Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Independent Film Guide - L

Lolita Movie Review

humbert lyne isn love

I wasn't supposed to read Lolita when I was 12, but I did, anyway, mostly because I wasn't supposed to read Lolita when I was 12. It's a very troubling book for a kid that age and I felt miserable the whole time I was reading it (with a homemade Heidi cover to fool the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Holy Rosary Convent School). Watching Adrian Lyne's Lolita on a hot Sunday evening in early August, I felt drenched with waves of sadness and the waves didn't subside after the movie was over; poor little Lolita with her dolls and her braces and her long nights alone crying for her lost mother. The very middle-aged Humbert Humbert claims to love her but he has no real use for her when he isn't having sex with her, and he slaps her and tries to control her at every turn. Somehow, because he's convinced himself he's in love with her, he affects a nauseating tone of ethical purity which is all the more irritating when delivered by the plummy voice of Jeremy Irons. It's an evocative reminder of his performance as Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited when he drooled endlessly over Sebastian and Julia Flyte. But Sebastian and Julia are grown-ups and Lolita is a child. ("I really do wish she would take a bath once in a while,” Vladimir Nabokov commented in the original novel.) The delusion here is that the child is the sexual aggressor even though she hasn't a clue about what her actions mean. I've actually heard guys say that if the kid wants it and the adult wants it, that's O.K., isn't it? It isn't, of course, for either of them, as Lyne's direction and Stephen Schiff's screenplay makes clear. Humbert falls into a malaise that's saturated with decay and Lolita (played with astonishing brilliance by Dominique Swain) correctly learns that sex equals power, but the only other things she learns are how to lie, scheme, and manipulate. The villain of the piece is meant to be Frank Langella as Clare Quilty, who's quite proud of his degeneracy, as opposed to Humbert and his non-stop torture wallow. Melanie Griffith (who used to play onscreen nymphets herself in her early teens) is Lolita's mother, who has the bad luck to imagine herself in love with Humbert. In Stanley Kubrick's 1962 interpretation of Lolita as a black comedy, each of the four key characters was played on a very arch note by James Mason, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers, and Shelley Winters. Lyne's emphasis on the jugular exposes Lolita's corrupted childhood as the tragedy it really is—poor little Lolita, crying alone for her lost mother because the man in the next room is too lust-ridden to comfort her or to acknowledge his systematic destruction of her life. (The score by Ennio Morricone, available on compact disc, is outstanding.)

1997 (R) 137m/C Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella, Dominique Swain, Suzanne Shepherd, Keith Reddin, Erin J. Dean; D: Adrian Lyne; W: Stephen Schiff; C: Howard Atherton; M: Ennio Morricone. VHS

London Kills Me Movie Review [next] [back] Lolita Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or