Saturday, September 8, 2012


September 5, 1997
137 min
United States / France (English)

Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Stephen Schiff (Based on the book by Vladimir Nabokov)

"Lolita" is a stunning film about a tragic one-sided love story that ought not to have ever occurred. Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain star as the contrasting characters that give the film its restricted relationship.

As if the relationship between Professor Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) and the young "nymphet" teen (Dominique Swan) of the family he rents a room from were not taboo enough, Humbert becomes her stepfather. It was never Lolita's mother that he loved, it was always Lolita. From the first sensual image of the siren lass laying on the grass in the front yard with the sprinkler soaking through her summer dress (above), Humbert is infatuated with the girl and it is hard for us to not be disturbed yet fascinated by what follows.

Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov of the same name, it is written from Hubert's point of view. This is just one of the ways the film, and story itself, plays safe what is otherwise dangerous and controversial content. Hubert's teenage past explains what may seem unfathomable. Sir Jeremy Irons puts all his earnest into the lead performance. It is far easier to pity the man than it is to despise him. Iron's narration is an honest confession, though sinks upon the side of poetics (what else would you expect from a professor of French literature?). As we listen to his story about a girl named Lolita he refers to us as "gentlemen" and "gentlewomen of the jury." The entire film is his trial. You get to be the judge, but not until you have heard it all.

Dominique Swain's Lolita is careless, crude, and childish (and yes, closer to innocence) - everything that Hubert is not. Neither are entirely to blame and Stephen Schiff's adaptation makes that quite clear. Before all is said and done the film takes turns into an expression of psychological horror. Hubert's guilt and paranoia overtake his outlook and then the film's style. Who is watching them or following them on their road trip away from societal boundaries? Howard Atherton's camerawork juggles the moods and feelings along the ride: Largely exquisite interiors with the sunlight seeping through the windows, but sometimes a terrible perspective of outside influences.

The supreme composer Ennio Morricone lends his gifts to this "Lolita", which take an instant air of tragedy (so more akin to "The Godfather" than say his adventurous sensibilities). The bookended scenes are as powerful and elegant as Hubert's confiding words which bring us in and take us out. The two sequences leading to Humbert's swerving drive down a country road are incredible filmmaking and amazing justice to this account. "Lolita" is far from an easy trip to take, but the challenging subject is passionately given.


CONTENT: sexuality (involving an adult man and a young teenaged girl), brief female nudity, graphic male nudity, language, adult conversation, bloody violence

(Updated on 9/10/12)


Trentflix said...

Now you know you have to review the 1962 version and 'Leon: The Professional' just to round it off.

J.S. Lewis said...

Definitely. Still need to catch up with Kubrick's. "The Professional" is something I've seen recently enough that I can probably cover though.