Sunday, August 19, 2012

390. LOLITA (1962)

Running Time: 152 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Vladimir Nabokov, from his novel
Main Cast: James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers
Click here to view the trailer


After a brief respite to take in "Fatal Attraction", it's back to the "Kubrick Week" festivities for me, as I take a look at "Lolita", a Stanley Kubrick work that I saw for the first and only time about five years ago and one where my opinion hasn't wavered that much. Although, this time around, I was able to expand my train of thought on the contents of the picture.

The film begins with the ending, as we see a man who we're later able to identify as Humbert Humbert (Mason) entering the mansion of Clare Quilty (Sellers), armed with a gun and ready to commit murder. Humbert finds Quilty inebriated and tries to make him realize that he's about to die. After a few gunshots, Quilty comes to that realization and is then shot dead. Four years earlier and we get a voiceover from Humbert informing us that he's moved to New Hampshire where he intends to spend the summer before taking a job as a professor at Beardsley College. In need of residence, Humbert visits the home of Charlotte Haze (Winters), a single parent with a room for rent. It's easy to tell that Charlotte is infatuated with the professor immediately, wanting desperately for him to accept the offer to live there. Humbert isn't sure...that is until he meets Charlotte's daughter, Lolita (Lyon), a girl in her early teens, whom Humbert first meets when she's sunbathing in the yard, clad in only a bikini. Humbert is immediately infatuated with the young girl and accepts the offer to live at the Haze house, citing Mrs. Haze's "cherry pie" as his reasoning. Humbert begins to keep a journal chronicling his fascination with Lolita, while also trying to make Mrs. Haze think that he's interested in her, even though he obviously finds her quite annoying. When Lolita is shipped off to Camp Climax (I kid you not), Mrs. Haze and Humbert are engaged, Humbert presumably using the marriage as a way to ensure that he keeps Lolita in his life. After a few months of "wedded bliss", Charlotte notices that Humbert is always so distant, committing himself to his room, to the cozy confines of his journal. One day, after a spat, Charlotte runs outside, is hit by a car and dies immediately. Humbert drives to Camp Climax to pick up Lolita, electing to keep Charlotte's death a secret for the time being. From there, Lolita and Humbert enjoy time together on the road, all the while being tailed by the odd and questionable motives of Clare Quilty.


Where do I even begin with this one? How about with the good, because starting on a positive note is always a good idea. Well, the performances were, almost entirely, top notch. You just can't deny the talents of James Mason, a classic actor's actor, who, when he gets a role, obviously does his very best to perfect the character and bring out the most of it. I'm also always astounded at the abilities of Shelley Winters. I first saw Shelley Winters as a recurring character on Roseanne and it's hard to believe that Nana Mary was such a great actress in her early days. And then, last but not least, you have Peter Sellers who peeked my interest every time he appeared on screen and was part of the reason this film's initial hook works so well. The beginning is enough to hook you in and keep you invested in the plot of the movie for most of the duration, as Sellers plays the very inebriated man who wants nothing more than to play ping pong and win ("I'm really winning now. You have to make a rally!"). Also, the basic blueprint of the film is a really good one and one that, since "Lolita", has been done to death - films like "Poison Ivy" and "The Crush" come to mind. A man in his 40s becomes sexually attracted to the point of utter infatuation with a young, prepubescent girl.

My biggest gripe when it comes to "Lolita" is that nothing really seems to come out of that initial infatuation and please, allow me to explain that point. Maybe I just wasn't picking up on it, but the end of the film seems to hint at the fact that Lolita and Humbert were engaged in a sexual relationship for most of the duration of the film, notably everything that follows the death of Charlotte. However, I just didn't get that. Was it just insinuated that they were basically playing it off in public as if they were father/daughter, but in reality, behind closed doors they were really lovers, because that's not what I was getting at all. As far as what I saw develop onscreen, here's what happened. Humbert meets Lolita and is obviously sexually attracted to her, however, he is never given the opportunity to do anything about it. He then marries Charlotte, in an attempt to ensure that Lolita stays a part of his life, but when she dies he takes advantage of the situation and goes to rescue Lolita from girl's camp. After picking her up at girl's camp, the two hit the road, staying in hotels, before they return to Beardsley, where Humbert begins his professorship and Lolita begins school. From there, Humbert takes on a very strict fatherly role to Lolita, forbidding her to see boys (which not only speaks toward the fatherly side, but also the side of him that is attracted to her). Lolita becomes very disobedient toward Humbert, while at other times they get along splendidly. When they have a quarrel over a play that Lolita has starred in, they decide that the best thing to do is to pack up and move away. While on the road, Lolita is stricken ill and is admitted into a hospital. From there, she is taken out of the hospital by Clare Quilty, Humbert is devastated to find that she's gone and we learn that Lolita and Quilty have been having an affair the entire time. Humbert later reunites with Lolita, only to find her married. So that's my summation of the film and nowhere in there do I see Lolita and Humbert having a sexual relationship. It's just never that obvious to me that that's what's going on.

And I realize that you just couldn't do certain things or even insinuate certain things, but then perhaps this film just shouldn't have been made. I have a strong feeling that the book by Nabokov is ten times better than Kubrick's vision of the story, because you didn't have to be as censored when it came to the written word. In Nabokov's book, apparently Lolita is only twelve and it is more obvious that her and Humbert are having a relationship. 

Also why in hell do we need Clare Quilty? I mean, don't get me wrong, I loved Peter Sellers in this, he was marvelous, but was he needed. I have a strong feeling that even he was wandering around set, wondering what he was doing there, what purpose his character was serving. He is a part of that great opening hook, which lead me to believe that his character, put to death by the main character, was going to be of some substantial importance. We follow him all through the film as he assumes different persona's, trying desperately to get closer to Humbert and Lolita and in the end it's revealed that he merely was having his own affair with Lolita and that's all. What the hell? Was that character really a necessity? I don't think so.

"Lolita" had my mind swirling for hours after I watched it. On one hand, the two and a half hour running time was quite swift (mostly), I liked the performances and I liked the basic blueprint of the story. On the other hand there was just so much that I didn't understand about the picture. Why was Clare Quilty made out to be such an important character, when ultimately he was entirely disposable? What was the basis of the relationship between Lolita and Humbert? I can already tell by my long review that the Kubrickian qualities are starting to turn their head and it's only going to get more deep from here. I'll chalk this one up as a near hit, but ultimately call it a big letdown, as I thought my tastes may have changed enough for me to find something entirely positive in this one, when, in fact, I only found certain, traces of positive qualities.

RATING: 6/10  I think that's a really safe rating for the moment. I'll keep turning this one around in my head and maybe come up with some different perspective in time for the RECAP. Next up in "Kubrick Week": "Dr. Strangelove..."


August 19, 2012  10:41pm

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