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Lolita (1997)

Adrian Lyne’s version of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, starring Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella, and Dominique Swain, came out in 1997. After watching Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), I was curious to see how Lyne had taken on the story (I’d seen the film about twenty years ago but couldn’t remember any of it).

What I found interesting about Lyne’s adaptation is that he focused on the book's more serious themes, whereas Kubrick captured the novel’s dark humor and shied away from some of the other darkness. Why Lyne didn’t add the humor, I assume, was because he wanted a deeper exploration of Humbert Humbert’s (Jeremy Iron’s) obsession with Dolores Haze (Lolita) and also of the tragedy that unfolds. Reading the book it quickly becomes apparent that Nabokov is using language to bewilder the reader. Humbert is the narrator, and his account is a constant effort to both circumvent his immoral acts and cloud how we view them. He uses word play and humor and tries to filch sympathy from us, all the while describing his acts as a form or consequence of inescapable love.

Dominique Swain, I’d say, is the star of the show, and Jeremy Irons a close second. Melanie Griffith doesn't seem right for the role, though. Or because the film neglects the dark humor used to describe her as insufferable in the book, her character no longer functions properly. Frank Langella played the Clare Quilty character brilliantly, capturing his vileness at the end to a tee.

Compared to Kubrick’s version, the 1997 film was more loyal to the book. I was surprised at how close the final scenes were to the final pages of the novel. There’s actually a fair bit of gore at the end of the book, and the film depicts much of the violence precisely as it’s described by Nabokov (even the blood-soaked bed sheets and blood bubble rising from Quilty’s mouth). For a number of reasons, I prefer the Kubrick version, first and foremost because after reading the very heavy Lolita, it was somehow a relief to watch a lighter version of the story as a film. But Lyne’s version is excellent too and was definitely worth watching.


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