Oh, Lolita: The Things We Forgive for Love?


Directed by Adrian Lyne


Why doesn’t this film ultimately work for me? In my opinion, the entire trick of the novel is lost in adaptation to a visual medium. I read Lolita as a tale about subjectivity and distortion.  So, for example, when Humbert describes how Lo is sexually aware and precocious, even taunting him, I read that section twice. And I realize that no twelve-year-old is mature enough to consent, ever. Humbert, a much older man, has never been a female and certainly has never been a little girl. He can’t empathize.

To me, the film does not convey this forced perspective. Partially it has to do with the medium itself. Since we no longer have to imagine the events, it’s harder to step back and analyze what’s happening. The action is unfolding in front of us. We must watch them fight and come together and fight again. By using Humbert’s point of view shots, the film shows us how desirable Lolita appears. We all become Humberts while watching those close-ups. And if you are becoming something, it’s very difficult to evaluate it critically. Why else did I find myself wondering why Lo was being harsh to him? Because the movie wanted me to see him as a madman, but a madman in love.

Yes, Humbert is depicted as a victim of his own unnatural lust. Sorry? Since when is the phrase “I’m in love” an acceptable excuse for exploitation? Here is a man who has taken advantage of a child who was entrusted to his protection. And somehow, the movie makes it romantic. No! Humbert is an egotistical weasel who has no idea what his “darling Lo” is thinking, feeling, or experiencing at any given moment. Lo is denied any voice of her own; we’re only watching what Humbert thinks of the situation. Who knows how much of it was in his imagination? The only allusion the movie makes to this incredibly important theme is two scenes where the frame stretches and squashes. This is presumably to indicate Humbert’s deteriorating mindset. Needless to say, it is clumsy at best. At worst, it is distracting enough to allow you to miss the entire point: the story is a solipsism.

It is quite possible that the truest adaptation of Lolita is simply a shot of a man giving a little girl candy and then raping her. Repeatedly.