When a Man Doesn’t Love a Woman, but Rather Her Daughter

14 Aug 2013: Lolita (DVD, 1962, Stanley Kubrick)

I had seen every other of Kubrick’s finished films (including, if it counts, A.I.) before this one, and even though much is mysterious and suggestive throughout his entire body of work, Lolita strikes me as the strangest. His sense of comic timing, dramatic pacing and formal construction seems far at odds with his presentation of the material – maybe because this film predates his particular trademark style of framing and directing (i.e. hollowing out) actors – but somehow this is more intriguing than grating. In addition to its bizarre juxtaposition between traditional film acting and plot conventions and Kubrick’s particular approach of detachment and obscurity – maybe this is the awkward growing-pain-point of his great development from “simply” a master technician to also a unique voice – the most provocative part of the story is relegated entirely to the most sidelong suggestions, so that the film itself never really confirms that Humbert Humbert is anything more in deed than just an overprotective stepfather to Lolita. Maybe the most peculiar part of the film is that its story appears to revolve more around Humbert’s recurring but unwitting meetings with the varied guises of Clare Quilty than anything else; these scenes are extraordinarily lengthy without anything being said clearly or directly, Quilty always teasing and prodding with airs of ignorance or flippancy but aware of more than he lets on, Humbert always polite and proper and covering up his obvious discomfort and falsehoods with circumlocution and refined manners. One expects a caustic, pointed joke, a furious outburst, a direct accusation, even an attempt to excuse oneself, but none of these ever occurs, and instead the conversations play out with a puzzling but fascinating feeling of going nowhere, their characters’ intransigence perhaps both illustrating the inescapability of their obsessions and reflecting back at us our own morbid determination to watch a lurid scandal taking place.

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