Human sexuality will
not be bound to societal mores. Incomprehensible and unpredictable,
grotesque or beautiful, it is inextricably tied to the heart.
Director Adrian Lyne examines this idea, advanced in Vladimir
The classic novel contains an underlying story structure
rich in illustrations. As with Nabokov's own screenplay
for Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation, Lyne's valiant interpretation
contains the same story structure and stands well enough
on its own, however, both films lacking the whole
of main character Humbert Humbert's intimate confession
stand in the shadow of the original work extraordinary
in its lyrical literariness.
In Lyne's screen version,
Humbert Humbert's "doomed obsession" for the "nymphet,"
impact character Lolita "a mixture of . . . tender
dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity"
(Nabokov 44), is captured elegantly in Jeremy Irons' tortured
facial expressions. Dominique Swain's Lolita is all swinging
bare legs and unkempt adolescence. She practices flirting
techniques with Humbert blowing pink bubble gum,
batting eyelashes. At first he is in: ". . . my adult
disguise . . . a great big handsome hunk of movieland manhood"
(Nabokov 39). Once he becomes the "pubescent concubine's"
(Nabokov 148) legal guardian, he is Lolita's captor, her
relentless rapist because in his own chilling words:
". . . she had nowhere else to go" (Nabokov 142).
Nicely done are the
small moments that illustrate the film's narrative, for
example, Humbert's backward glance of an innocent Lolita
twirling inside caught in a brief moment when the
front porchswing passes by the open door. Another
instance is Lolita, bored with the interminable joy(less)ride,
pitching soda bottle caps into the auto's ashtray, clacking
her teeth with a candy jawbreaker. Screenwriter Stephen
Schiff's dialogue jars better is the selection and
reworking of Nabokovian poetic passages, in particular,
the film's last line: "What I heard then was the melody
of children at play, nothing but that. And I knew that the
hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from
my side, but the absence of her voice from that chorus."
Ennio Morricone's melancholic music, interspersed with the
40's dance tunes Lolita skips to, lends despair to the tragic
The director alludes
to Humbert's abhorrence of his torrid torment of Lolita,
as the pedophile contemplates (main character benchmark-conscious)
what effect (impact character-direction) the daily sexual
assaults on his young charge takes: "It was something
quite special, that feeling: an oppressive, hideous constraint
as if I were with the small ghost of somebody I had just
killed" (Nabokov 129).
that truly underscore the magnitude of Humbert Humbert's
unforgivable acts (main character problem-non-accurate)
devitalizes its storytelling. The film does not explore
the depths of main character Humbert's depravity: "a
cesspool of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile"
(Nabokov 44), visually unacceptable to the viewing audience.
What is also missing
from Lyne's account is how old Lolita really is at the relationship's
start (12), a developmentally significant age difference
than that of the fourteen-year-old Lolita in the film. Another
example is the untoward advantage Humbert takes, finding
Lolita in her classroom without a teacher present: "I
sat beside Dolly [Lolita] just behind that neck and that
hair, and unbuttoned my overcoat and for sixty-five cents
plus the permission to participate in the school play, had
Dolly put her inky, chalky, red-knuckled hand under the
desk" (Nabokov 198). Further, and most devastating:
". . . the thought that with patience and luck I might
produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite
veins, a Lolita the Second, who would be eight or nine around
1960 . . . indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind,
was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time
a . . . bizarre, tender, salivating Dr. Humbert, practicing
on supremely lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a
granddad" (Nabokov 174).
That Adrian Lyne's
could not be released as a feature film for fear it goes
too far is unfounded. The real problem is, because of the
constraints of the medium in which the story is recounted,
the film lacks the ability to make commentary on what is
being seen on screen. It is Nabokov's commentary in the
novel, exposed through Humbert's narrative, that provides
a main character storyline exhaustively detailed.
In love with Nabokov's
"American sweet immortal dead love" (Nabokov 280),
I hope Lyne's accomplished film production will intrigue
an audience who perhaps have not yet read the "horrific
comic masterpiece" (Angell 156) to take on the
intellectual and emotional challenge the novel offers. That
is, to feel "a private, perhaps unconscious anguish
over the story's sexual complexity" and the "dazzled
admiration for its satiric brilliance and literary weight"
(Angell 156). The reader that can rise above the horrors
of the sexual relationship between Lolita and Humbert will
realize: " . . . this is a love story, after all
an unexpected grand romance, with a poignancy and conviction
that match anything . . ." (Angell 159).