Not rated, mainly because I think they didn't know what to do with this one. This reads a lot like a Hollywood pre-code movie. It's wildly suggestive, but even more so. Let's call it, this would be a solid R simply because of the content. It's about pedophilia at its most base form. People treat each other terribly. The IMDB Parents' Guide is hilariously missing the mark. Under "Sex and Nudity", it says mild because none of it actually happens on screen. And that's where this feels like a pre-code movie. It's fundamentally about sex, but you don't actually see any of it. The only thing I can actually put under here for explicit content is that someone gets shot. Not rated, but it should be R.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
FilmStruck is dying, guys. I had all these movies that I wanted to watch when I got FilmStruck, and within a month or two of getting it, it says that it is dying. How depressing is that? I've never seen either adaptation of Lolita. It always seemed pretty gross to me, but I also wanted to knock out one of the more important Stanley Kubrick movies that I've never gotten around to. When you sign up for Stanley Kubrick, you are often signing up for uncomfortable content. He's never been lumped in with the "shock" directors, but many of his movies often are fairly shocking. We watch them for their brilliance, but they cannot be divorced from their uncomfortable content. There's a certain voyeurism that comes from watching a Kubrick film or a Tarantino film. We want to know how gross the movie can get and I think that Kubrick plays with that idea a lot in Lolita.
To romanticize this movie is gross. When I saw that FilmStruck stuck it under "romance", that just gives me all of the creeps. It's a gross, gross film and I just think that FilmStruck didn't know what to do with it. But it is structured like a romantic drama. There's a few people in the world whom I will always assume know what they are doing. I'm not going to criticize certain choices because those choices aren't accidents. Kubrick is very deliberate with the format he is presenting here. Although the movie looks quite old (I keep thinking how structurally formatted this movie is to the pre-code movies), this is 1962. Kubrick had already made Spartacus (with a nod to that movie in this one!) in color. He was already becoming the Stanley Kubrick of repute. Sure, he hadn't made 2001 yet or some of his other monumental films, but he was aware of how to make a movie by this point. But he makes this movie in the form of a romantic drama and that's a really odd choice. Why would Kubrick do that? He has to be commenting on the stigma of sexuality. I'm not going to be the guy who comes forward and say that we've come so far as a culture that the sexualization of children has gone away. Sorry, but I know that the CW still exists and that there's a type that keeps getting put on billboards. But Kubrick makes this movie that is meant to make you forget that you are watching a commentary while you are constantly reminded that you are grossed out. Don't worry, there's constant reminders of how gross the content is. He's not going to let you off the hook that easily. But the way the movie is shot looks so safe. It's actually one of my odd comments on the movie. The opening scene of the film is very much in the vein of Stanley Kubrick. It's how he got me on board. But the rest of the movie doesn't really look like it was directed by him. I'm always associating Kubrick with precision and this movie feels almost intentionally sloppy. It reads very much like a soap opera in the hands of someone who knows what he is doing. I'm not saying that there isn't technique. Quite the opposite, but Kubrick wants you to forget that the camera is there. These aren't insanely lit. On the contrary, the lighting is typical five-point lighting. Everything is bright and clean and, well, like a soap opera.
That soap opera is what makes the movie watchable. While I prefer something more along the lines of The Shining from Kubrick, with content like this he needed to make something that could justify a two-and-a-half hour runtime. There's a lot of content in here, but it never feels all that boring. That's all fine and good, but then you realize that there isn't a lot of plot. The first half is actually saturated with plot. We know where the movie is going. This might be my 21st century look back and know how Lolita affected pop culture. We know that James Mason is going to try to seduce Sue Lyon despite Shelley Winters being there. It's what makes the movie sick. Knowing where the movie is trying to go makes this plot very intricate and complex. We know that Humbert (actually "Humbert Humbert", which I'm not sure why that is part of the narrative) is going to make a really gross decision along the way and it's interesting to see which gross path he's going to take. I'm going to start spiraling into theories about what Kubrick is trying to say with this story. Please bear with me, because I know that people have probably analyzed this piece far better than what I'm about to present. It's interesting to see the amorality of Humbert from the beginning of the chronological narrative. (I'm not talking about the Quilty sequence at the beginning of the movie. I'm talking about the four year time jump.) Humbert, especially played by Mason, seems like the type that would be a noble protagonist. An intellectual and kind looking man, it seems like he is plagued by immorality all around him. Lolita's mother is aggressively sexual. His friends seem to be open-minded about sexuality. He actually seems like milktoast. He is uncomfortable when confronted by any remotely sexual activity, even avoiding dancing because of his discomfort. But he actually proves to be the biggest deviant of them all. He enjoys the illicit nature of his feelings and keeps a secret diary. It actually mentions in the movie that the diary is only giving more into the grossness of the whole situation. The juxtaposition between Humbert's well-mannered exterior and his interior perversions might be the message. When Lolita's mother discovers his sickness, she's completely taken aback. Part of that, from a character perspective, is because she is rejected in exchange for the closest person in her life. (It feels like this has happened before, but that isn't explicit.) But the sexual deviant of the story is dethroned by Humbert. This can take the theme into two different directions. The easy interpretation is that looks don't always mean content of character. I like this theme, but it lets a lot of people off the hook. With this interpretation, Lolita is more of a cautionary tale, simplified into a really basic "Never judge a book by its cover" moral. Only, you know, referring to pedophiles. The alternate is possibly a more damning criticism. Is it saying that anyone can become a pervert? Are the most conservative of us harboring something super gross inside? While this is an impressive and far more interesting interpretation of Humbert, I don't know if the story really supports that? He is quick to ramp up the story to murder. He makes active choices that are meant to be evil for evil's sake.
But this also leads me to question Humbert's choices throughout the story. There are all of these moments where I don't understand Humbert's thinking. It is clear through his diary entries that he intends to seduce Lolita. I've actually never seen a character with such single-purposed motivation. But then he does all these things throughout the story to delay his gratification. He marries Lolita's mother, which kind of makes sense in a backwards way. It keeps him in the picture. But then when SPOILER, she dies, he makes up this whole story about how she's in the hospital. Okay, it's a weird choice. On one hand, it doesn't make Lolita distraught. Okay, I can see that. Also, Humbert becomes this trusted individual in her life, changing their relationship into something that it wasn't before. But by this logic, Humbert is betting on seducing Lolita before his lie is discovered. With a lie like that, there's a timetable in the picture that wasn't there before. It's too big of a lie and it is too easily discovered to be a lie. This is where his motivations confuse me. He takes Lolita to a hotel. All of the situations are leading them to sleep together. There is only one room with a big bed. He tries to get a cot to be noble and maintain the facade. But there are no cots. Lolita straight up comes onto him. She lets her intentions known and lets him know that her feelings parallel his feelings. But then he goes out of his way to maintain the illusion. He's going to be discovered very soon to be a liar and his game will be up, but he is constantly delaying. Now, I think this might come down to James Mason. I think that there's something pretty complex going on here and Mason might not be performing the nuanced layers that the film needs. I haven't read the book, but I have a feeling that Humbert is disgusted by himself and wants to do the right thing. But his evil nature is probably fighting against that surge of conscience and he doesn't know what to do. Okay, the film doesn't sell that. He just kind of comes across like a crazy person. It's only though the suspension of disbelief that his plan works so well. By no means should it have, but it does.
I'm about to close up, but I do want to point out how much I love Peter Sellers in this movie. His character doesn't really make a ton of sense to me. There's a moment that it almost crosses over into the goofy, solidifying the soap opera nature of this movie. But it doesn't really change the fact that I love Peter Sellers. I'm going to be a hypocrite again and say that his character almost shouldn't be in the film. He's this over-the-top, outrageous element to what should be a very small story. But he manages it like a complete champ. He is so good and that opening scene in the film remind me that I'm watching a Stanley Kubrick movie. He's weird and eccentric, while being gross as well. Sinc the perspective is that of Humbert's, we never really get a full view of his narrative or perspective. He's this outside force that is almost an agent of chaos in Humbert's small worldview. Regardless, despite the fact that his character doesn't make a lick of sense, I like his performance a lot and he adds a lot to the story.
I don't know if I love this movie. It's very watchable. Like a Stanley Kubrick film, you know you are watching something very impressive and you can marvel at it. But like with some art, you can appreciate the message and the skill while being completely skeeved out. Lolita kind of fits into the category of grosser Kubrick films like Eyes Wide Shut or Full Metal Jacket that does shock, but is still a pretty amazing film. It doesn't necessarily feel like his other films, but I'm willing to bet that it is all by choice.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.