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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

    £66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Junior

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Site Agent

    £22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This traditional family company...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent