The other night, the Bonobo Gang attended the opening of the new hot potato film, Lolita, the latest movie version of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic story of an Englishman’s disastrous obsession for a prepubescent American girl in the late 1940’s. Adrian Lyne, the high-gloss director of “Flashdance,” “9 ½ Weeks,” “Fatal Attraction” & “Indecent Proposal” directed “Lolita,” & its definitely his best, most highly nuanced film yet. It stars Jeremy Irons in a tour-de-force performance as the aging British professor and pedophile Humbert Humbert, & Dominique Swain as his stepdaughter, the charming precocious, all-American nymphet Lolita.
They might really have something to be afraid of here. Considering these erotophobic, childsex-hysterical times, “Lolita” is quite a courageous film. Not only does it portray a pedophile somewhat sympathetically—though also quite pathetically--it has several scenes of hot passionate kissing & suggestive sex between the 40-something Humbert Humbert & the 14-year-old Lolita, challenging the new Child Pornography Act which prohibits even the use of adult body doubles in sex scenes.
Whether or not “Lolita” is actually being censored, it is certainly being censured far & wide by reviewers who willfully confuse representation with endorsement. The film, like the book, doesn’t recommend pedophilia, it examines it in the context of a highly personal, somewhat symbolic story. Some critics are complaining, “Why tell it from the point of view of the lecherous stepfather? Why not let Lolita tell her side of the story?” That may well be a valid, interesting story that ought to be told, but “Lolita” as written by Nabokov is not Lolita’s story, it’s Humbert’s story, that is, Nabokov’s story. Lyne’s “Lolita” is probably truer to the novel’s sensibility than the original 1960’s Kubrick film. It is very much Humbert’s tale of lust and woe.
Nabokov wrote the book when he was a newly ensconced Russian immigrant
in America. He loved America’s postwar youth culture flush with
victory and hope, its freshness, brashness, easygoing smoothness &
preternatural optimism. But he was also frightened of the seductive
youthfulness of the New World, its juvenile taste, suburban conformity
& dangerous, insensitive immaturity. That’s why “Lolita”
has to be told from Humbert Humbert’s point of view. And
that’s why it’s too hot for most Americans—or at least American movie
Dr. Susan Block is a practicing sex therapist, star of Radio Sex TV on HBO, author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure (St. Martin's Press), and director of The Dr. Susan Block Institute for the Erotic Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills, California. She can be reached at (213) 749-1330.