LolitaSeptember 25, 1998
A man marries his landlady so he can take advantage of her daughter.
Release Year: 1997
Rating: 6.8/10 (19,439 voted)
Critic's Score: 46/100
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith
Humbert Humbert, a British professor coming to the US to teach, rents a room in Charlotte Haze's house, but only after he sees her 14-year-old daughter, Dolores (Lolita), to whom he is immediately attracted. Though he hates the mother, he marries her as this is the only way to be close to the girl, who will prove to be too mature for her age. They start a journey together, trying to hide they're not just (step)father and daughter, throughout the country, being followed by someone whom Humbert first suspects to be from the police. The profound jealousy, and maybe some guilt from the forbidden love, seem slowly to drive the man emotionally labile.
Writers: Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen Schiff
Dolores 'Lolita' Haze
Erin J. Dean
Pat Pierre Perkins
(as Pat P. Perkins)
Young Humbert Humbert
Emma Griffiths Malin
(as Emma Griffiths-Malin)
Young Humbert's Father
The most talked about, written about, controversial movie of the year.
Release Date: 25 September 1998
Filming Locations: Austin High School – 3500 Memphis Avenue, El Paso, Texas, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: DEM 498,340
(4 January 1998)
(22 November 1998)
Did You Know?
In Australia, the film was held back from release, due to concerns about promoting pedophilia. It was granted release in 1999 with an R rating.
When Lolita looks through the stacks of $100 bills Humbert has just given her, they are clearly modern notes with design elements and signatures of the 1990s, not the earlier versions that would have been in circulation circa 1950.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks, she was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always – Lolita. Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin. My soul.
Humbert the noble, or how to make a pedophile lovable.
This is an excellent adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant book about
the sordid relationship between a grown man and a teenage girl. Although
still disconcerting, the subject of pedophilia is far less shocking today
than when the book was published almost 50 years ago. Yet, despite the
subject matter, the book was wildly popular because it was a literary work
of art, beautifully written with some of the most splendid metaphors and
descriptive narrative in American literature. This was all the more amazing
when one considers that English was Nabokov's second language.
Director Adrian Lynn (Fatal Attraction, 9 ½ weeks, Indecent Proposal) is no
stranger to stories with perverse sexual content. His presentation of the
story does the book justice although certain interpretations may not have
been what Nabokov had in mind. Lynn gives us a presentation that is very
sympathetic to Humbert. Nabokov's Humbert was very complex, partly a victim
of his fixation on young girls, partly a sexual predator and partly a
hopeless romantic. Nabokov's Lolita was extremely innocent, just
approaching the threshold of sexual curiosity and urges, more playful than
consciously provocative. While Nabokov hints at a mutual seduction, he
leans far more heavily towards Humbert as the cause of the events even
though Humbert is clearly helpless in the face of his obsession. Lolita
entered into the sexual relationship more as a result of longings burgeoning
from her blossoming sexuality than a desire to seduce Humbert in particular,
who was not even her first lover.
Lynn's presentation transforms Humbert from the seducer into the seduced,
whose weakness for young girls is manipulated by a sexually precocious siren
tempting him to dash himself on the shoals of pedophilia. Lynn portrays
Lolita as the aggressor, an adolescent temptress who knows she is desired
and simultaneously teases and entices him to do her lustful bidding, knowing
he is powerless to resist. Lynn's Humbert is more of a hapless romantic
than a fiend, ennobling him as a victim of love rather than the confounded
sociopath he really is. In Lynn's version, Humbert becomes the fly to
However, after the initial seduction when they take to the road, the film is
very true to the book in chronicling the decay of the relationship,
Humbert's further plunge into feelings of romantic desperation and Lolita's
shrewish exploitation of him as she increasingly uses sex as a weapon. The
book was very effective at portraying the relationship as a symbiosis of two
deficient beings, each selfishly taking from the other what was needed.
Lynn does an excellent job of portraying that here. As the relationship
degenerates, Lynn is effectual at portraying the ugly side of both
characters. The bitterness and rancor that results is compelling. To his
credit, he understands that Nabokov's story was more of a character study
than a sex story and Lynn avoids the temptation of becoming too lurid,
focusing instead on solid character development of two very flawed
I must take a moment to give Lynn the highest praise for his period
renderings. This is one of the finest portrayals of 1940's Americana I can
remember. The costumes, hairstyles, cars, furniture, locations and sets
create a 40's reality that is like being hurtled back in a time machine.
The music is not just precise for the period, but it is perfectly integrated
with the story. As the two travel, the music changes to reflect the region.
Having Lolita dance and sing to period music on the radio is a nice touch
because that is exactly what teenage girls of any era are apt to
The acting is first rate all around. When the film was made, Dominique
Swain was 17, and although she looked young for her age, she could never
pass for 12. So for the first part of the film before Charlotte's demise,
she is simply too mature. However, for the road trip she is ideal. Though
I don't agree with Lynn's early interpretation of Lolita as the teenage
temptress, I can't imagine it being done any better than the performance
Swain delivers. She is playful and provocative in a childlike manner, part
pixie and part vamp. Once they get on the road, Swain hits stride with a
performance that is almost a force of nature. She is powerful and intense,
effortlessly moving back and forth between sweet innocence and the emotional
torrent typified by the `murder me' scene. It is an outstanding performance
with depth and breadth that is very unusual for an actor so
Jeremy Irons is wonderful as Humbert, giving him as amiable a personality as
one could possibly imagine for a character with such vile intentions. Irons
injects a good deal of wry humor into the part in addition to giving Humbert
an almost quixotic romantic quality. Melanie Griffith is just the wrong
actress to play Charlotte. She looks nothing like the portly and plain
character described in Nabokov's book. Though her acting is fine and she is
appropriately obsequious, she is far too attractive to be the repulsive
troll Humbert despised. It takes away from Humbert's desperation because it
hardly seems like a great sacrifice to have married Charlotte to be near
Frank Langella (Dracula) is more obnoxious than mysterious as Quilty, making
the audience want to exhort Humbert to pull the trigger as he confronts
Quilty with the revolver. Again, I think this is probably Lynn's doing
since his vision is clearly that of a Humbert sympathizer.
This is a fine film with great production values, terrific performances and
a classic story. I feel that it surpasses Kubrik's adaptation in its
ability to capture many of the finer points of Nabokov's book, even though
Nabokov collaborated on the Kubrik film. I rated it an 8/10. It is
definitely worth digging out of the rental stacks.