Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1990s Movies, Editorials

Why People Hate Adrian Lyne’s Lolita (1997) For Being Faithful to the Novel

No story has gotten me angrier than Nabokov’s Lolita–not because of its subject matter but because of the pseudo-intellectual fanfare and the romanticizing that fans of the novel and first movie have heaped upon both.

Now granted, it’s been years since I’ve read the book so my impressions are a little rusty. But what I remember when I finished it was that the novel was kind of a droll “joke”. The joke is that a pathetic pedophile by the name of Humbert Humbert “falls in love” with a 12 year old girl, Dolores Haze aka “Lolita”, who he thinks is the perfect “nymphet.”

What’s a nymphet? In his mind, she is a woman’s sensuality inside the body of a child, a perfect combination for someone looking for a submissive and doting sexual partner who is easily controlled and slavishly devoted to you no matter what. You can just screw her at your convenience and do anything you want to her and she’ll happily comply, then come back for more like an adoring puppy coming back for more belly rubs.

Now, the concept of a “nymphet” may sound nice and dreamy to a pedophile, but there’s just one problem–it’s not based in any reality whatsoever. It’s an idealized sexual fantasy, like the Submissive Asian or the Hot-Blooded Latina or the Italian Stud. In short, it’s fantasist bullshit of the worst, most delusional kind. So, to believe in the “nymphet” is to set oneself up for major disillusionment and crushing disappointment.

Why? Because a nymphet is not a “child-woman.” She is a child and being a child, she will have the emotional and mental capacity of one. That means that she’ll act out in childish ways that you, as an adult, will find infuriating. She will have temper tantrums when you don’t give her what she wants and rebel if she is forced to do things she doesn’t want to do. She will cry when upset and seek solace from you like a dependent offspring. She will act bratty. And she will, more importantly, be fickle; her loyalties and devotion will go whichever way the wind blows that day. She will never be this idealized fantasy in which she will be free of the annoying and demanding behaviors of a young child.

Worst yet, unless you emotionally and mentally manipulate her or use fear to get her to do what you want, she will never be this easy lay that you can keep screwing over and over at your leisure and convenience without protest or rebellion. That is especially true considering that though children are immature, they’re also not stupid or lack awareness. Even if they don’t have the emotional and mental capacity to understand what you’re doing to them, they do know on some level that something bad is happening and will call you out on it or rebel against it.

This is the punchline to the joke of Lolita, the fact that at night, Humbert has his way with this sexual fantasy but in the daytime has to put up with all the annoying, needy, obnoxious actions of an immature child who is also keenly aware that he’s a bad person and lets him know it. Not only does she become more than he can handle at times because of her behavioral issues, Humbert even has to act as parent to her instead of lover and console her after her mother dies (ugh…how inconvenient!). To make matters worse, because children are by nature fickle, Lolita proves to be no more loyal to Humbert than she is to any other adult, so has no problems dropping him on a dime to be with Clare Quilty. Humbert is unable to deal with the cold, hard reality of what Lolita is and in the end of the novel, we are made to laugh at this idiot, who thought he had found the perfect child to seduce and control to satisfy his perverted sexual desires.

Clever, right?

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, many pseudo-intellectuals have latched onto Lolita and ascribed so many qualities that it never had. One of the most disturbing things they’ve done is romanticized Humbert Humbert as a tragic figure, some even going so far as to make him into a victim. Crazy, because if anything, the novel paints Humbert as a pathetic ass clown who never, ever seems to get that Lolita is emotionally and mentally a child. But a lot of pseudo-intellectuals, some of them possibly pedophile apologists, have come to romanticize him.

Which leads me to Adrian Lyne’s Lolita (1997). I didn’t see the movie when it first came out but I had heard a lot of negative press about it. Some of the negativity came from die hard fans of the Kubrick version, seeing the remake as an affront. But a surprising number came from some people angry over the movie’s “tone” and its portrayal of Humbert as “pathetic” and having just seen the movie finally, their reactions tickled me pink.

Now, don’t get me wrong– Lolita isn’t perfect by any means. Melanie Griffith is horribly miscast, and the movie tried too hard to play up Lolita’s immaturity. However, what was brilliant about it was that it was trying to do two things at one–be more faithful to the book than Kubrick’s version, but also strip the story of all the romanticized interpretations that its fans have given it over the years.

In Lyne’s Lolita, we don’t get a charming, handsome man who just happens to be a pedophile. We see a pathetic pedophile who happens to be a charming, handsome man. And this pedophile is so pathetic that even as his “nymphet” acts like the dopey, gawky, stupid, rebellious 12 year old that she is, he insists on seeing her as a submissive child-woman. It doesn’t matter what she does. She can throw her retainer in his drink like an idiot. She can put wads of gum on his notepad. She can walk into his room with only one shoe. She can rebel against her mother over and over again, refuse to do anything she says and whine and complain the entire time. She can throw things at him while he’s driving and think it’s funny when they almost crash. But nope–Lolita is the perfect child-woman to him, even though it’s blatant as hell that she’s just a child through and through, and a rebellious, disobedient, fickle one at that.

Besides showing how pathetic he is, the movie also gets us to see Humbert Humbert for the sociopath that he is. He grows increasingly abusive towards Lolita, becomes more mentally unstable as he loses his control of her, and finally snaps and kills a man in cold blood out of a psychotic rage. And, in case there’s any room for doubt that Humbert is an irredeemable sociopath, Lyne made sure to show Quilty’s murder in as gruesome and horrifying a way as possible so we aren’t left to sympathize with his pain of having lost Lolita.

With all the romanticizing of Nabokov’s Lolita, no wonder “fans” hated this film! In Lyne’s film, there is no charming, cuddly pedophile to identify with, sympathize with or feel sorry for, there are no redeemable traits about him. He’s a pathetic fool no matter which way you slice it, which is what he always was in Nabokov’s novel and what he and all pedophiles in truth are–pathetic. Not sympathetic. Not tragic. Not victims of their own desires and past traumas. Pathetic men harboring equally pathetic, unrealistic and stupid sexual fantasies about little girls.


  1. Anne o'Nyme

    Thank you for writing this article, what make me still want to puke till these days is people reaction to the book, ranging from calling it a love story, to sympathy for the pedophile and none for the victim etc when Nabokov point was to destroy all the pretense, manipulations and pseudo arguments a pedophile use while talking about their victims and the violences they do. And that a majority missed the point tell a lot about themselve and how groomed they all are to enjoy or accept pedophilia in society.
    I couldn’t miss it, it was too obvious. Maybe my past helped me to empathize with Dolores, who know.

  2. Comment by post author

    Yeah, the romanticism surrounding this /story is very bizarre and disturbing. Instead of it being seen as a novel exposing pedophiles for what they are, it’s become used as a justification for pedophilia, to the point now where in Japan it’s normalized as “having a Lolita complex.”

    All of this is why I think so many people hated Lyne’s version of the novel. They wanted to hold onto this fantasy of Lolita being a tragic love story, and it upset them to confront the truth (that it was just about a sociopath who went after a little girl and killed a man in cold blood).

    • Anne o'Nyme

      Thanks for your reply, I never saw the movies versions of the book, but judging by what I read in your article, and here and there, yes, the Lyne’s version seems to got the novel point and show it contrary to Kubrick, which indeed after so many years of fantasms about the book must upset many (from pedophile apologists to people in denial about the issue the book raise).
      It is part of a bigger problem, that in society, abusive relationships and toxic dynamisms in all forms (from family, to friend, to lover, to work) are romanticized and promoted. People are litteraly groomed to enjoy and accept it.
      I hope one day we will live in a society that do not promote anymore such things.

      I wish you good day !

    • Ava

      I’m not hating on Japan’s culture or anything. Just hating their “excuses” for allowing pedophilia. I’m part japanese so I am very aware of this. It’s disgusting what they allow over there in Japan. Pedophilia is unexcusable and unacceptable behavior.

      • Zachary G.

        Ava…….First of all, thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. I agree that the novel by Nabokov, “Lolita,” is a subject of taboo, i.e. pedophilia. I can understand your feelings of how it is received in your home county of Japan. BTW, do you know that the story that inspired Nabokov’s story was an actual event in 1948? An 11 year old girl, Sally Horner, was kidnapped by a 50 year old pedophile in Camden, NJ, and held captive and sexually molested for 21 months as he drove around the country with her.
        I read “Lolita” for the first time in or around 1970 and then viewed Stanly Kubrick’s 1962 film version around the same time.
        Only recently, a few weeks ago, did I notice there was a 1997 film version, “Lolita,” with Adrian Lyne as the director, Stephen Schiff as screenwriter, and the unknown Dominique Swain as Lolita. This film so impressed me with the directing and the acting by the characters, especially Dominique that I read the book again (I save all my books) and then watched the movie again (a TUBI offering).
        I don’t believe anyone can get the full value of this film without reading the book AND the foreword, which is about 18 pages in length.
        Nabokov’s style of writing intrigued me immensely and continues to do so every time I read it, which I am doing for perhaps the 4th time now. The long, descriptive sentences with the comas, semicolons, unusual words (I’ve underlined and looked up about 35 of them that were unknown to me, “treacle,” “concupiscence,” “crepitated,” etc.) His writing style is fascinating to me.
        But what is also fascinating to me, and something that I ponder whenever I am reading his book is, what went on in the mind of someone (anyone) who could write so lucidly about this taboo subject? And each time I read more of the book, I recognize how sad the story is. How sad that this little girl was deprived of the normal days of growing up and was forced to spend her time surviving with Humbert and his depravity. How she could not have a normal peer group, something imperative to a natural personality growth that all young people need
        so they can evolve in society.
        Certainly a unique novel.

  3. bella edmiston

    Love the article! It gave me a different understanding of the story as it is kind of a demented joke. That when the reader thinks about it Humbert is a pathetic old man when he is stripped of the flowery language he uses. Something that has kinda bothered me is why people romanticized this relationship. My “theory” is that at least in the novel we only have the altered perspective of the story. Humber romanticized raping Dolores and views their journey through rose colored glasses. This alters how readers see the story and without hearing Dolores’ side, it’s easier for someone to romanticize this story. What are your thoughts?

    • Comment by post author

      I think the theory you posed is one of the reasons why people romanticize the story. that it’s only told from his perspective and not Dolores’.

      I think it’s also because so many people don’t know how to read or comprehend stories anymore. They go into a story with very fixed preconceived notions of how fiction is supposed to work and then use those notions to color their perceptions.

      For example, some people think that protagonists are automatically good people who we’re supposed to identify with. So, in reading a book like Lolita, it doesn’t occur to them that just because Humbert Humbert is the protagonist, it doesn’t mean he’s a good man or that they’re supposed to relate to him or what he’s feeling. They think he’s the “hero” of the novel that they’re supposed to root for, sympathize with and side with against Quilty (the antagonist).

      Another possible reason why people romanticize the story is that just by virtue of writing a novel from the perspective of a pedophile, it attracted deviants. Naturally, if you’re a pedophile or an apologist for sexual deviancy, you’re going to interpret the book as being a romantic story between a man and child. Worse yet, you may even see Lolita as an affirmation of one’s sexual deviancy.

      For example, in Japan, men fondly call their sexual attractiveness to girls as having a “Lolita complex.” The reason why is that to them, the book not only affirmed their pedophilia but allowed them to create the illusion that whatever abuse or attractive feelings they have towards young girls isn’t deviant; it’s romantic and it’s sweet and it’s innocent. The book has also allowed them to see themselves in a romantic light, as tragic heroes cut from the same cloth as Humbert Humbert, whose impulses are being misunderstood. Sickening, sad but true.

    • Zachary G.

      To Minababe………you neglected to acknowledge that Lolita initiated her sexual relationship with Humbert the first night they were alone in the hotel. Also, you have neglected to indicate your “opinion” of what age a girl transforms from a girl to a woman. Surely you know that young girls start talking amongst themselves about sex at much earlier ages than their parents are aware.

      • Comment by post author

        I am a female. You are a male telling me how girls “develop”–am I correct? Because as a male, you’re in the position to know more than females how fast we develop sexually?

        But this is neither here nor there. Lolita is a work of fiction. Why do you think a work of fiction, which sprung from the imagination of a writer, is a reflection of real life?

        • Zachary G.

          Agreed, I am a male. And by reading your comment about the movie, it was obvious that you’re a female. It’s also obvious that you have a singular opinion of Humbert’s position as “preying” on poor little Lolita and I further believe you will never be swayed from that belief, no matter what I, or anyone for that matter, will say. Too bad about that, as we probably could have had a good discussion about the movie.
          You hate the movie and that it glorifies pedophilia, or at least waters down the “evil” it portrays, am I right?
          In trying to answer all questions in your response, even as a male I believe girls mature sexually at different ages and I believe there have been many psychological studies showing that young girls develop their sexual awareness at various ages, which will validate that statement. A question might be asked, “What is the age that a girl reaches sexual maturity, and thereby becomes “legal” to have sexual relations with men?” What’s the exact age? Is it the day of her 18th birthday?
          I enjoyed the movie and after watching it, I found my copy of the book and reread it, and then watched the movie again, noticing several little items (innuendos?) I had not noticed when I watched it the first time. I first read this book about 25 years ago……..after I had watched the first version of “Lolita” with James Mason, Sue Lyon, and Peter Sellers.
          This latest version, with Adrian Lyne directing, is far better than the first. Dominique Swain, at 14 or 15(?), and with no acting experience whatsoever, submitted an outstanding performance, which can be partially attributed to Lyne’s directing and Irons’ coaching. (I’ve watched several YouTube video clips of various rehearsals for scenes in the movie.)
          Personally, I think this film, Adrian Lyne and Dominique Swain, should have received critical acclaim from the Oscar Committee (?) for what they produced. But because of the “sensitive” subject matter, they did not. A pity.
          I could write a “paper” on what I thought of this movie, but I won’t do that here. It’s your blog, so you can write whatever you want.
          Thanks for your response.

  4. Love this! I have only seen Lyne’s film and was actually completely unaware Kubrick had an earlier version! So stoked! I’m super keen to watch and compare themes from both.
    I enjoy how Lyne makes it painfully obvious that Humberts poetic self-perception of his ‘romance’ with Lolita is just downright sad. It’s a kind of tragedy that I think is unique to the film, with an easily misinterpreted romantic aspect, portrayed of course from Humberts perspective which people should not confuse with their own. It’s one of my favourites, it always leaves me with conflicting feelings for both characters. 🙂

  5. Aegina Barnes

    Just wanted to express my admiration for how brilliant this piece is, and how succinct!

  6. speaking as a man I can see why a certain kind of “man” might enjoy this version of the film.
    what I’ve never been able to understand is why so many women, usually middle-aged, enjoyed this film so much. I’ve had a few discussions over the past 20 years and almost every woman I’ve spoken to simply see’s it as a slightly taboo romance. why is that? and please bear in mind I say almost!

    • Comment by post author

      I didn’t realize that this movie was a “thing” among middle-aged women, but I can hazard two guesses:

      1. Jeremy Irons is a romantic lead, so they think this movie is romantic.
      2. They think that because Humbert Humbert is a protagonist, he is supposed to be sympathetic.

      • leeeaswood

        ok, that makes sense. guess I just don’t understand women!

  7. judy Posner

    This is the only version of Lolita that feels authentic. Irons and his lover are brilliant. An extraordinary depiction of a pedophile .

  8. Bruh wtf

    I was with you 100% until the very end when you gendered pedophilia as exclusively male. As someone who was molested and raped by two women at adolescent and adult ages in my life, I need you to understand that there are women who do this too, and you come off making it sound like only men are capable of this.

    • Comment by post author

      Did you read this entry in all seriousness or are you here to start trouble?

      First of all, one thing to know about me–I have ZERO TOLERANCE for any “gender” nonsense. I didn’t “gender” pedophiles. I’m talking about a famous male pedophile character who has now become idolized and romanticized by male pedophiles and in some few instances, women. In talking about the famous pedophile character, I have to use male pronouns.

      Secondly, your comments have become a shining example of a growing problem I have had with this blog and why I’ve had to start moderating and blocking readers. This blog is not an extension of whatever personal trauma, childhood issues or internal struggle you have with the world at large. If people have spent your entire life dismissing whatever pain you have had at the hands of these female victims, go to a therapist who can validate what you went through. Don’t waste your time going to a blog and then arguing with a person who NEVER MADE THE ARGUMENT that women can’t be pedophiles, to gain the validation online that you can’t offline.

      It is never too late to get help. Assuming you are an American, here are some resources:

      Resources and Support for Adults Who Experienced Sexual Abuse as Children

      Organizations for Adult Survivors of Abuse:

      Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse:

      These resources will give you the help you need. Furthermore, they will validate your experiences.

      Don’t respond with more arguments, or I will block you from posting further. This is a film analysis blog, not a social issues blog, a mental health blog, or a “gender studies” blog. So, go to those resources I posted, move along, and have a nice day.

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