Let’s Talk About ‘Lolita’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Julia Wilson

Age-gap relationships. It’s easily the most intriguing storyline for film which is why many directors pursue making them. But why do people and movie reviewers treat this as a taboo subject? Well, for this Time Warp Tuesday, we’re getting controversial with the provocative Adrian Lyne film, Lolita.

Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, a middle aged professor/narrator named Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) develops an unhealthy obsession with his prepubescent step-daughter, Dolores Haze (Dominique Swain) or according to Humbert “Lolita”. This quickly falls down an expected path as the relationship becomes sexual and abusive. Although many have argued that Swain looks more like a matured 17 year old, her character is still 13-14 years old and it’s still sickening to most audiences…which is a good thing.

Most movies portraying significant age-gaps between an adult and a seemingly older looking teen have usually made the relationship appear so normal that audiences become comfortable with it. Films such as Call Me By Your Name, An Education, and Manhattan do this quite successfully. However, that is not the case with Lolita. Other films make the maturity of the younger character a huge part in determining whether or not the relationship shown is appropriate. When a teen character looks and acts like an adult, they are no longer perceived as a child. In Swain and Lyne’s version of Dolores they have her behave like a kid, dress like a kid, and talk like a kid.

Others could also argue that Lyne purposefully makes her look that way to sexualize her by having her wear red messy lipstick and frilly babydoll dresses so she can “seduce” Humbert. And all I have to say to that argument is if you think that a 13-14 year old has any potential to be made “sexy” then you’re the pervert, not Lyne.

The director specifically portrayed her as youthful, innocent, and naive (all of the usual traits) so that the “relationship” between the two is seen as inappropriate as it is. What Nabokov and Lyne achieve is striking a nerve in people and making them remain uncomfortable with the idea of an adult and a minor engaging in any type of romantic involvement, unlike the widely adored Call Me By Your Name.

This is evident in the fact that both the novel and film were rejected by American distributors, which is also evident of how the U.S. and other western cultures silence artists from creating what they want – but I digress.

Lolita is a cautionary tale on what is and isn’t love. The novel affected an entire generation in the 1950’s and had the same effect on generations in the 1990’s with the film. It’s a story that holds power and will continue to for as long as art and artists live.

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