Simply put Lolita is not a story I care for. We all know what it's about. A man, Humbert Humbert, goes to great lengths to be with a pre-teen, the titular Lolita, including marrying said pre-teen's mother. Unfortunately, his forcible nature, his possessiveness and sheer obsession lead to a path of despair, death and murder. Eh, not that good of a story. That being said, I don't think Kubrick did Vladimir Nabokov's novel justice. It's hard to take a story that I don't even like and make me pity what it's become at the hands of another creator.
A lot of Kubrick's shortcomings with Lolita can be attributed to the strict production codes of the time. Much, if not all, of the novel's eroticism is washed away in favor of black comedy, which wouldn't be so bad if at times the film did not take itself so seriously. I couldn't really get a sense of what the film was trying to be. Too much of the plot is only implied at, resulting in an overload of fade-to-blacks. They got really annoying after a while to say the least. If somebody did not read Nabokov's novel prior to watching this film, the image they would take away of Lolita would differ jarringly from the source novel. People would probably think the novel is just as tame as the film! Although a friend of mine loved the film for these reasons, saying that she did not have to endure the repulsive sexuality of the plot and could just pick up on the undertones. To that I told her to go live in the 1960s.
Kubrick also eliminated a lot of the novel's plot elements that could have helped flesh out the dull story here. For example, he discards all of Humbert Humbert's back story, excluding out the explanation for his fixation on young girls. I'm not saying I wanted to sympathize with Humbert (trust me, I don't); but it would have helped flesh out his character if some of his back story was given. Besides, his vileness is also tamed down in the film so I don't see why they didn't portray his background to drive home the point that we're supposed to sympathize with Humbert. In the film, Humbert Humbert is more of a poor love-struck sap than the manipulating and possessive monster he truly is. The man is like Gatsby on crack. He could have been handled in such a way to make him one of the darkest anti anti-heros of cinema. Instead of a making the film into a black comedy due to the production codes, Kubrick should have made Lolita into a film noir since Humbert would get his in the end anyways as befitting all noir bad guys. Humbert Humbert is only made sympathetic because the characters around him are just so damn annoying. The best of the worst.
Yet, my main gripe with the film is Peter Sellers. Oh my God, I hated him! This is my first Sellers film and I'm not sold on the man. Sellers' performance as Clarence Quilty feels so out of place. The film opens up with a murder, setting a precise tone for the film. Yet, nothing that follows onscreen matches that foundation. What's worse is that Sellers' character is involved in the murder; but throughout the film, Sellers does Sellers things and assumes different comical guises to deceive Humbert. His performance is too buffoonish even for a black comedy. Everytime he appeared onscreen I wanted to say
Sue Lyon as the titular Lolita does a decent job. I never got the feel that we got to really know her character though. In the novel, we only see Lolita through Humbert's eyes. However, we are still able to get glimpses into Lolita's personal misery. In the film, since the point of view is switched from Humbert to a general one, I expected for Lolita to become demystified. The Lolita in the film though is just another teenager who likes playing games, and not a girl stuck in a bad situation unable to harness her new-found sexuality. It was evident to me how basic Lyon's performance was in Lolita's final appearance in the film. Her final meeting with Humbert is very disappointing to say the least. None of the blame can be placed on Mason who still retains his desperate act. Lyon just does not really emote very well. She can play seductive very well, but when she is required to bring forth her character's inner woes, well that just ain't happening.
Lolita is my least favorite Kubrick. The Kubrick marathon just took a major dip. Lolita just does not have the Kubrick touch! Do you know how many Kubrick stares disturbed Humbert Humbert could have given out? Ugh. But it is still a decent film with two great performances, a good look to it, and a title song to die for (seriously, check it out here). Even if I had not read the source novel, I still would not think much of this film. Too many omissions and implications. Too unable to define itself/its genre. Too blatant a failure at trying to be a stand-alone work of art, apart from its source material.The only thing I still wish is that Kubrick would have gone the film noir route with this one. It would have been superb.