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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> December 2001 >> Lolita


Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
December 2001
IMDB Name:
Lolita (1997)
Adrian Lyne
drama, romance
MPAA Rating:
R for aberrant sexuality, a strong scene of violence, nudity and some language.


When Stanley Kubrick made Lolita in the early 1960's, the adaptation for film was done by none other than the original author, Vladimir Nabokov. In an attempt to make the film more palatable, several heavily comical elements were added to what is essentially a tragedy. When Kubrick was working on Dr. Strangelove, he started writing drama and finished with a comedy. When the book was adapted for film again by Stephen Schiff, the tone changed considerably. What didn't change was controversy. The 1997 version frightened distributors, and the cable network Showtime was the first to exhibit it at all. An appearance on television is often the kiss of death for later marketing, and definitely disqualifies the film for consideration by most award- bestowing bodies.

The most controversial thing about the 1997 version is that Humbert, played by Jeremy Irons, is an extremely sympathetic character. He dominates Adrian Lyne's Lolita much more than the title character. The prologue goes out of its way to make Humbert look innocent of his deviance, and Irons brings a tenderness to the role that reinforces that feeling. Humbert is presented as being overcome by nostalgia for his lost love, and his lack of desire to be a pedophile is meant to absolve him of his sins. Fortunately, Irons is precisely the kind of actor to successfully pull off such a character. His charm does indeed deflect the ire typically reserved for pedophiles. The Ennio Morricone score is brimming with melancholy, and is as appropriate as it is beautiful.


I know that I should do my best to appreciate Lyne's Lolita on its own and not strictly in comparison with the Kubrick version. They aim for different moods and different points. All four central characters have been changed significantly, and neither is really right. I did enjoy the Kubrick version more, even though I can appreciate most of the details of the Lyne version. I've not had particularly good experiences with Lyne in the past, with the big disappointment of 9 1/2 Weeks looming large in my memory. Lolita shows vastly improved skill with visual style, characters, and tone. The recasting of Quilty as a nearly-invisible menace instead of a conniving comedian works especially well. I enjoyed the more transparent evil and paranoia of James Mason's Humbert, even though Irons probably does better acting. I will admit that Lyne's is a good film, but I was spoiled by the amazing skill of Kubrick.

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Copyright 2001-2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.