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Lolita: Adrian Lyne Movie versus Novel

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1849 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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        Lolita, a movie directed by Adrian Lyne and written by Stephen Schiff was released in 1997, an adaptation of the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The year the movie came out let it have more room for being more open about sexuality and love presented in the book. There are many similarities between the novel and the movie; however there are also many differences and many things are left out of the movie that play a huge role in the book. I think that the focus of the film and the reason for making it was to really penetrate the emotional depths of the novel and bring them to life on the screen in beautiful and dramatic images, and scenes which are over-stylized. The tone of the book is more of a comical one, but it is also tragic because of Humbert and him telling us the story from his perspective, however he blows every single thing out of perspective. We get a sense that perhaps that his love for Lolita traps Humbert into a fate that will ultimately leave him haggard and destroyed. He weeps uncontrollably and never lets himself get over his original 14-year-old love named Annabel, and allows himself to “incarnate” her as Lolita. He lets his feelings for her navigate all his decisions, and by the end, he has nothing but overly-dramatic feelings for her.

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        Both the movie and the novel go for different things; the novel is more witty and has more humor in it and focuses more on the love between Humbert and Lolita, however the movie focuses more on their journey than their love. The 1997 adaptation has much more room to be as sexually frank as the novel was. I think that several scenes are similar, and are thus up for comparison. The movie doesn’t have as much wit as the novel, but it does have some emotional toll that the novel had. Jeremy Irons was a perfect pick for Humbert. He’s droll in a very unique way, and no one can look distraught the way he does. He brings a wonderful sympathy to the role that goes beyond the appeal to emotion and really comes up as being easy to identify with the audience. Humbert exists in a fantasy world of his obsessions and desires, and this reflects the way the entire film has been designed. The movie was filmed from his point of view and it let him kind of direct what we see and what the movie omits. When he looks at Lolita with so much love, and she looks at him with lust, you know that he’s her prisoner for as long as he lives. In both the novel and the movie Humbert is portrayed as a character that is in love and he would do anything to keep that love as close as he can to him. Dominique Swain, who plays Lolita, is a very remarkable character, she plays her role perfectly, she has the qualities of a nymphet and Humbert really appreciated that. She pulls off the tough role, balancing the qualities of seduction, brattiness, and self-centeredness that marks the character that she had to play, showing us how mean she can be and how she can get whatever she wants from Humbert, but also she’s very seductive with her red lipstick and reveling clothes. It’s easy to see why she is in lust with Humbert; she loves the attention, and knows that she can have her way with him at any time. Whenever he denies her something, she blackmails him effortlessly, and when he stands up to her, she weeps and runs away, leaving Humbert to follow her. There are two other minor characters in the film, one who’s a road block in the beginning, and the other who’s a reappearing threat to the relationship, until she dies. The former is Charlotte, Lolita’s mother, played by Melanie Griffith. In the book, Charlotte is a monster of a woman; overbearing, constantly scolding her child, overly-religious, and ultimately very selfish. She’s also an obstacle Humbert has to overcome to obtain his goal, at least in the beginning. The other obstacle that we find out about later on is Clare Quilty, the writer who is also trying to seduce Lolita, and succeeds, but at a price. Frank Langella takes a totally different direction than the one Vladimir Nabokov took in the book. Langella takes the other route compared to the one Nabokov chose for him; allowing all the creepiness to be unearthed, and the result is a character who exists in shadows and low shots, and who meets a wonderfully ironic ending, the exact opposite of what I thought of him. I thought of him as a very sophisticated character that is wealthy and can get whatever he wants without much effort. We actually see how much effort he put into being with Lolita and following them; changing the cars and being very cautious about it.

        There is no sense of pornography in the text. There are some scenes that are graphic in the movie that are not as graphic in the novel. One of them is when Lolita and Humbert are making love as she reads the comics section of a newspaper. In the novel it’s one of the witty and humorous examples rather than in the movie which is a very shocking scene, also very serious. The complexity and superiority of the book is due to the fact that Nabokov attempted to confuse and manipulate the emotions of the reader with many different twists and turns that didn’t rely on the storyline or the plot. The movie falls short in this department due to the fact that it follows the storyline and plot. The most predominant reason that the movie simply does not work is the fact that it would be unethical to show Humbert Humbert with Dolores, a twelve year old innocent little child and in the book Nabokov uses his writing to distract the reader from the simple fact that Dolores is a child who does sexual favors to an adult male. Nabokov plays with his wording as well as focusing more on their relationship and love, and how they interact with each other rather than Humbert and Lolita being sexually involved with each other. There is not much in the book that focuses on their sexual relationship. The more intimate moments are very vague and that’s how the author tries to distract us and make the reader pay attention to the more important things that the book is focusing on, such as love and lost. However that’s not the focus of the novel; in the movie it is a very vivid picture. It is this distraction that allows the author to manipulate the reader into feeling sympathetic towards Humbert.

        Lolita’s age was changed from twelve in the book to fourteen in the movie. The name Lolita is used only by Humbert in the novel, whereas in the fild several of the characters refer to her by the pet name. In the book she is referred to as Lo or Lola or Dolly; however Lolita was Humbert’s personal, endearing and lustful name for the nymphet in the novel. Lolita has chestnut hair in the novel, in the movie she has dark red hair always braided. One of the main details that that was omitted in the movie that really bothered me is that the whole tennis scene with Lolita was gone; especially how Humbert was so amazed with her and her grace and we usually don’t see her like that, most of the time the audience sees her as a brat and sometimes even uncontrollable young girl.

The more fully drawn character of Humbert also does not come completely across as the dirt old man that he is in the movie. Humbert’s whole childhood is omitted in the movie, whereas in the book it is a big part of the book explaining why he is the way he is now. There’s only a short scene with Annabel Leigh that shows why Humbert is interested in nymphets. Humbert’s whole life before moving to America is not showed in the movie. These details were very important in the book; and showed us Humbert’s relationships outside of him being with Lolita, we don’t see these in the movie; the relationship between Humbert and alcoholic Rita was left out of the film as well. The movie opens with a scene near the end of the story, Humbert driving after killing Quilty. This shows Humbert as a murderer before showing us Humbert as a lover of nymphets. We know that he kills somebody but we can only speculate until the end of the novel as well as the end of the movie. The rest of the film is a flashback which begins from Humbert’s first meeting with Charlotte Haze and continues chronologically until the final murder scene is presented.

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        It’s very hard to compare the movie to the novel because of how different they are. For the most part a novel is driven by action which takes place inside the character’s head which in this case is Humbert. One of the big differences that novels have is that they have many more details than the movie version. The main reason for that is, if the movie would be as detailed as the novel it is based on the movie would be very long, but sometimes it’s not the best idea to take out the much needed details because those details are what makes the book a good read and a piece of art. When reading a book you get to use your imagination. You can picture what’s going on in your head, and try to figure out what the characters look like for yourself. Movies take most of the dialogue parts, and present those with some changes to fit the screenplay, because when we read novels we get to use our imagination and it’s up to us how we interpret what author says, which is not the case when we get to see the movie because we focus on what we see more than the wittiness of what we’re watching. Usually screen adaptations are much different than the novels because of the time they have to fit the whole book into and that some humor and wit are hard to transfer from the paper to the screen. If I was a screen director I would try to stay as faithful to the book as I could because usually when the screenplay doesn’t necessary stick to the book it most often is much worse than the book.

The newer movie, the one that I watched could have more sex in it than the book or the first movie that was based on the novel because the first movie was filmed in 1960s. The movie is made from a script in which the characters have the same names as the characters in the book, the plot bears a resemblance to the original and some of the incidents are vaguely similar. But the Lolita that Vladimir Nabokov wrote as a novel and the Lolita Stephen Schiff wrote as a film are two different pieces of art and they cannot be compared as much as we would want to because even though the movie is based on the novel it is a completely different story that focuses on different aspects than the novel does. The novel is a mirror image of what the author is trying to tell us, and the film is just trying to figure out what the author tried to tell us in the movie. The script for the first movie was written by Nabokov so he made it very similar to the book, and he knows exactly what his message was in the novel; however the second version which was made in 1997 was just trying to figure out what Nabokov exactly tried to say in the novel and put it on the big screen.


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