ever wish to delve between, oops, into...oops ( ha ha ha...between, into!! ) its pages. God there was a real load of teeth knashing and all other sorts of other histrionic nonsense when it was released here in NZ. It is incredible how one of the truely great novels can be so mis-understood, and hence controversial. It is not an erotic novel, let alone condoning sex with silly little schoolgirls. When will they learn????
 I remember Lolita very vivdly from 1997. As I watched it last night I could recall almost every scene and detail. I will admit to absolutely loving this film and I still rate it as one of the best from the 1990's. It was interesting because it had an extremely short run here in Napier, something less than a week, and only a few screenings. I went to the first one and all the 'alternative lifestylers' and hippies came out of the woodwork. I felt like I was the freak being the more straight laced one here!!!!!
 I wish very much that I had read the book in the intervening years since I first saw this. I was in absolute anticipation of watching it again after fourteen years, and it was with trembling fingers that I slipped the disc in ( anticipation? trembling fingers? slipped it in?....more puns??!!! ). I was twenty seven when I first saw this and am now almost forty one. To this very day I can recall every feeling this film brought out in me. It was interesting that the same scenes, etc, done the same thing and yet I felt differently ( felt!! stop it, stop it!! ).
 When I first saw this I was left a feeling of dis-comfort. Lolita was too close to the truth for comfort. I re-call vividly squirming in my seat at times as I was faced with some realities I hadn't seen, or even knew were in myself. I think any male of any age over twenty five will feel what I did. It is unsettling because it thrusts into your face your sexuality and your attraction to females. Where does that attraction stop age wise? Sensibility is one thing, but your natural maleness is another and Lolita will conflict both within yourself. It did in me!! Fourteen years later I found the sensations of what Lolita did to me nowhere near as unsettling, just more thought provoking in terms of my own age and how I have developed sexually over those last years. Same film but differing appreciations and awareness of myself. It was quite instructive, and for any red blooded male who watches, self revealing. Believe me guys, ALL of you will 'get' Lolita in your own personal way.
 Lolita for all males will bring out differing reactions. Some will envy Jeremy Iron's Humbert Humbert his liaison with the fourteen year old Lolita, who seduces him with your youthful beauty and sexual awareness. Others will be disgusted and think him a pervert, others will be ambivalent and not be woried either way, and yet others will secretly envy him and yet put on a face of disapproval. Most females will find him abhorent and will think he should have his danglies cut off with a rusty razor blade. This is the power of Lolita to be all things to all people and yet devide them all so much. There are no real rights or wrongs here. Both Humbert and Lolita sin. It is the viewer who must decide who is the worse of the two.
 Humbert is seduced by Lolita. Is he wrong for that? She is certainly a sexual little minx who, even at fourteen, knew that she was under age and gave herself up sexually. Was she wrong? Both of them are really. He should have known better and she shouldn't have tempted him. For me Humbert didn't take anything from her that she wasn't giving. She wasn't a virgin and very sexually aware, but still, she was technically a child and he should have kept it in his pants. Her sexual maturity was no excuse to bed her or be bedded by her. Once 'charlie' came out of the 'boat', they were both doomed.
 Jeremy Irons is just brilliant as Humbert. He impressed me in '97 and again last night. He captures the inner torment of his secret desire for young girls and the face he puts on to disguise it. You see his 'face' crumble though as he first sees Lolita and begins surreptiously watching her from the corner of his eye. He knows his attraction isn't considered normal and he is caught between wanting to see, and not be seen doing so. What I liked right throughout the film is how Humbert narrates to the viewer. As each scene passes, and he falls deeper and deeper into the mire, he tells us how he couldn't pull back and wished he hadn't let it go so far, and yet was glad he did.
 'Gentlewomen of the jury' he says. It is instructive that he is defending and condeming himself at the same time to the woman viewers. He knows what they are thinking of him and also knows the ambivalence within the male audience. This is definitely a film that will have viewers arguing afterwards!! Again though, this is not an erotic story. Yes there is sex but very deftly done, after all Dominique Swain was only fifteen at the time. It is more about obesession and its inherent dangers. Humbert falls for Lolita completely and won't let her go even when she bores of him and wants her own independance.
 Dominique Swain is a perfect nymphet little Lolita!! She has the face and the inherent sexuality of a young girl who isn't innocent anymore. She absolutely oozes sexuality and Humbert doesn't stand a chance against her. Amazingly Swain after Lolita hasn't starred in another decent role since. She has done obscure roles that have lead no-where. In Lolita she displays an incredible amount of talent and surely should have gone on to bigger things. A real talent wasted me thinks.
 Swain was fifteen when she made Lolita and squeezed out two thousand five hundred other girls for the role. She is magnificent as a fourteen year old and the makers have brought her teen-ness to the fore. I like the way she sits where you see her knickers exposed. Very teenage girly, and true to life. We all have friends with teenaged daughters and see this from them quite often. She is at that age where she is still a child and yet growing aware of herself. Unintentionally showing off her knickers still isn't a bother to her in the way it will be in a few more years. Swain was a teen herself but she plays a sexually prococious girl perfectly, and alot of men watching her will be asking themselves some very searching questions!
 Melanie Griffith is somewhat mis-cast and wooden. Her character, as the mother of Lolita, gets the classic 'what you don't know can't hurt you' treatment when she breaks into Humbert's locked draw and reads his diary. We feel sympathetic as she reads his true feelings about her and her disgust at his attraction to Lolita. But at he same time the draw was locked and reading a diary is a pretty low thing to do anyway. Better to have left alone for if she had Humbert would never have got anywhere near Lolita. Again one of those fates of nature unravel and the coming events gain a momentum of their own. It is another example in the film of right and wrong and the consequences of making the wrong decision. Griffith made the wrong decision and in her fury was killed by not paying attention. By doing so she inadvertantly opened the way for Humbert.
 Frank Langella as Charles Quilty puts in a really good performance as an eccentric man with an attraction to young girls like Humbert's. In many respects he is worse because he likes to film them in naughty situations with boys. He latches on to Humbert and his 'doings' and follows both Herbert and Lolita, eventually stealing off with her. Herbert loses it and frantically hunts for her but the trail runs cold and he never catches up with her again. Interestingly Langella does a full frontal nude scene. It is symbolic that the viewer sees a man's nakedness when the film is supposedly about a young girls deflowerment by two older men. Why not her naked? Something  more to ponder. 
 Three years later Humbert gets a letter from her asking for money as she is married and pregnant. He goes to her and asks who she went off with and also if she'll go with him right there and now. She refuses. Humbert can't figure out it was just a game to her and that Charles Quilty was the guy she preferred over him. He leaves, but not before seeing that she is no longer the nymph she was. And yet he still desires her. He reminds us of her face..'one look at that face', he narrates to us as lolita looks at him. She is seventeen, with glasses, and 'full with another man's baby', but she is still beautiful and Humbert can't let go.  Herbert leaves and hunts Quilty down and kills him. He can't forgive or forget his loss of Lolita to him.
 The film ends with him being arrested and saying to the viewers that he stole Lolita's childhood. He sees the error of his seduction by her and what she lost because of it. The screen fades to black and we find out that he died in prison not long after and Lolita a month later during child birth. Ulimately they both paid for their sins becasue they were both guilty in their own way.
 This film is apparently faithful to the novel but without some of its apparent cynicism and black humour. I must read it asap. I can't call Lolita controversial because I see no controversy. It is absolutely not an erotic film or condoning of under age sex. It is about obssession and the price that can be paid for it because obssessions, more often than not, lead to poor decision making, which then leads to the price being paid in some way or other. It is also a film that is thought provoking and will devide opinions about the moral rights and wrongs of both Humbert and Lolita. For me they are each at fault and both should have known better and kept theirs hands of each other. Lolita knew the game she was playing even at fourteen and Herbert was old enough to have known where his actions would lead.

Could you resist?? Dominique Swain in a promotional shot.
 Lolita is a fine film. Absolutely flawless, and one of the great films of the 1990's. Ignore the controversy becuase it is really about nothing. Just enjoy a very thought provoking film that you will think about for many years afterwards. It is as good a film as you will ever see, and like me I'm sure you will return to it several times throughout your life.
Highly, highly recommended.
Click here for a synopsis and more:

 I also highly recommend a visit to wikipedia and l the page dedicated to this film. It has interesting information on it, the 1962 Stanley Kubrik version, and the novel. Well worth a look see.


  1. Have never seen the remake mainly because I'm a Kubrick fan, that being said your review really make this 2nd go around worthwhile.

  2. Yes, a very good film. Great observations here, it certainly raises many questions and responses about how society and biology don't always mix well. That said, the book is even better, although I wouldn't compare them as they both do their job just fine..

  3. Daniel..
    I believe Kubrik's version was very sanitised in keeping with the times. This believe me is an excellent film. I think you will enjoy it.

    Brent...I agree it is an excellent film, even without the content it is still very good .I am intending to read the book as soon as I can. It is one of the very few films I have watched that have made me question myself. You are right it is biology versus socity and how they don't mix. Well put. I think it is definitely a film each guy will personally experience inhis own way.

  4. Excellent review. For me, Lyne's version works better than Kubrick's (there's a sentence I never thought I'd type!) because he works in more of Nabokov's novel, particularly the details of the girl Humbert was infatuated with before Lolita.

  5. I haven't actually seen Kubrik's version. I would like to and compare the two. I really like this version though and have been thinking about it since I watched it the night before. Great movie and sooooo thought provoking.