Lowest of the Lolita


I recently watched both movie versions of Lolita, the 1962 Stanley Kubrick one and the 1997 version with Jeremy Irons. I haven’t read the book, but general opinion seems to be that the latter was more faithful to the source material. Really, though, they were pretty similar, with the main difference being the more graphic nature of the 1997 film. I also think some of the characters came off differently, though. Humbert, especially, seemed more charming and likeable in the Kubrick film, while Irons played him as pretty much a jerk throughout. Mind you, I’m sure there’s some connection here to the graphic thing, as it’s probably harder to feel bad for someone you’ve actually SEEN engage in pedophilia than someone for whom it’s mostly just implied. Lolita’s brattiness was also highlighted much more in the newer movie. Perhaps the most changed character, however, was Quilty, who was played by Peter Sellers as sort of an affable joker, while the 1997 film made him a creepy, shadowy sort of figure. I understand Quilty’s role was changed quite a bit in the Kubrick movie, and I have to suspect he was played comically to add a bit of levity to what is a disturbing film overall. Really, when Lolita mentions near the end of the movie that Quilty wanted her to be in child pornography, it seemed a bit far-fetched for the character as Sellers had played him. I also think the constant presence of Quilty in the earlier film played up just how clueless Humbert was, since he never recognized the guy despite seeing him over and over again.

One thing I find interesting is how the word “Lolita” now seems to be used in ways that really don’t have anything to do with the story. Neither movie had Lolita wearing what would be considered Lolita fashion, for instance. In fact, it’s actually kind of the opposite, as Lolita clothing is typically not revealing, while Dolores Haze was always wearing revealing outfits. It’s weird how words can change meaning like that, but it seems pretty common for terms derived from literature. Uncle Tom wasn’t an Uncle Tom, and Electra didn’t have an Electra complex. Oh, well.

Picture source

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