Irish Film Institute -Lolita


Stanley Kubrick generally kept a distance between himself and the characters he presented. But if there are two in his work to whom he seems sympathetically drawn, they are probably Humbert Humbert (James Mason) in Lolita and Jack Torrance in The Shining. Both have their little idiosyncrasies (paedophilia in one case and axe-wielding in the other). But in both cases these are presented by Kubrick as symptoms of frustration rather than revelations of desire. Both are thwarted artists who become unhinged when the world they inhabit resists conforming to their romantic image of it.
If the film of Lolita lacks the eroticism of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, the reason is that Kubrick is essentially exploring the exhilaration and ultimate sickness of an obsession. The style is detached and watchful. Kubrick employs long takes, partly because the performances are so remarkable that they resist fragmenting; partly because it heightens the impact when a scene is suddenly given a more disruptive editing rhythm (as happens with the first appearance of Lolita [Sue Lyon], and frequently during the eruptions of Quilty [Peter Sellers] into the narrative).
It is a story of obsession, forbidden love and murder, with imagery and structure that cross the film noir (flawed hero, femmes fatales and flashbacks) with the horror film (mysterious castles, fairy princess and monsters of the id). But an ironic, sprightly tone is established in a remarkable opening scene where Humbert’s murderous designs towards Quilty are variously parried through the latter’s verbal insanity, his bizarre appearance in a Roman toga, and his engagement of Humbert in a game of ping-pong. It is a reminder that Kubrick’s mordant humour led some critics at the time to talk of him as a successor to Billy Wilder. (U.K., 1961. Black and white. 153 mins.)

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