A tale of obsession, sexual desire, and pedophilia; Lolita, originally written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1955, was then made popular by Stanley Kubrick in 1962. While Nabokov even stated himself that while he didn’t believe Kubrick’s film was “mediocre”, it was not the story he had written. However, for anyone familiar with Kubrick’s work, it should not come as a surprise that Kubrick scrapped his source material, seeing as he did this quite often.
I decided to re-watch this film considering all the sexual scandals that have been in our midst as of late, especially those involving children under legal age. However, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I do not write on this subject to capitalize from it, I write on it as a source of study in hopes of a longing solution to an issue that’s plagued society for years. After all, that is one of art’s (and furthermore, cinema’s) greatest purposes.
Mere entertainment is far from the forefront of cinema’s prime objectives; however, it tends to seem quite contrary when looking at it in its entirety. Luckily, we have been blessed with many directors, like Kubrick, who are aware of their purpose as a filmmaker and give the viewers one thing, a challenge. From this challenge, if executed correctly, will stem in the mind of the viewer, a solution. With this solution, comes desire and passion, in turn creating an everlasting conversation on issues we face as individuals and as a collective.
Now going into Lolita with this mind state allowed me to look at the characters and scenarios from a psychologically analytical view. Asking myself “Why?” to everything that was presented to me in the frame for the next two and a half hours. I ultimately found that the greatest study points came from the parallels and contradictions of Humbert and Clare Quilty.
First, we have Humbert Humbert; an intellectual from England who had travelled to the US for the summer before taking on a professorship at a university in Ohio that fall. Humbert is a man who is still grieving the death of his childhood sweetheart, which he unsuccessfully attempted to get over with a failed marriage that ended a year prior to these events taking place.
Clare Quilty is a very popular playwright, with a deep seeded obsession with children and child pornography. He had met Lolita once when she was younger after a night spent with her sexually-frustrated mother. Lolita is a big fan of his too, when we see a Clare Quilty poster in her room earlier on in the film.
The importance of analyzing these two characters for the sake of today’s study is to see a visual comparison and difference between how society views the common “pedophile” and how they may actually be.
For starters, the definition of “Pedophilia” is simply, sexual feelings towards a child. This is about the one common trait shared between Quilty and Humbert. For the resulting 2 and a half hours of “Lolita” you are Humbert, where you will see and experience everything as Humbert. You understand and more so, feel the same feelings of desire and lust towards Lolita that Humbert does. From the first scene, we are introduced to Lolita she’s seen sunbathing in her backyard in a bikini under a glowing light. Now, this was not just an old Hollywood effect used to introduce the title character, it was as strong a replication to the true feelings and experiences many pedophiles face when meeting or seeing a nymphette. This glowing and unrelenting beauty that stems further from this initiate attraction to feelings of desperate compassion and care. While, Humbert’s character wasn’t all so virtuous throughout, we understand Humbert’s attraction and dilemma despite how he may have acted on it. Only Kubrick could turn you into a pedophile for a couple hours and have you be cool with it.
As we watch the film, we see Quilty, played masterfully by Peter Sellers, tease an array of various characters and disguises as he follows Lolita and Humbert as they travel together across the country. His intentions are far more devious than Humbert’s in this film as he’s following them in hopes of kidnapping Lolita and placing her in a child pornography ring. The character of Quilty is a beautiful portrayal of the generalized conceptions of pedophiles in society. These conceptions that they are devious and have only ill intentions.
As the film progresses and Humbert and Lolita continue their journey, Lolita gets sick and Humbert is forced to take her to a hospital. However, the following day the nurses say that Lolita is gone and was picked up by her “uncle.” This was in fact Quilty who convinced Lolita to go away with him. Luckily, as Humbert finds Lolita 4 years later she tells him that she didn’t go through with any of the pornographic videos he wanted her in because it made her uncomfortable. While Humbert is relieved, he’s still saddened by his loss and Lolita’s eventual marriage to a sweet, hard working young guy named Dick.
At this point, Lolita is married and pregnant and Humbert leaves her $13,000 and drives away. Humbert went to kill Quilty and ended up dying in prison while awaiting trial for Quilty’s murder. Through all this, there was never a loss of love, desire, or care for Lolita. Now this means a lot more than it would in any other film with a guy in love with a girl. This is a 40-year-old man in love with a 14 year old girl. While facially, a sickening concept, it has to be analyzed and used as a prerequisite when analyzing cases involving pedophilia today.
A hot trend right now, especially in Canada, are Pedophile Vigilantes. Grown men will catfish other older men into thinking they are talking to an underage child and trying to rope them into “meeting” them, where they expose them with cameras and questions in an incredibly berating manner. While, I appreciate and commend the intention of deterring pedophiliac behavior, I think this is far from the best means of accomplishing this. The one common thing I see from the interviews of these vigilantes is a complete disregard for the idea that pedophilia may stem from psychological disruption or disease. Attacking and surrounding these “predators” like the gang in It’s Always Sunyn when they give Frank an intervention is NOT the way to deal with such large and fragile issues such as pedophilia.
While the psychological reasoning for Humbert’s attraction to Lolita are only slightly discussed, we learn that Humbert’s childhood sweetheart, Annabelle, at the age of 12 had passed away and it had haunted him for life. That’s about as much information as we receive on the topic, however it wouldn’t be mentioned if not pertinent to the character development of Humbert. Humbert attempted to get over this loss with a marriage that failed shortly before he met Lolita. It seems to me that seeing Lolita for that first time in the backyard, evoked an ocean of memories for Humbert that triggered this placement of feelings he had suppressed and so horribly dealt with onto her. Lolita was now the Annabelle that he loved so much as a child. While Humbert’s mind clearly evolved and matured from the time he was a child to now, we see that his emotive state unfortunately did not evolve as so.
While, I don’t believe that this film answers any questions in the field of pedophilia, I believe it does a damn near perfect job of giving the regular person an insight into a mind that is very unfamiliar to us. It's given us an insight and understanding that the epidemic of pedophilia may have deeper seeded origins than just predatory nature mixed with a lack of self control. Through this understanding, it’s our job now to create healty and effective measures to treat and furthermore deter these actions.
- Young Gosling