Best Movie For A Twelve-Year-Old Girl On Netflix Adrian Lyne’s Lolita

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Adrian Lyne’s Lolita

A long time ago, way back in 1955, Vladimir Nabokov published a scandalous book that remains controversial long after his death. Lolita chronicles the life of a professor, Humbert Humbert, who falls for a 12 year old girl, and shamelessly pursues her. The novel is narrated by Humbert, which probably makes the book all the more controversial, as surely no one wants to read about the mind of a rapist. Fortunately for Nabokov, he proved himself as an adept writer and the book turned into a literary classic. Stanley Kubrick released a film in 1962 about the book, but censorship regulations of the time dictated that certain scenes from the book be left out. Sue Lyons, who starred as Lolita, was only 14 at the time of filming. Adrian Lyne directed the second screen adaptation in 1997. However due to  its content, Lyne had difficulty in finding a production company, and the film was eventually released on a cable network. It was however released in cinemas this side of the pond, and subjected to mixed reviews.

Jeremy Irons is Humbert Humbert, a professor who goes to America to teach. He remains deeply affected by the death of his childhood sweetheart, which happened when he was 14, thus sparking a lifelong interest in adolescent girls. To Humbert, his lost love was the embodiment of the ideal woman. Obviously there’s no excuse for paedophilia, that’s what makes this movie hard to watch,  but his past heartbreak explains his unhealthy but conscious attraction to young girls.

The Summer before his semester starts, he decides to finish his text book, and stays with widow Charlotte Haze. He is initially unimpressed with the messy house, but upon seeing  Charlotte’s daughter Dolores, always called Lo, for the first time, decides to stay. He calls her ‘Lolita,’ and gazes at her in awe and lust.

Humbert interprets Lo’s playfulness as flirtations, and reacts with schoolboy embarrassment. Charlotte has a very real interest in Humbert, and the two eventually marry. Charlotte, fed up with her precocious daughter answering her back all the time, decides that Lo ought to go to Summer camp and then boarding school, where she’ll learn some manners.

Charlotte breaks into Humbert’s locked drawer, and reads his journal, where she discovers that he is obsessed with Lo, and repulsed by Charlotte. Furious, she runs out of the house, and meets her end by running out in front of a car. Humbert collects Lo from camp posing as her father, and the two start a relationship and go on a road trip.

Humbert freely refers to Lo as his daughter, conflicted between his duties as her stepfather and his desire for her. He advises her on schoolwork, gives her a weekly allowance, and attempts to discipline her. Lolita asks for more money in return for sexual favours, which Humbert obliges. She becomes increasingly more difficult to him, which makes him suspicious that she’s plotting to run away. Both Humbert and Lolita find their relationship shameful, with Lo often crying after a sexual encounter.

At times Lolita is immature for her age, other times the opposite, especially when we realize she had sex with someone at summer camp. She’s also aware of incest and rape, yet at times clueless to the reality that he’s taking advantage of her. She’s still a child, and nowhere near old enough to make any conscious or informed decision regarding sex. Her father is dead, so she could be seeking a father figure yet simultaneously confused by Humbert’s feelings for her. Some people believe that Lolita willingly manipulated Humbert, as throughout the movie she’s obsessed with money and ways of getting it. We see Humbert riddled with guilt at times, ashamed that he took away Lo’s childhood, and how he is unable to redeem himself. As it is he who narrates the movie, we never truly see how Lolita was affected by all of it, only that she grows up before her time. The movie does not glorify rape or underage sex, nor does it cast a romantic light on their relationship. Humbert tells the tale as a sort of an idealistic love story, but the viewer remains aware of the inappropriate circumstances playing out in front of them. I haven’t read the book, but upon research discovered that the character of Humbert is far less likeable in the book. Also, it seems that Lyne avoided using certain parts of the novel in the film, possibly to make it easier to watch, and scenes of a sexual nature are brief and opaque.

Jeremy Irons is perfect as an unsympathetic, complicated figure haunted by the death of his childhood sweetheart. He is very credible as the well-spoken, book smart but emotionally immature Humbert. Dominique Swain is also excellent, as she skips along the line between childish innocence and manipulative teenager immaculately. You don’t have to admire the characters, or even like them. The content is controversial, it is about a paedophile rationalising his interest in an underage girl, but with Nabokov’s prose as dialogue, the movie is far more poignant and fascinating than you’d expect.

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