Lolita © Sophie Moet

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, tells the tragic story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert’s tender obsession for twelve-year-old Delores Haze. A poignant combination of awe and passion along with inevitable heartbreak, Lolita is rapturous, incendiary and simply divine.

Ageing Humbert Humbert, the gracious and refined college professor with a passion for little girls, retells one crucial summer, which changed his life irrevocably, ‘I am convinced, however, that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel’. During the summer of Humbert’s fourteenth birthday, which was spent at his father’s luxurious hotel on the Riviera in Paris, Humbert meets the beautiful and innocent Annabel. Amidst the warm summer days, orange trees, clean sands and sexual awakening Humbert and Annabel fall hopelessly and agonizingly in love. Four months later she dies of typhus in Corfu.

The shock of Annabel’s death stunts something within Humbert. The innocent child he loved had gone. However, throughout the cold years of the rest of his youth Humbert continues to search for her, even long after his own childhood has subsided. The perfection that had been blended between the love of him and Annabel remains incomprehensible, sadly unachievable with women his own age. Thus, Humbert becomes obsessed with sexually aware and desirable young girls reminiscent to the haunting Annabel. Humbert longs for the heart wrenching affection he experienced as a boy but his deadly yet loving pursuits remain unconsummated, until he meets Lolita.

Dominique Swain as Lolita

Humbert moves to the United States to take up a teaching job and rents a room in a sleepy, suburban New England town at the house of the widowed Mrs. Charlotte Haze. Charlotte becomes instantly infatuated with the civilized and intellectual Humbert, which she makes no secret of. However, Humbert is given another twist of fate. Lying half naked on the luscious green, Humbert’s’ tortured past makes a delightfully tender yet dangerous return in Delores Haze, Charlotte’s twelve-year-old nymphet of a daughter and ‘there was my Riviera love’ who he renames Lolita.

Humbert becomes tenderly obsessed with Lolita and confides in his locked away journal his sexual longings, Lolita’s every movements, the conversations they share, as well as his loathing’s for Charlotte Haze and hopes to have her eliminated. Whilst Lolita is at summer camp, Humbert marries Charlotte, only in order to remain close to his true love. However, once Charlotte discovers Humbert’s journal, which drips with his cruel distaste for her and shocking passion for her young daughter, Charlotte promises that he will never see Lolita again. In a heated frenzy Charlotte storms out of the house, and much to Humbert’s frightful delight, fate offers him another testing hand. Charlotte gets hit by a car, at which she is instantly killed. This offers Humbert the perfect scenario, possessing Lolita completely.

Humbert whisks Lolita away from summer camp and Lolita meets a mysterious man at the motel that seems to follow her and Humbert from there on, on their travels. Soon after Humbert and Lolita begin a passionate and dangerous love affair, travelling across the states and staying in various motels.  Lolita, who had already lost her virginity to a boy named Charlie at summer camp, seduces Humbert and encourages his advances. Along the way Lolita discovers the death of her mother, she is alone in the world, an orphan, with no choice but to turn to Humbert. From this perspective we may see Lolita as an innocent, something Humbert also ponders, ‘you see she had nowhere else to go’.

However, Humbert realizes that Lolita is not as innocent as he first expected and turns out to be entirely different to his Reverie love, Annabel.  Instead, Lolita strives on pleasure and as an audience we question whether she is fully aware of the power she possesses over Humbert or if she is blissfully unaware.  I often feel sympathetic towards Humbert more so than Lolita, as his love for her is truly genuine yet terrible something he is all too conscious of but with Lolita’s continuous advances his passion for her is all too hard to resist.  After years of yearning to have this childishly splendid affection he has finally been granted to do so.

Eventually Lolita enrolls in an all girl school and begins to manipulate Humbert. Lolita uses her sexuality as a weapon to gain power over Humbert, even charging him money during their romantic encounters. She also becomes secretive and difficult, threatening to tell people of their affair. In a desperate attempt to salvage their relationship Humbert allows Lolita to decide what they do next. And so the pair travel again and Lolita leaves school. However, during the trip a man follows the couple and after Lolita spends the night in hospital for a fever, she goes missing.  Humbert who is convinced that the man who had been following them has kidnapped Lolita spends the next two years searching for her and the kidnapper.

Later he receives a letter from Lolita, now married and pregnant, asking for money. When he goes to see her, he realizes that her husband was not her kidnapper and Lolita eventually admits that it was Clare Quilty, the playwright, the mysterious man she first met at the motel and whose presence is felt throughout the entirety of the storey.  Lolita confesses that Quilty was the only man she truly loved and she was the one who chose to go with him, but after she refused to take part in child pornography he threw her out. Humbert begs for Lolita to return to him but she gently declines, Humbert gives her the money and leaves.

Humbert than progresses to Clare Quiltys home and murders him, a particularly powerful and strange scene in the film by Adrian Lyne. Quilty is Humbert without a soul, without a conscious making the murder seem more forgivable. Humbert is arrested and imprisoned for the murder but continues to write his memoir. Lolita dies in childbirth and Humbert dies of heart failure, and the manuscript is sent to John Ray.

Screen caps from Lolita, a film by Adrian Lyne.

The 1997 film adaptation of Lolita directed by Adrian Lyne captures the beauty and tragedy of Nabokov’s novel flawlessly with nostalgic scenes and stunning performances from Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert and Dominique Swain as Lolita, it’s awe inspiring and true to the novel.  Scenes I found particularly poignant include the moment Humbert first encounters Lolita. The scene is delicate and beautiful, as we see Lolita lying in the luscious garden beneath a sprinkler, engulfing us with a warm romantic sensation, with a sumptuous score by Ennio Morricone gently playing in the background. Another scene I find interesting is when Lolita brushes her bare foot against Humbert’s leg as she carries washing inside from the garden. Is it an accident or did she know the effect that brief touch would have on Humbert?

Screen caps from Lolita, a film by Adrian Lyne.

The whole film is beautifully crafted, making it extremely difficult to pin point my favourite scenes visually. As a whole the film possesses this hazy dreamlike aesthetic, as Humbert’s passion is the lens through which everything is viewed reinforced through soft colour tones, touching landscapes and close attention to detail. From this perspective we can’t help but feel sympathy for Humbert and his love for Lolita. For me it’s quite evident that Humbert’s passion for Lolita is somewhat innocent and only loving in it’s intent. Therefore, I view this strange and beautiful tale as a love story. On the other hand, the film does also tell the story of a frightened, terribly abused little hostage, her tormentor and the tragic subject of pedophilia. Throughout the film I find myself questioning who is manipulating whom? Is Humbert a monster or simply in love with the wrong person? And as I never find myself disliking Humbert, who is ultimately a raging pedophile, and find myself understanding him more so than Lolita, is extraordinary and extremely worrying.

Lolita, the film by Adrian Lyne is simply divine. With characters and a story of such force and depth, everyone deserves to take pleasure in experiencing the tragic story of Humbert Humbert and his passion for his little Lolita.

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