“I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!”
Everyone gets sprung at some point. It is just a fact of life. But getting sprung on a 14 year old as an older middle aged man? That is not exactly normal. And this is the premise of Lolita, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita begins somewhat unconventionally, as a murder occurs in a mansion after quite the lengthy conversation. Quickly after, the film introduces Humbert Humbert, a professor from Europe moving to the U.S. for an instructional position. Needing a place to rent, he takes the offer served on a platter by Charlotte Haze, a widowed woman looking for some male companionship in her life. What sells him on the renting situation? Charlotte’s daughter, a 14 year old stunner named Lolita.
For some reason, there is something about this girl that drives males crazy, and Humbert is just the latest to fall victim. A love triangle ensues between Lolita, Humbert, and Charlotte. Despite being unattracted to Charlotte, Humbert will do anything to get closer to Lolita, even if that means marriage to the elder Haze. After some interesting circumstances, it looks as if Humbert will finally have Lolita all for himself. But when you’ve got what Lolita’s got, other men are always going to be lurking…
Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, Lolita is one of the works in his filmography that is often overlooked. It is one of his earlier full length films and at times, it shows. But, it is a pretty effective tale of uncomfortable romance mixed with parental overtones. Even today with stories of these situations in the news, it does not dull the effect of the film. While not necessarily uncomfortable to watch, it is still disturbing to think about a “romance” like this.
One would think that a movie dealing with this subject matter would be really heavy handed, and in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth. Lolita is really a comedy. Dark comedy sure, but comedy nonetheless. There is something inherently humorous seeing the depths as to which James Mason’s character of Humbert will go to appease, and be with Lolita. Some of his reactions to various occurrences within the story are comedic gold; namely there is one scene that is forever etched into my brain. Both he and Charlotte are hilariously pathetic in their pursuit of their intended targets. Additionally, there are many subtleties nestled in-between dialogue that sort of serves as a middle finger by Kubrick to the MPAA, who forced Kubrick to tone down the film.
Lolita is an adapted screenplay from the novel. At the core it is roughly the same story, but many and sometimes key details found in the novel are either removed or tweaked to a certain extent. I have never read the book, but after viewing comparisons between the two mediums used to tell the story, it does appear that Kubrick could have expounded on a few more elements.
For one, it is never told why Humbert immediately takes a liking to Lolita. It is quickly assumed as “love at first sight,” but there is no indication that he is into this type of thing, it just happens which seems a bit odd. Some narration on Humbert’s part would have alleviated this problem, and Kubrick does use it but not enough. The story is told from Humbert’s perspective, so why not take full advantage of that fact? As far as the pacing goes, some scenes drag on longer than needed. The banter between characters is generally entertaining but a few times the dialogue sorely needed to be shortened.
During its nomination year, Lolita received many well-deserved nominations, mainly for acting. James Mason possesses a cool and regal persona throughout this movie, and does so while providing humor and drama. Shelley Winters serves as the harlot’s mother, and her efforts go unrecognized in comparison to others. She brings an awkwardness to the movie, but at the same time is able to make the audience feel her pain. Between seconds she is able to switch from starved and desperate to a wretched woman. Peter Sellers was one of the great comedic actors of his time, and his portrayal as the mysterious Clare Quilty is memorable, albeit too eccentric and over the top in moments.
But Sue Lyon steals the show in the title role. Mind you, this was her first every acting performance, and at 14 she never appears out of place with legends on the screen. She possessed a sort of hypnotic gaze that seizes the viewer’s attention and tells a story of a girl knowing way too much about the world than she should at her particular age.
Kubrick was always praised for his unique and innovative directing. With that said, do not go into this expecting amazing cinematography on par with his later stuff in his catalog. Many scenes are shot and then fade to black, leaving what happens to the viewer’s imagination as Kubrick had to be really careful with the content. That is not to say there are not extremely well done shots, as Kubrick definitely knows when to use certain camera angles and how to hold a shot. As a whole though, this is one of his more “basic” works from a technical standpoint.
Lolita is ultimately not as well crafted as Kubrick’s subsequent films, and does drag occasionally. While probably not as shocking as it was in 1962, it is still worth a watch for its controversial subject matter and all-around great acting work.
Photo credits go to en.wikipedia.org, movieposters.2038.net, styleweekly.com, and watch32.com
Follow me @Markjacksonisms
Great review. The book is fascinating – Nabokov’s writing and character development is first rate. This one is definitely on my watch list!
Thanks! I’ve never read the book but from what I have read the book (as in most cases) is more thorough and a better work than the film.
The film is good, but not without its flaws. And you can tell this is earlier Kubrick.
Not sure if I’m into this sort of flick but I know how great the director is so perhaps it will be viewed one day! The Shining is one of the greatest horror films of all time! So this is certainly a man who learned from his mistakes! Even though this film is still considered good!
I’d recommend giving it a watch eventually but maybe after his more acclaimed films. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, 2001, Shining, and Full Metal Jacket are all better.
But it is a cool look to see Kubrick as still a young and not completely polished director!
Oddly, I’m about to see this for the first, too. Probably later tonight. I hope I like it at least as much as you do, if not more.
Thanks! All in all I do think it was a good film if a bit drawn out and yet underdeveloped at the same time. But still intriguing!
Arguably Kubrick’s most controversial film. But a long, long, way from his best. This was the first time that he tried B movie style titillation, the other one that springs to mind being… er.. that awful movie with Cruise and Kidman that I cant even bother to remember the title of or look up. In reality Kubrick made very few movies but nearly all are considered classic’s or great works of art, then there are his movies like this one.
Eyes Wide Shut! Definitely a long way from his best though I still think Lolita is fairly good. You can tell though in script and pacing that he was still inexperienced.
Thanks for the comment!
Are most of these Directors in HW pedophiles & perverted as Kubrick? I think I saw it along time ago in my late teens or 20s being that it’s a ⚫️ & ⚪️ 🎞
I definitely think there’s a dark, hidden part of Hollywood and everything that we outsiders can only speculate on.