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Stanley Kubrick's Lolita
Bart , 10/28/2005 11:48:08 AM

The Dutchman finally reviews Stanley Kubrick's 1962 masterpiece.

Alrighty then; Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. As fellow movie fanatic, my colleague, Geoffrey Ciani, has persistently demanded that I should see this movie. Naturally, I snubbed him, for I'm a Euro snob and don't really care for Kubrick's work -- it's the preference of the wannabe movie aficionado.

But since Ciani unrelentingly hunted me down for writing another article, and I was desperately in the hunt for a suitable topic, I took the Lolita job.

Well then, did the pretentious Dutchman like it? Yes sir, he sure did! First of all, the cinematography is marvelous, the story (on which I shall elaborate later) excellent, and the acting is mostly stunning.

***Possible SPOILERS ahead***

The story is rather well known: Middle-aged author Humbert Humbert rents a room in Charlotte Haze's house after he falls passionately in love with her daughter, "Lolita". There are three slight problems, though: 1) Charlotte is madly in love with him (unanswered). 2), Lolita is only fourteen. 3), There's a very odd figure by the name of Clare Quilty (the perennial annoying Peter Sellers) who keeps popping up in the most unexpected places (and sporting equally unexpected accents), who seems to have a similarly unhealthy interest in young Lolita.

Humbert marries Mrs. Haze in order to be closer to Lolita, who he adores, and is literally at her feet (foot fetish fiends, too, will enjoy this movie, no Mr. Ciani?). But in fact, Humbert is treated pretty similarly by Lolita as he treats Mrs. Haze. In the scene after the dance, when Lolita interrupts Humbert and Charlotte. After Charlotte angrily sends Lolita to bed and goes into a sort of temper fit, Humbert walks away to the table disinterested and starts cracking nuts, much like Lolita blows her bubbles when Hum is upset with her about the play. Humbert even flinches often when Charlotte says something in a strong tone much like Lolita does in the later argument scene. Humbert refuses all Charlottes advances and on top of that, hands her all his crushed nuts retiring to his bedroom and leaving Charlotte to cry, again much like how Lolita will treat Humbert later in the movie. Everything is a metaphor in this movie. It's brilliant.

There are countless scenes in Lolita that exhibit these subtle sexual messages. Kubrick knew, given the conservative mood of 1962 and the censors, that he would not be able to be as blunt as perhaps he would have liked. On a whole, the entire movie is full of subtleties:

*To get her away from boys, Lolita is sent to camp 'climax'.

*Humbert shoots Quilty through a painting of the young girl, hitting the girl several times.

*Charlotte and Humbert playing chess. Lolita walking towards them. Charlotte says 'you're going to take my queen?' Humbert says 'That was my intention, certainly.' Just as he says this Lolita arrives beside him and he glances at her full of lust. Charlotte forces Lolita to kiss her and she does so resentfully which is a great metaphor for the arguments they will have later. Lolita then kisses Humbert tenderly, perhaps out of hatred for her mother? That would also be a good metaphor. Charlotte then moves her Queen, apparently into the range of one of Hum's knights. Hum says 'well that wasn't very clever of you' and moves the knight towards her queen while Charlotte worriedly repeats 'oh dear! ohhhhh!.' Humbert says 'It had to happen sometime.'

*Charlotte Haze: Hum, you just touch me and I... I go as limp as a noodle. It scares me.
Humbert Humbert: Yes, I know the feeling.

We are prepared for the ending because the film has in fact been framed as a flashback. The movie is partially a comedy and partially drama. Ultimately, I think the film works because Kubrick really doesn't seem to pass judgment on the characters. Rather, he just shows us their natures, their strengths, their passions, and their weaknesses, and lets their stories unfold, leaving it up to the viewer to decide for himself what to think about them.

There's no point grinding words about the relationship that evolves. It is wrong in every sense of the word, and Humbert should know better, and we, the audience, know he should know better. So can we accept him as a character of sympathy? Strangely, yes. Maybe because we can see long before he does that he is walking down a doomed path. And although a lot of the film is played for laughs, the ending is truly poignant. We see Humbert not so much as a man who entered into an inappropriate relationship, but more like the hapless addict who knows his behavior is destroying him, but can no longer help himself. The process of dehumanizing is a returning theme in Kubrick's work.
The acting:

*Dolores "Lolita" Haze (Sue Lyon). Outstanding performance. She depicts the child/vamp frighteningly well. A grade A performance, although she never was able to channel it into much of an acting career for herself later on.

*Humbert Humbert (James Mason). Simply excellent. The anxious English gentleman with a fixation.

*Charlotte Haze (Shelly Winters). Winters is remarkable as Charlotte, in a delightfully comic role.

*Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). As Clare Quilty, the stalking playwright, he's compelling. (In his other comic roles, he reminds me why I loathe Peter Sellers).

I'll wrap it up here; I could ramble on about the cinematography and all the movie aficionado bullshit, which inevitably will bore you, dear readers, to tits.

When all's said and done; Lolita, a movie which aged beautifully.

About the author: This authorís contributions might come across as somewhat double-dutch; please donít blame him for it, he canít help himself.

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