Movie review: Lolita directed by Stanley Kubrick


I love Stanley Kubrick. I’m sure that bias comes into play when rating/reviewing, but I don’t care. What’s not to love? Kubrick started out as a photographer, and it’s the visual splendor of his films I love so much. Couple that with his meticulous attention to detail in everything and you can see why so many consider him one of the best of all time.

I could go on, but we’re here to talk about Lolita. The movie follows Professor Humbert Humbert, played by James Mason, as he lives out his infatuation with the young woman Lolita, played by Sue Lyon.

The movie opens with a scene between Humbert and a man named Clare Quilty, played by Peter Sellers. Quilty is quite drunk, and keeps making light of the situation even when Humbert pulls out a gun. Humbert eventually accuses Quilty of corrupting Lolita and shoots him to death through a painting of a young woman. The film then moves to a flashback to four years earlier and tells the story from there.

Humbert first sees Lolita when he is considering renting a room from a widow named Charlotte Haze, played by Shelley Winters. It’s clear that Humbert is annoyed and isn’t interested in spending any more time with Charlotte than he has to — until he sees her young teenage daughter Lolita lounging in the garden in a swimsuit.

Even if you don’t know anything about the film or the book by Vladimir Nabokov it’s based on, you probably have an idea of where this is going. Humbert ends up taking the room and even marries Charlotte so he can be near Lolita. He suggests to Charlotte that she might be too liberal with Lolita when it comes to boys, which prompts the decision to send Lolita to Camp Climax for girls. The name is hilarious, and was one of my favorite comedic bits in the film.

Humbert finds himself forced to spend time alone with Charlotte, a task he can only manage with the help of a stiff drink. He is miserable without Lolita. Humbert is a professor of literature so he considers himself a writer, which all professors of literature are wont to do. Of course he can’t help but write about his fancies for Lolita. Charlotte finds his diary and runs into oncoming traffic — and her death — in her grief, just after Humbert considered murder by way of the late Mr. Haze’s pistol.

Humbert visits Camp Climax to pick up Lolita, telling her that mother is simply sick and they will go to the hospital to see her. They end up at a hotel in the same room with a single bed because of a police convention. Humbert goes off to see if he can find a cot to sleep on, even though it’s clear he would prefer not to. This is followed by one of the best scenes in the movie, where a untowardly stranger acts like he is a policeman and keeps bringing up how he considers Humbert to be “normal” in a way that makes Humbert nervous about what he is contemplating in his relationship with Lolita. We know the man from earlier in the movie: he is Quilty.

The scene is amazing because of it’s randomness, and because it sets up the relationship Humbert has with his eventual nemesis quite well. Humbert makes it back up to the room just as a cot is being delivered, so they don’t sleep in the same bed. It doesn’t take long for them to start their sexual relationship, however, as it is intimated that they have sex the next morning. This is one of the areas where I wish the film was more explicit because I think it would have been more striking. As it was the film was already dealing with censorship issues because it was shot in the early 60s and dealt with the touchy subject of a sexual relationship between a young teenager and a much older man, so that’s probably asking too much.

Humbert and Lolita continue the relationship, although it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The best scene in the film comes when Quilty shows up again, this time playing a German psychologist from the school. The scene foreshadow’s Sellers’ performance in the future Dr. Strangelove and it is wonderful for that alone. Quilty is there to convince Humbert to allow Lolita to perform in the school play as an extracurricular activity. He threatens to have a team of psychologists come to the home to address the “issues” that young Lolita is having, so Humbert acquiesces.

As it turns out, Quilty is producing the play and just wants to have time with Lolita so he can have his own tryst with her. The rest of the movie leads us back to the first scene, where Humbert murders Quilty because of the “improper” relationship he had with Lolita. It’s quite the sarcastic twist, considering the relationship between Humbert and Lolita.

Lolita is a hilarious and dark look at teenage sexuality and middle-age lust. I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy Kubrick for his wonderful cinematography and photographic eye. Lolita rates 9 out of 10 stars. You can buy Lolita on Amazon if you want to start or add to your Kubrick collection.

Other movies I saw this week:

In a world…

So it looks like it’s actually Series-Of-Snapshots-With-Sound Saturday on the blog.