Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Kubrick's Lolita film

I'm teaching Kubrick's film of Lolita (1962) and I must say I'm liking it a great deal. Nabokov didn't like it very much (although he praised the acting) and it's obvious that the filmmakers tamed the story. Sue Lyon does look much older even than her 14 (or 15?) years, and as one of my students pointed out, they really glamorized her. The novel's Lolita is something of a tomboy. Yet Sue Lyon is very childish in her mannerisms and speech, so she presents a sort of puzzle. In some ways she represents the "problem" of Lolita by being a different sort of problem. In the novel Lolita is sexually experienced (as she is in the film) and clearly lusts after Humbert, without realizing quite what she's getting into. The film's Lolita looks like a woman but is actually not much older than the novel's Lolita--so even if viewers thought she was older, she really was something of a kid herself (though there seems to be some sort of dividing line between OK and not at age 14...go figure). James Mason was about 10 years older than the novel's Humbert. Quilty's omnipresence in the film is a sort of visual catch-all for the many literal and existential threats that Humbert faces. I find Humbert more sympathetic in the movie, but many of my students have felt the opposite so far. They think he's too mean to Charlotte (Shelley Winters)--but I thought she was meant to seem unbearable, almost blamed for driving Humbert into Lolita's arms.

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