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Director's Dissection

Lolita a pubescent girl who dresses either seductively or provocatively.

Appropriately to this, Kubrick himself seems to be a little too early out with this film, though it does seduce and provoke in its own way, but in a rather innocent manner, which is ultimately too sweet and harmless to truly trigger my thoughts and feelings, going one way or the other. And like the titular girl, ‘Lolita’ is a pretty face to look at, but merely seems like a façade hiding a much greater but also more difficult story to tell…

This was my first time being seduced by Kubrick’s controversial tale of confusion, obsession, perversion and of course pedophilia, to some extent… To write a thorough and thoughtful review of a Stanley Kubrick film after only one watch is far from ideal, but I will try my best to gather all my thoughts and feelings into words that makes sense for both me, you and hopefully Kubrick too had he been alive today… this will be my own twisted triangle of reviewing and I hope to win you over with my seductive writing…


Right off the bat, I noticed a change in style and approach by Kubrick. We are definitely discussing an older film here, but even still the atmosphere and everything on display here seems to give off a mature and formal kind of filmmaking, like movies made in the 1940s and early 1950s were filled with. On the surface, this feels like a film of that time and tone. Also, the novel is indeed set in the 40s, however, Kubrick chose not to emphasize on the time of place too much. Anyway, everything about this film seems more straightforward than later-Kubrick and definitely don’t need the same amount of extreme attention to detail to understand the plot and characters, though you will still have to dive into it all completely if you want to catch every little thing there is to find, like symbolism and subtle storytelling, which can add some complexion to the otherwise rather straightforward story.

There is the whole deal about Quilty being shot dead through a portrait of a young female, hinting at both the plot itself and Humbert’s own character arc, as well as the chess game with Charlotte where Humbert utters the words “I take your Queen”, once again throwing in some playful symbolism. I love the Kubrick fingerprint and overall tongue-in-cheek tone of the movie throughout – both within and around the main character, as well as the little things like the all-girls facility playfully dubbed “Camp Climax”. I find all this amusing and even awarding at times, but overall, ‘Lolita’ isn’t the kind of Kubrick I care about the most. Kubrick has adapted a lot of stuff and he rarely fumbles with the material or stumbles even a bit from beginning to end. Often his adaptions are more or at least equal to its source material, when it comes to be being awarding, refreshing, riveting and even groundbreaking.

To me, ‘Lolita’ is missing more of Kubrick’s carefully composed camera shots and moments as well as his personal touch in the technical department. This film doesn’t always call for it, but you can usually always count on Kubrick to surprise you with his handling of material and filmmaking in general. But I mean, even the small things, like a shot of two people talking that doesn’t add up continuity-wise in editing annoys and confuses me, especially when I know about Kubrick’s determination to always bring pin-point perfection. This is a much prettier picture than I expected Kubrick to paint, though I do understand the circumstances of the production at the time. This was not an easy film to make back then and Kubrick himself has talked about the difficulty getting it made and released. He even said, that had he known just how hard it would be, he would have never made the film to begin with. I wish he had though, but I wish it had been on a later time in his career to be honest.

The relationship between Humbert and Lolita, as well as the overall eroticism of the story and the toxic relationships, which all the character have with each other, could definitely had benefitted from a deeper and more determined approach. Once again, Kubrick himself stated that he wished had put more emphasize on these elements, especially that of Humbert and Lolita – and I understand that completely. All this movie is really giving me is a bigger interest in reading the actual novel... Kubrick usually never shies away from slipping a hand upskirt of his unsuspecting audiences or take them out of their comfort zone with his controversy and show his complete dedication to the material and his own artistic freedom. ‘Lolita’ never really surprises me or stimulates my senses the way I seek it with his films and Kubrick never feels as confronting and commanding as he does whenever the director is at his best in my own personal opinion.

Is this a good movie? Yes, it is. For any other director, this might even be a great movie. For me, it might also be a great movie in the future. But a favorite of mine I doubt it will ever be, though I might learn to love it on its own terms. James Mason is very, very good as the main character and he definitely draws me in more than any other actor might have been able to. From what he has to work with, I think he smashes it out of the park. Shelley Winters also did well with her character and Sue Lyon as Lolita was a pretty face that might have needed more work as a character, considering her name is in the title and everything pretty much revolves around her. Peter Sellers is Peter Sellers and is great to watch on screen, but I’m not sure how I feel about his character… or characters. In the end here, I will go back to the beginning to say that indeed, ‘Lolita’ is a pretty one to look at, but merely seems like a façade hiding a much greater but also more difficult story to tell. Personally, this film isn’t pretty enough nor is it provocative enough to really give me the kind of Kubrick that cupid brought us together for in the name of cinema, in the first place...