Wednesday, October 10, 2007

You don't know you like I know you

One of my favorite books in the history of literature is Nabokov's Lolita. It's so filled with subtext, it's brilliant. The story is told from the perspective of a pedophile (Humbert) who basically stalks then repeatedly rapes his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter. What's so amazing about the novel is how it's told from an unreliable narrator's point of view, so many people completely misunderstand the story and think it's about a young seductress who ruins a man's life.

So I finally got around to watching the 1962 film version of the novel tonight and hated it immediately. The opening scene gives away what was to me one of the great mysteries that kept me turning pages - who did Humbert murder to end up in prison? The girl playing Lolita is about 15 when she's supposed to be 10 at the beginning of the story, and any scenes establishing Humbert's lifelong desire for little girls are completely absent from the picture. And everybody keeps calling her Lolita, when the only person who ever calls her that in the novel is Humbert, because he's trying to take away her identity and make her his possession. And the girl in the film is a total spoiled brat, not the innocent little girl with a childhood crush from the novel.

I thought to myself, man this must have pissed Nabokov off. This film is toothless.

So I IMDB'd it to find out what idiot ruined this fantastic story.

It was Nabokov. He adapted his own novel and Stanley Kubrick directed it.

My brain is imploding.

Did I just completely misunderstand the novel? Did the studio force him to do this? Did Kubrick do away with his balls for the duration of filming?

I don't get it. How does a man destroy his greatest work?

The 1997 version is a little closer to the original text, but still sides with Humbert. Film has yet to do justice to my third favorite novel.

So that's it. I'm going to remake this film one day, the right way, the way Nabokov and Kubrick should have done it. Silly men, not knowing how to tell their own stories.


  1. Oh hell yes!

    I love that book myself. I daresay it's one of the best opening paragraphs there is EVAR!

    I think this is one of those stories that is simply meant to exist in book form, and not some other medium. I don't care for either the Kubrick version or the Swain version.

    I just don't think it can work outside the privacy of your head.

  2. What Studio? Kubrick worked only on one studio movie and that was Spartacus.

    And I am pretty sure the age difference between the book and the film is mainly of visual terms.

    You like Nabokov's writing style. Then stick with it. Movie is a visual medium and should remain so that Kubrick can put on his visual style on it.

    Lolita is one of my favourite movies because I let myself drag into world of Humbert.

    Maybe you should've just left the book out of your mind and watched movie as its own work. But then when you read a great book it's hard to do so. I know that from experience.

  3. Even worse, then. If there's no studio there's no excuse.

    They took a novel about a pedophile and made him a sad hero. That's what I find disgusting.

    I don't really know what you mean by "mainly in visual terms". The girl in the film is not ten and is not treated like a ten year old. She's going steady for crying out loud.

    I think this book is adaptable. I already know how I'd do it in order to maintain the integrity of the story.

    For one thing, there are several scenes that establish Humbert as a pedophile before he even meets the girl, and all of those scenes were removed from the film.

    My point is that I don't understand why Nabokov would butcher his own work so much.

  4. well, what I meant with visual terms is that Kubrick and Nabokov wanted (maybe also because of censors) to have a more grown up and sexy Lolita, so the audience can relate more to Humberts longings.

    And you propably don't want to narrate every feeling and emotion of Humbert towards Lolita everytime he sees her. So it is easier and more practical for a film to show Lolita in a seductive way:

    It wouldn't be possible to show a ten year old that way.

    I haven't seen the movie for a while, so I am not able to respond to the "sad hero" comment.

    I'd rather say NOT INCLUDED in the movie and not REMOVED. Why establish him as a pedophile before when you can establish him as one with Lolita?

    Why Nabokov did what he did? Maybe he wanted to try another angle? Maybe he didn't want to write the same story again. Maybe Kubrick influenced him greatly (and that is very propable since Kubrick was known for controlling the script stage however he liked).

  5. You just made my point. They made Lolita more grown up so you wouldn't be disgusted by Humbert. You feel sorry for him instead.

    But the reason I liked the novel is the way it made me feel disgusted because Humbert thinks everything he does is justified. You the audience are supposed to see through it and realize that he's sick. The film takes that away completely.

    Humbert is a pedophile and he thinks everything he does is right. He thinks she's seducing him but she's really a victim. I find that far more interesting than some dude who's seduced by his teenage stepdaughter.

    That's where the preexisting condition comes in. We see how he likes little girls before he even meets Lolita, so that when we see her parade around in her swimsuit we worry for her because we know what he's thinking.

    That's how I'd do it.

    Clearly you liked the film. I didn't. I thought it took out everything I liked about the book and I think it's a shame.

  6. Emily, I can understand you. I read a lot of books adapted into movies and was dissapointed. And I never read the novel Lolita (I will one day after I finished the tons of other books still laying around here) and that's why I can't compare but just defend the movie.

    I think it is just a pity you couldn't enjoy it as much as you enjoyed the book.

    And one more thing: We do still worry about Lolita since we do suspect later on that Humbert has a pedophilic side (is pedophilic a word?).

    Maybe at that time Kubrick and Nabokov thought it was necessary to have a sympathetic character as the lead of a movie. Many still think that is a necessity for a successful film.

  7. Yes, pedophilic is a word. I looked it up once when discussing Lolita in class.

    I think you can definitely make a story where the protagonist is a bastard. It's just harder.

  8. Suh-weet! I'll buy a ticket for that movie! I actually took Russian in college largely so I could read the short story that led to the novel.

    Love your blog!

  9. Kubrick himself has said that if he knew the restrictions the MPAA would be placed on what could be filmed then he might not have made the picture, so some of the blame you can place on that.

    The rest of the changes you can probably attribute to Kubrick. Apparently very little of Nabokov's screenplay was actually filmed, despite him receiving full credit. Although decisions about changes to the narrative order appear to have been made with his blessing.


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