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This is an excellent adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant book about
the sordid relationship between a grown man and a teenage girl. Although
still disconcerting, the subject of pedophilia is far less shocking today
than when the book was published almost 50 years ago. Yet, despite the
subject matter, the book was wildly popular because it was a literary work
of art, beautifully written with some of the most splendid metaphors and
descriptive narrative in American literature. This was all the more amazing
when one considers that English was Nabokov's second language.
Director Adrian Lynn (Fatal Attraction, 9 ½ weeks, Indecent Proposal) is no stranger to stories with perverse sexual content. His presentation of the story does the book justice although certain interpretations may not have been what Nabokov had in mind. Lynn gives us a presentation that is very sympathetic to Humbert. Nabokov's Humbert was very complex, partly a victim of his fixation on young girls, partly a sexual predator and partly a hopeless romantic. Nabokov's Lolita was extremely innocent, just approaching the threshold of sexual curiosity and urges, more playful than consciously provocative. While Nabokov hints at a mutual seduction, he leans far more heavily towards Humbert as the cause of the events even though Humbert is clearly helpless in the face of his obsession. Lolita entered into the sexual relationship more as a result of longings burgeoning from her blossoming sexuality than a desire to seduce Humbert in particular, who was not even her first lover.
Lynn's presentation transforms Humbert from the seducer into the seduced, whose weakness for young girls is manipulated by a sexually precocious siren tempting him to dash himself on the shoals of pedophilia. Lynn portrays Lolita as the aggressor, an adolescent temptress who knows she is desired and simultaneously teases and entices him to do her lustful bidding, knowing he is powerless to resist. Lynn's Humbert is more of a hapless romantic than a fiend, ennobling him as a victim of love rather than the confounded sociopath he really is. In Lynn's version, Humbert becomes the fly to Lolita's spider.
However, after the initial seduction when they take to the road, the film is very true to the book in chronicling the decay of the relationship, Humbert's further plunge into feelings of romantic desperation and Lolita's shrewish exploitation of him as she increasingly uses sex as a weapon. The book was very effective at portraying the relationship as a symbiosis of two deficient beings, each selfishly taking from the other what was needed. Lynn does an excellent job of portraying that here. As the relationship degenerates, Lynn is effectual at portraying the ugly side of both characters. The bitterness and rancor that results is compelling. To his credit, he understands that Nabokov's story was more of a character study than a sex story and Lynn avoids the temptation of becoming too lurid, focusing instead on solid character development of two very flawed beings.
I must take a moment to give Lynn the highest praise for his period renderings. This is one of the finest portrayals of 1940's Americana I can remember. The costumes, hairstyles, cars, furniture, locations and sets create a 40's reality that is like being hurtled back in a time machine. The music is not just precise for the period, but it is perfectly integrated with the story. As the two travel, the music changes to reflect the region. Having Lolita dance and sing to period music on the radio is a nice touch because that is exactly what teenage girls of any era are apt to do.
The acting is first rate all around. When the film was made, Dominique Swain was 17, and although she looked young for her age, she could never pass for 12. So for the first part of the film before Charlotte's demise, she is simply too mature. However, for the road trip she is ideal. Though I don't agree with Lynn's early interpretation of Lolita as the teenage temptress, I can't imagine it being done any better than the performance Swain delivers. She is playful and provocative in a childlike manner, part pixie and part vamp. Once they get on the road, Swain hits stride with a performance that is almost a force of nature. She is powerful and intense, effortlessly moving back and forth between sweet innocence and the emotional torrent typified by the `murder me' scene. It is an outstanding performance with depth and breadth that is very unusual for an actor so young.
Jeremy Irons is wonderful as Humbert, giving him as amiable a personality as one could possibly imagine for a character with such vile intentions. Irons injects a good deal of wry humor into the part in addition to giving Humbert an almost quixotic romantic quality. Melanie Griffith is just the wrong actress to play Charlotte. She looks nothing like the portly and plain character described in Nabokov's book. Though her acting is fine and she is appropriately obsequious, she is far too attractive to be the repulsive troll Humbert despised. It takes away from Humbert's desperation because it hardly seems like a great sacrifice to have married Charlotte to be near Lolita.
Frank Langella (Dracula) is more obnoxious than mysterious as Quilty, making the audience want to exhort Humbert to pull the trigger as he confronts Quilty with the revolver. Again, I think this is probably Lynn's doing since his vision is clearly that of a Humbert sympathizer.
This is a fine film with great production values, terrific performances and a classic story. I feel that it surpasses Kubrik's adaptation in its ability to capture many of the finer points of Nabokov's book, even though Nabokov collaborated on the Kubrik film. I rated it an 8/10. It is definitely worth digging out of the rental stacks.
When the 1997 version of Lolita was widely censored in the US, many asked why the reaction was so strong to this film. After all, the novel was published in the US in 1958, Kubrick's film version appeared in 1962, and we hear more shocking tales of sexual depravity every day on the daytime talk shows. But after seeing Lyne's brilliant version of Lolita, I can see how he manages to breathe fresh controversy into this familiar story. Lyne's lascivious lens eroticizes Lolita's every movement and pose. The viewer is forced to see her through the eyes of Humbert and to feel his obsession and desire. We are co-conspirators in his crime, and at the end we share his shame. Rather than shocking us (and having us pull away in revulsion), Lyne draws us in and makes us face the Humbert in ourselves. This is an incredibly powerful film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me first say that I've never waited so long to write a user comment after I've seen a movie. It took me about 3 months to form my final opinion of this movie. After seeing it 3 months ago, I rented and saw Kubrick's version twice (just to make sure I didn't miss some "hidden beauty" in Kubrick's butchered movie) and then bought Vladimir Nabokov's book and read it.
After 3 months of "research", I can finally conclude that Adrian Lyne's movie is far superior to Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version. This is as close as we'll probably ever get to Nabokov's novel (or at least for the next 30 years :-)). This is how the original movie should've looked like in the first place.
Adrian Lyne's "Lolita" has everything it takes to be a good movie adaptation. Lyne follows the original plot very closely, with few slight changes. Even the dialogues in many scenes remained exactly the same. Most of the movie is a flashback, but Lyne doesn't make the same mistake as Kubrick and he follows the correct order of events (Quilty's murder, i.e.).
The casting is excellent. Jeremy Irons proved to be a much better choice than James Mason was in Kubrick's version. Irons delivers probably one of his best performances as he portrays the tragic character of Humbert Humbert. Iron's voice overs help us get into the mind of Humbert and understand his thoughts and actions. Dominique Swain is excellent as Lolita. She is the perfect nymphet. Young and innocent, but vulgar and crude at the same time. Frank Langella as Clare Quilty is a little bit "too mysterious" and he probably should've been a bit funnier, as his character was in Nabokov's book.
The final reason why this movie is better than its predecessor is its photography. The colors are just amazing. They actually seem to follow the mood of the story - from excitingly colorful to tragically dark.
I'm going to keep this user comment rather short. I could compare it to Kubrick's version some more, but it's easier if you just read my comment for Kubrick's "Lolita".
The highlight of the movie is definitely the last scene in which Humbert surrenders to the police - he stands on the top of a hill, listens to the voice of children playing and expresses his remorse for ruining Lolita's life. In this one scene, Lyne managed to capture the whole point of the book that Kubrick totally missed in his movie.
The movie is a perfect 10. Just please go see it without any prejudice.
The Author would be dismayed, and precisely because the story is so
to the book. But the story in the book was incidental, just something on
which Nabokov could hang his layered challenges to concepts of narrative.
The narrator is crazy, overly colors and outright lies. The story never
fully exists in the book at all, and such as it does one can never be sure
what is true and what imagined. Humbert is a made up name (as are all
and clearly the narrator makes up most of the elements of his own character
as well (European, Professor, Author... obviously a joke by the narrator on
In this film, everything makes sense, exactly the opposite of the reason the book exists. This is a beautiful film, with lovely detailed cinematography, good acting and great score, and all to solidify something that Nabokov created such that it could not be so. I believe that Peter Greenaway could make a good film of Lolita, and that he would have the courage to make it confusing and unerotic and unresolved. Why does Dolores' fate have to change in the film's epilogue? Because it ties up every last loose end. On Christmas Day no less!
(The real scandal is not that audiences/censors are shocked by prurient subjects, but that they take one of the greatest literary achievements ever and make it "explainable." Is this the only thing we can accept?)
But take the film on its own presumption that the book's story is what matters. This Lolita is too old, too pretty and sexy, too controlling. Irons is clearly narrowly channeled here and he is smart enough to know it: his frustration with the unimaginative stance of the film translates to a frustrated Humbert. I think Melanie is just right (just because HH calls her a cow means nothing). HH's violence with his previous wife should have been mentioned; her running away with the Russian cabbie is as much a setup for the Lolita fixation as the childhood dalliance, and better justifies the angst of loss. There should have been a few butterflies, and some explanation about the play: that it was written to allude to that first night at the hotel.
I highly recommend the audio tape version of Lolita. It is read by (guess...) Jeremy Irons! What he brings to the audio tape is the voice and phrasing of a man in a cell continually going over things in his own mind, embellishing and exaggerating and confusing and speculating and sometimes not at all sure about any of it. He brings this same voice to the voiceovers in the film, but it conflicts with the images which purport to represent a narrative stance of "real truth".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After seeing the Kubrick version, and thinking no one could ever make a
better Humbert than James Mason or a better Lolita than Sue Lyon, I saw this
updated version, and I was very impressed. It's actually an
1. Quilty: Of all the things I did not like about the Kubrick version, it was Peter Sellers' quirkily irritating and totally unclear portrayal of this jerk. The latest version completely downplays the character, other than to show that he is a dark, mysterious, monstrous person who keeps showing up in the shadows. Also, it finally clarifies that Quilty is the very worst of Humbert... It is Humbert without a soul, conscience or any redeeming quality. It becomes clear that he is truly a monster, and makes Humbert look almost saintly by comparison.
2. Humbert and Lolita: While I enjoyed the chemistry between James Mason and Sue Lyon immensely, the chemistry between Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain is ten times better. This is due mostly to Swain, who basically portrays a part of herself. Her teasing and her battles with Irons are priceless and extremely believable. Also, the Sue Lyon version showed Humbert going after an older teen, not as repugnant as the Dominique Swain version showing Humbert going after an actual underaged teen. Also, in this version, most of the movie is about Humbert and Lolita, and their adventures, misfortunes and run from the law.
3. Humbert himself: For the first time, we see the reason for his obsession, and it isn't entirely pedophilia, as in the case of Quilty. Irons is given many additional scenes to show the conflict between his better nature and his pedophile nature, to show that he understands that what he is doing is not only wrong but will be his downfall.
4. The ending: I prefer the way it ended so much more in this later version. First, Quilty finally, for the first time, comes out of the shadows, and we see him for his repulsive self. Sellers' portrayal was too offbeat to allow us to despise this guy as he should be despised. Also, the final "fini" is so downbeat so as to let you know in no uncertain terms that you have just witnessed a multiple tragedy.
Adrian Lyne did an excellent job of directing, and the music of Ennio Morricone was a great help to the also excellent cinematography.
Briefly put, this film is a quite brilliant adaptation of the novel. While
staying pretty faithful to the original source, Stephen Schiff's screenplay
fleshes out the primary characters and their relationship, which plays out
as a taboo but reserved love story. Maintaining the central themes, the
plot is reduced to the essence of the major players and the linear events
of the book. It's almost impossible to adapt a long book into the confines
of a single average-length movie, but Schiff captures most of the important
moments quite well and humanizes the characters who could have come off as
bizarre depictions from Humbert's narrative.
Lyne's movie is at once haunting, compelling, and beautifully photographed. For all the controversy, it is a mature, reflective, and subtle film. "Lolita" is a challenging piece of work that sublimely reflects the pathos of the story and manages to retain bits of the complex humor of Nabokov. This "Lolita" abandons the notion of being a complete social satire and works as an essentially dramatic portrayal of a doomed, inappropriate romance that is ultimately a sad, tragic tale.
The performances are remarkable, especially those of Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. Irons is utterly perfect as the ill-fated wretch, Humbert Humbert. So understated but evocative with every move and gesture, he is the definitive Old-World European whose obsession bristles beneath his timorous demeanor. He evokes an incredible amount of sympathy for the character. Swain delivers an on-target portrayal of the flowering nymphet who toys with her burgeoning sexuality but hasn't overcome her fundamental brattiness. Swain elicits both allure and pity as the wayward character whose immaturity in mindset and behavior does not excuse her complicity in her affairs. Despite what some critics may have written, Melanie Griffith is fine in the small role as Lolita's overbearing mother. She is comically obtuse, and her veneer hits all the right, grating notes. Frank Langella rounds out the cast as the mysterious Quilty. He is appropriately shady, vague, and sinister when he appears from time to time, slowly revealing himself.
This is a real winner on many levels and should be up for several awards including best picture, director, actor, actress, and adapted screenplay. Showtime should be congratulated for its smart acquisition. I hope the movie finds its way to the largest possible audience.
Nabokov's best novel save for Pale Fire will probably never get an "ideal"
filming, unless someone decides to actually commit Nabokov's own script to
celluloid (he wrote it for the 1962 version, and his name appears in the
credits, but the finished product was almost wholly the product of
pen and Peter Sellers' ad-libbing). But I like both the Kubrick and the
Lyne versions, with reservations.
With Kubrick's, the only real problem is that it's not Nabokov. James Mason's performance contains the core of an accurate portrayal of Humbert, and he's often moving. But Sue Lyon was too old for her part and Sellers' Quilty is an altogether different conception from the author's (not that he isn't lots of fun). The film also suffers from having been filmed in the UK. Nabokov had a complex vision of America - vast, tacky, seductive, and grindingly mundane all at the same time - and this just can't be conveyed in a studio and with a few well-chosen locations.
That's where Lyne's version excels. His compositions (or his cinematographer's) are indeed beautiful to look at, and (I think) capture suburban and roadside America very much the way Humbert would have experienced them. Irons is fine as Humbert, although the typecasting was initially painful to contemplate, and Swain is a vast improvement over Lyon as young Dolores: still a bit too old for the part (an inevitable problem, perhaps, for anyone who wants to film this book), but her intelligent performance makes up for this. Despite his cheesy reputation, Lyne wisely refrains from making his Lolita a teenage bombshell, something the more artistic Kubrick couldn't resist.
Again, however, the problem is Quilty. Both directors obviously felt compelled to render in three dimensions a character who is one of Nabokov's phantoms: Does he really exist? Who is he and what do we know about him, outside of Humbert's increasingly paranoid imaginings? Can we trust anything at all that's said about him in this book? I expect that Nabokov himself regretted having to bring Quilty out of the shadows at all for the denouement.
Sellers carried off the role with style, making you forget for a moment that his routines seem to have wandered in from another film. Lyne turns the final confrontation between Humbert and Quilty (there is no flashback framing device, as in Kubrick) into pure Grand Guignol, and so we have to endure watching poor, paunchy Frank Langella running down a hallway of his ridiculously overstuffed house, his bathrobe falling open to reveal his endowments to our embarrassed gaze before being blown away Dirty Harry-style by the avenging Humbert. A major wrong note to say the least.
So Quilty, in the end, defeats both of Nabokov's filmic approximators. But if you love the book, see both movies: Kubrick and Lyne each capture different aspects of the master's great story in valuable ways, and the new Lolita is clearly Lyne's best work yet, proving that a great novel can inspire excellent filmmaking, if not guarantee an "ideal" adaptation.
What we really need now, however, is not a third version of Lolita, but finally, a filming of Lolita: A Screenplay. Nabokov had fun writing this, and any fan of his should read his script as well. Wouldn't you like to see a move of Lolita in which Humbert, searching through the woods for his Lo, encounters a butterfly collector named Vladimir Nabokov? Of course you would!
This film is a stunning adaptation of the novel of the same name. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the film is brilliantly acted. The content of the story may put off many prospective viewers, but the story does not condone Humberts actions, it simply narrates them. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Humberts (Irons) loss of his young love scars him in a way which compels him to rediscover it, through relationships with young girls. He moves to a town to accept a teaching position and while looking for suitable housing he meets Lolita Haze (Swain), a young girl who immediately catches his eye and his heart. The rest of the film chronicles their tempestuous relationship, one in which Humbert takes advantage of Lolita's natural curiosity and developing mind and body. I highly recommend this version of the film and the book to any person interested in a beautifully written, compelling story about one haunted man's selfish folly and the effect it has the young girl it revolves around.
Lyne's point of departure from the Kubrick version of Nabokov's great novel lies primarily in tone: the later version focuses more on the tragic, dramatic elements of the book and less on the comedic ones. I will not go so far as to suggest that Lyne made a better film; he did not. I do think, however, that he did pinpoint one of the key components of the novel's genius: a capturing of life on the newly paved highways of mid-century America. As Humbert, Jeremy Irons is as good as his predecessor James Mason. Frank Langella's interpretation of Quilty entirely diverges from the one given by Peter Sellers (and rightfully so; who wants to compete with Sellers?). But it is Dominique Swain, outdoing Sue Lyon, who comes closer than what ever seemed possible to embodying the essence of the doomed Dolly Haze.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With nostalgia, we look back on the films of yesterday and proclaim them far
superior than what is advertised on the marquis today. Bombarded by
gratuitous sex, reckless violence and distracting special effects, critics
often dismiss today's features by simply saying, `They're too Hollywood.' To
some extent this is true, but we must not reject all current day films. In
fact, 1997's Lolita is an example of a current day film that is superior to
the original motion picture release of Vladmir Nabokov's controversial
novel. One could even argue that the modern version is less Hollywood,
since every American distributor refused to show the film. Regardless, 1997
version's supremacy is due in part to the depth at which
Jeremy Irons is able to take our darling pedophiliac, Humbert Humbert.
Irons' portrayal is magnetic due to his depth of character, which is seen
both in his sincerity to real life and his truth to Nabokov's writing.
A flashback in the beginning of the 1997 movie portrays a fourteen-year-old Humbert's doomed summer romance to Annabel, which sets up Irons' Humbert as a brokenhearted romantic. Thus, when he sees Lolita for the first time, lying out in the grass of the piazza,' innocently letting the water from the sprinkler drench her, the reincarnation of that love is clear. That clarity, however, transcends the simple addition of the flashback. Unlike James Mason, the 1962 Humbert Humbert, Irons' startling licentious stare at Lolita is that much comprehensive. In those eyes the viewer sees tenderness with wickedness, occupation without realization, a moment of pure lust. The amorous connection is developed in that one look-whereas Mason's look at his Lolita is obvious and plain-Lolita is a beautiful girl, the look shows a man seeing something beautiful. Irons not only sees beauty but he perversely sees a sexual creature, correctly identifying the perplexing issue for the reader and viewer of Lolita While his love is based on pedophilia, is there something in his love for Lolita that is common to all love? His intoxication is precisely what makes the story of Lolita so fascinating-Humbert's love for Lolita is as real as anyone's love for another, and the perverse thing is that he truly madly deeply loves a child. Mason fails to show the depth of love that Irons easily does in the first meeting.
From the first meeting on, Irons is true to the version of Humbert Lynne and Schiff prescribe. Unlike the 1962 version, we see those rare moments of ease with Lolita: delighting her with stories as they swing on the porch, the rapt, nearly bashful smile he gives her while she sits in his lap showing him how she can make her chin wiggle. Irons's Humbert is heartbreaking. He is tortured. He is helpless. Despite those scenes when Humbert is buying affections from Lolita with a jar full of coins, despite his heavy authority over her activities, Irons never let's the viewer lose sight of his complete and utter dependence on Lolita. Although Lynne and Schiff's version seems void of the cunning that is so very much a part of the literary Humbert, the essential question is the same: Who was in control of the situation? Lolita or Humbert? Who is more to blame for the affair? Through possibility of empathizing with Humbert's love for Lolita, the viewer is left with an unnerving understanding of his pedophilia. Unlike Mason, Irons makes it almost impossible to completely detach our knowledge of what love is from the perverse love between Humbert and Lolita.
Being true to a character, as in being true to a book, means that an actor catches the essence from the book, not necessarily the exact phrasing or the exact chronology of events. Irons catches Humbert Humbert's tenderness and the true infatuation that is so evident in his confessions, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
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