Lolita Review

Opening on a dilapidated, aristocratic house, it is not clear whether or not the inhabitants are still breathing. The remnants of a party lay there, but so does the produce of absence. Once-grand couches and harps adorned with white sheets and dustcovers, to which a man emerges. Shock lingers on the face of a stranger as Quilty (Peter Sellers) staggers through the stage leaving a massacre of broken bottles and crushed dreams behind him. Thus, Lolita opens, almost immediately, with conflict. Stanley Kubrick, the powerhouse behind Lolita, is intent on showing that there are no hard feelings between the predator and prey, but there is no love between the two either. Cold, immediate and necessary killings, before a flashback swoops its audience to four years before, to enthral us with what led to this sudden murder.

Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is disgusted. At everything. The culture, the people he is doomed to spend his relaxation period with, and the odd eccentricities of time in this period. Ruminating moments of the swinging sixties, but the vice-like grip of post-war values is still felt in the haircuts, mannerisms and slight eccentricities of these supporting characters. Cultural oddities that would soon die out. At the centre of it all though, Lolita has a despicable monster at its heart, an illegal love that Humbert cannot seem to help. The hidden diaries and the brutality they cause are a catalyst for a devolution into degeneracy. His various cover stories are to no avail, but Mason does well to explore the idea that Humbert has convinced himself, and as long as he is content, so are his fantasies.

All the hallmarks of the primitive era of controversial dramatics are present. Sift through the weaker pockets of narrative complacency and revel in Mason’s performance, a marvellous piece of remorse, guilt and anguish. Strong wordplay is present frequently, and the dynamic between Humbert and the titular Lolita (Sue Lyon) grows into an odd, scathing relationship that pushes any audience member to their limit. With the passive nature of Lolita and the persuasive, ineffective charms of Humbert, the dynamic presented by Kubrick finds a stellar balance between revolting and riveting. Such stability is thanks to the pacing, which is strong but could use some improvements here or there. Cutting between the eponymous role and the work of Sellers elsewhere breaks up the narrative, but not in the most effective way possible.

Kubrick adapts well, his ability to craft such a lengthy, strong piece of work so early into his career is a testament to how great a director the man was. Lolita is far from perfect, and I imagine the book is slightly more rewarding in its hesitations and reservations, its thematics and prose must surely come through far clearer than this endearing but fumbled attempt from one of the finest directors of the 20th century. Strong performances lead the way to success, but there is still much to be desired, not just for Humbert, but for the audience also, who will receive a more than satisfactory time with Lolita, but not one worth coming back to.

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