With incredible restraint and backed by all-round excellent performances, Kubrick’s exploration into a revolting form of sexual obsession is remarkable for its implicit portrayal of an erotic relationship between a (step)father and his daughter.
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1962 | USA/UK | Drama/Romance | 153 mins | 1.66:1 | English
PG (passed clean) – ought to be NC16 for mature theme
Cast: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers
Plot: A middle-aged college professor becomes infatuated with a fourteen-year-old nymphet.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best Adapted Screenplay (Oscars)
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Sexual Obsession
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
One of Stanley Kubrick’s less talked about films, Lolita is a terrific picture, adapted from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel by the author himself, and transformed by Kubrick into an engrossing 2 ½-hour long drama that relies on what we don’t see for its revolting power.
In a way, this is an early precursor to his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), also about deviant sexuality, but which is markedly more explicit and surreal.
Lolita, on the other hand, is very much grounded and restrained; in fact, it is made more remarkable that something as taboo as the erotic relationship between a (step)father and his daughter is rendered so casually.
Or perhaps ‘naturally’ might be a better term to use because after a while Kubrick’s exploration of sexual obsession becomes all-too-normal.
“I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!”
Some might find the film problematic, perhaps because of its lack of sensation or overt posturing that would make its theme easier to detest, yet that is Kubrick’s masterstroke because his restraint here allows us another way in, that is, for us to try to connect with the myriad of characters and find their obsessions, behaviours, or fetishes if you will, an innate part of their beings.
James Mason is superb as the salacious father figure, as well as Sue Lyon as the nymphet with the lilting titular name. Shelley Winters who plays Lolita’s biological mother, and the chameleon-like Peter Sellers (in a double-role as inquisitive intellectuals), are all excellent.
Kubrick humanises all of them through dialogue and action, sometimes with a hint of inevitability and melancholy. Lolita begins with the ending in a lengthy prologue, but that doesn’t take away the excitement of seeing it all unfold, however perversely.