Sunday, March 23, 2008

Updated Thoughts On Lolita (Spoilers included)

I just watched Adrian Lyne's Lolita again, after years of adoring it at the back of my mind.

For many years, the story of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita captivated me and this enthusiasm spilled over generously into my art. There were many reasons for this: one of them was that, naturally as a teenager, I was thinking about the difference between being powerfully innocent and, yeah, innocently powerful. The mixture of innocence, shame and menace intrigued me.

Now that I've watched it as a slightly older woman, this aspect of the story has changed for me. I used to think Lolita was to be implicated along with Humbert for heavily seducing him, as well as running off with a more sinister lecher. These days, I have more sympathy for her plight. Yes, she seduced him with both demure eyes wide open. However, she was still a child; it was only natural for her to test the limits of her control over men. And, as Humbert himself explains on her behalf, she had nowhere else to turn to. I have also wondered if Lolita's deceased father could have been a lecher himself.

Despite my renewed thoughts on the subject, I am still very much charmed by Humbert. He is a monster, and it is through his more sinister nemesis, Quilty, that we glimpse the completeness of Humbert's monstrosity. Humbert isn't quite as perverse as Quilty, but Humbert himself acknowledges that Quilty is so much a part of his sickness. When he murders Quilty at the end, he is not only avenging Lolita's suffering at Quilty's hands, he is also killing the worst part of himself.

Humbert is a monster, but it is a triumph of the English Language that Nabokov is able to seduce his readers into forgiving, even liking, this man.