Cinema: Ho Hum, Lo'll make you glum

SO MUCH foaming-mouthed rubbish has been written about Adrian Lyne's Lolita (18) that it's hard to see it as a film, and not a moral test for the viewer. The truth is, Lyne has gone to great lengths to turn Nabokov's blistering black comedy into a sober, efficient, rather wistful literary adaptation. OK, so he's not Atom Egoyan. But he's not Ken Russell, either. Don't expect to see Jeremy Irons dribbling on his flasher mac as he sings "Thank Heaven for Little Girls". If you want better evidence for Lyne's depravity, look to 91/2 Weeks or Fatal Attraction.

Nabokov's plot remains intact: mild-mannered paedophile Humbert Humbert (Irons, giving the performance of his career) marries his landlady, Charlotte Haze (a frowzy, blowsy Melanie Griffith), in order to satisfy his infatuation with her daughter, Dolores (Dominique Swain). In a twist of fate that suggests that God, too, has a thing about underage girls, Charlotte is accidentally killed, moments after discovering Humbert's secret passion. Her death allows Hum to take Dolores/Lolita on a sexual tour of America's grubbiest motels, until she is poached by the monstrous figure of Clare Quilty (Frank Langella, looking like a blood- bloated lamprey to which someone has added a kohl-pencil moustache).

There is, however, one important revision. Nabokov's Lolita is 12. Lyne's is 14. This, I think, makes a big difference. What struck me about Dominique Swain, as she popped out her brace, preparing to fellate a prone Jeremy Irons, was this: she's clearly a minor, but she looks healthier and more grown-up than Winona Ryder and Leonardo DiCaprio, or any number of pale little starlets whom Hollywood hypocritically exhorts us to ogle. Lyne's burnished eroticisation of Swain doesn't make easy viewing, but he certainly hasn't cast her for that creepy, bruised, NSPCC-ad anaemia from which Ryder and DiCaprio seem to suffer.

Lyne uses the story to bring home a few uncomfortable truths. Sexuality, he argues, isn't suddenly visited upon you after you've blown out the candles on your 16th birthday cake. And men with Humbert's proclivities aren't terribly uncommon. This isn't nice to hear, but it's a fact, one that Lolita negotiates with remarkable sensitivity. Though Humbert is constantly stressing the uniqueness of his perversion, what you're left with is a sense of the prosaic nature of his criminal desires: it is the cruel selfishness of his submission to them that makes him a blackguard and a ruiner of little lives. That we see the story through Humbert's deluded, lovesick eyes only reinforces that point.

However, this doesn't make Lolita high-gloss kiddie-porn, or an abuser's apologia. At times, Lyne's film is almost becalmed under its weight of queasy sinfulness. After their first proper bout of sexual intercourse, a wave of misery descends upon Lo, Hum and the picture, that stays until the closing credits. "I felt as if I was sitting there with the small ghost of somebody I'd just killed," whispers Irons's voice-over. A short time later, their car pulls up at a motel bearing a sign that reads, "Children under 14 free". It is intensely sad. They are a pair of dead souls, and Humbert dunit.

So will perverts flock to it, as the Daily Mail has suggested? I doubt it. I suspect they will be outnumbered by people who go to the cinema to do something more than reinforce their prejudices.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

    £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

    Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?