Adapted from Vladimir Nabokov’s quirky novel, Kubrick’s Lolita was highly restricted by censorship laws but still remained an incredibly controversial movie. Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged British professor, develops an obsession with the teenage daughter of his land lady during his summer lodgings. The film deals with his predicament of being in love with his step daughter, after marrying the landlady whom he finds so very irritating. After the sudden death of his new wife, Humbert and Lolita begin a life together. The father/daughter relationship they legally share is soon disrupted by their passionate relationship. What starts as a secret and intense affair gradually develops into something much more sinister, volatile and poisonous. We never truly understand the two main characters that Kubrick presents us with. It is difficult to work out whether Humbert is really in love with Lolita or just obsessed with her. What puzzled me the most is trying to solve the issue of who was controlling who? Lolita is separated from Humbert by age and views the world quite differently. Lolita, is cunning and manipulative and is simultaneously a prisoner and a puppet master. Lolita has a grace and charisma that is found in a lot of Kubrick’s earlier films. It has a similar likeability to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and the same cool sense of cunning as The Killing. The mix of performance, script and taboo makes Lolita a timeless delight.
Despite the blatancy of the film’s limitations, it is still shocking fifty years on. Kubrick’s did the best job he could with a novel that’s excellence he was forbidden to fully portray. Adrian Lyne remade the film thirty five years later, in 1997. Lyne’s version demonstrated two things: how drastic the developments in censorship had been since 1962 and just how unbeatable the original film was. Lyne’s film is not a bad one, but Kubrick’s merging of comedy and dark longing leaves something to be desired in the retelling. James Mason plays Humbert and captures his increasing paranoia, lust and obsession whilst maintaining his British charm and grace. Shelley Winters, brings a sadness and an unattractive desperation to her character Charlotte, Lolita’s mother and Humbert’s doomed bride. When both Mason and Winters appear together the film is at its strongest; well – almost. It is Peter Seller’s performance as the film’s eccentric crook who lurks in the shadows and lingers for just slightly too long that is most memorable. Seller’s embodiment of the playwright Clare Quilty separates Kubrick’s film from Nabokov’s novel and it is a masterful performance from one of cinema’s most mesmerising comedic actors. Sue Lyon is Lolita. Kubrick’s bold decision to cast an actual fourteen year old girl in the role makes the film seem that little bit more devilishly inappropriate. Lyon is both sweet and sinister. The balance of innocence and malice that Lyon encapsulates is what makes Lolita so great and so recognisable half a century down the line. Lolita is, in my opinion, Kubrick most underrated film; intelligent, witty and thrilling from start to finish.
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