Tuesday, September 22, 2015
I have not read Nabokov's book, so I don't know how closely the film adheres to it. The movie follows Professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) who marries Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters) to be close to her nymphet daughter Lolita (Sue Lyon), whom he comes to be obsessed with. On the fringes of this perverse triangle is TV writer Claire Quilty (Peter Sellers), who has his own designs on the girl. The movie opens in Quilty's opulent, messy mansion where Humbert murders Quility (shooting him through a portrait of Lolita), and then the film flashes back four years to show what lead to this encounter.
That Lolita is exquisitely crafted and filmed goes without saying. We wouldn't expect anything less from a master like Kubrick. Few people could move a camera and find images as memorable as he could. Early on in the picture, Humbert takes Charlotte and Lolita to a Hammer Horror film at a drive-in, and the nature of the relationship is staged perfectly with Humbert positioned between the two of them; when a scary moment occurs, both mother and daughter clasp Humbert's hands on his lap, but he brushes off Charlotte to pat Lolita's grip.
Let's not mince words: Humbert is a pedophile, but aside from some hugs, gentle kisses on the cheek, double entendres, and suggestive staging, his relationship with Lolita comes off as muted, as if the movie is afraid to depict what's really going on between those two. As a result, the movie feels incomplete with character changes occurring off-screen, and the tone of the film, instead of being twisted and darkly funny, comes off as more cutesy and coy.
I can't say Lolita is an uninteresting movie. As always, Kubrick's craft is impeccable, but unlike his other work, this is not a movie I have much desire to revisit.