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Lolita (1997 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byAdrian Lyne
Screenplay byStephen Schiff
Based onLolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
Produced by
CinematographyHoward Atherton
Edited by
Music byEnnio Morricone
Distributed by
Release dates
  • September 19, 1997 (1997-09-19) (San Sebastian)
  • September 26, 1997 (1997-09-26) (Italy)
  • January 14, 1998 (1998-01-14) (France)
  • September 25, 1998 (1998-09-25) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • France
Budget$62 million[2]
Box office$1.1 million (US)[3]

Lolita is a 1997 drama film directed by Adrian Lyne and written by Stephen Schiff. It is the second screen adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel of the same name and stars Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert and Dominique Swain as Dolores "Lolita" Haze, with supporting roles by Melanie Griffith as Charlotte Haze and Frank Langella as Clare Quilty.

The film is about a middle-aged professor who is sexually attracted to adolescent girls he calls "nymphets". He rents a room in the house of a young widow to get closer to her 14-year-old daughter Lo, whom he calls "Lolita". Obsessed with the girl, he eventually gains control over her after he takes her cross-country with him.

Compared to Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version, Lyne's film is more overt with many of the novel's darker elements; Kubrick chose to use suggestion and innuendo for comic purposes. Although praised by some critics for its faithfulness to Nabokov's narrative and the performances of Irons and Swain, the film received a mixed critical reception in the United States.

The film premiered in Europe in 1997 before being released in the United States in 1998 because it had difficulty finding an American distributor.[4] It was eventually picked up by the cable network Showtime before finally being released theatrically by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.[5] Similarly, Lolita was met with much controversy in Australia, where it was not given a theatrical release until April 1999.[6]



In 1947, Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged European professor of English literature, travels to the United States to take a teaching position in New Hampshire. He rents a room in the home of widow Charlotte Haze, but only because he is sexually attracted to her 14-year-old daughter Dolores, also called "Lo", whom he sees while touring the house. Obsessed with girls of approximately her age (whom he calls "nymphets"), Humbert is immediately smitten with Lo and marries Charlotte only to be near her daughter.

Charlotte finds Humbert's secret diary and discovers his preference for her daughter instead of her. Furious, Charlotte tells him that she is leaving him and that he can keep her home. She then runs out of the house and is hit by a car and killed, with Humbert eventually telling Lo about her mother's death. Charlotte's death frees Humbert to pursue a romantic and sexual relationship with Lo, whom he nicknames "Lolita". Humbert and Lo then travel the country, staying in various motels before eventually settling in the college town of Beardsley, where Humbert takes a teaching job and Lo begins attending Beardsley Prep School, a all-girls Catholic school. Humbert must conceal the nature of his relationship with Lolita from everyone – strangers they encounter when traveling as well as the administration at Beardsley. He presents his relationship with Lo to the world as a father and daughter. Over time, Lo's increasing boredom with Humbert, combined with her growing desire for independence and realization of their relationship, fuels a constant tension that leads to a fight between them. Humbert's affection for Lo is also rivaled by another man, playwright Clare Quilty, who has been pursuing Lo since the beginning of the pair's travels. Lo eventually escapes with Quilty, and Humbert's search for them is unsuccessful, especially as he does not know Quilty's name.

Three years later, Humbert receives a letter from Lo asking for money. Humbert visits Lo, who is now married and pregnant. Her husband, Richard, knows nothing about her past. Humbert asks her to run away with him but she refuses, seemingly indicating that she has moved on from that part of her life and their romance. He relents and gives her a substantial amount of money. Lo also reveals to Humbert how Quilty actually tracked young girls and took them to Pavor Manor, his home in Parkington, to exploit them for child pornography. Quilty abandoned her after she refused to be in one of his films due to her still being in love with Humbert at the time.

After he visits Lo, Humbert tracks down Quilty, who is in a drug-induced stupor and murders him after chasing him around the mansion at gunpoint. After being chased by the police, Humbert is arrested and sent to prison for the murder. He dies in prison in November 1950 due to a coronary thrombosis, and Lo dies the next month on Christmas Day from childbirth complications.





The first screen adaptation of the book, 1962's Lolita, was credited solely to Nabokov, although it was heavily revised by Stanley Kubrick and James Harris and was directed by Kubrick.

The screenplay for the 1997 version, more faithful to the text of the novel than the earlier motion picture, is credited to Stephen Schiff, a writer for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other magazines. Schiff was hired to write it as his first movie script after the film's producers had rejected commissioned screenplays from the more experienced screenwriters and directors James Dearden (Fatal Attraction), Harold Pinter, and David Mamet.[7][8][9] According to Schiff:

Right from the beginning, it was clear to all of us that this movie was not a "remake" of Kubrick's film. Rather, we were out to make a new adaptation of a very great novel. Some of the filmmakers involved actually looked upon the Kubrick version as a kind of "what not to do." I had somewhat fonder memories of it than that, but I had not seen it for maybe fifteen years, and I didn't allow myself to go back to it again.[10]

Schiff added that Kubrick's film might better have been titled Quilty, since the director had allowed the character of Quilty to "take over the movie".[11]

Lyne states in the DVD commentary that he prefers location shooting even though it is more difficult in some respects, and that the home of Charlotte Haze was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.



Lolita premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival on 19 September 1997. It opened to the public in Italy on 26 September 1997 and grossed $676,987 from 98 screens in key Italian cities in its opening weekend, placing fourth at the Italian box office.[12]

In the United States, it was first shown on TV via Showtime on August 2, 1998, after very scarce promotion, and premiered at 9 PM, with a brief introduction by Lyne.[13] The following night, a Q&A with Adrian Lyne premiered along with a 16-minute making-of documentary, "The Lolita Story". Due to the difficulty in securing a distributor, the film received a limited theatrical run in the US on September 25, 1998, in order to qualify for awards.[4] The film grossed $19,492 in its opening weekend and $1,147,784 in total in the United States and Canada.[3] against an estimated $62 million budget.[2]

Showtime owned the film's U.S. distribution rights for five years until the contract's expiration in 2003. The film has not been released on home video or television in the United States since. All non-U.S. home video releases were distributed by the film's original distributor, Pathé.



On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 69% based on 26 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "If it can't quite live up to Nabokov's words, Adrian Lyne's Lolita manages to find new emotional notes in this complicated story, thanks in large part to its solid performances."[14] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 46 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15]

James Berardinelli praised the performances of the two leads, Irons and Swain, but he considered Griffith's performance weak, "stiff and unconvincing". He considered the film better when she no longer appeared in it and concluded, "Lolita is not a sex film; it's about characters, relationships, and the consequences of imprudent actions. And those who seek to brand the picture as immoral have missed the point. Both Humbert and Lolita are eventually destroyed—what could be more moral? The only real controversy I can see surrounding this film is why there was ever a controversy in the first place."[16]

The film was The New York Times' "Critics Pick" on July 31, 1998, with its critic Caryn James saying, "Rich beyond what anyone could have expected, the film repays repeated viewings...it turns Humbert's madness into art."[17] Writer/director James Toback lists it in his picks for the 10 finest films ever made, but he rates the original film higher.[18]

Commenting on differences between the novel and the film, Charles Taylor, in Salon, observes that "[f]or all of their vaunted (and, it turns out, false) fidelity to Nabokov, Lyne and Schiff have made a pretty, gauzy Lolita that replaces the book's cruelty and comedy with manufactured lyricism and mopey romanticism".[19] Extending Taylor's observation, Keith Phipps concludes: "Lyne doesn't seem to get the novel, failing to incorporate any of Nabokov's black comedy—which is to say, Lolita's heart and soul".[20]



The film's soundtrack was composed by Ennio Morricone and released on the Music Box Records label.[21] As the composer himself described the project: "With my music, I only had to follow on a high level the director's intentions to make Lolita a story of sincere and reciprocal love, even within the limits of the purity and malicious naiveté of its young subject."[22]

All music is composed by Ennio Morricone[22]

1."Lolita" (contains unreleased material)4:15
2."Love in the Morning"3:37
3."Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury" (previously unreleased)1:26
4."Take Me to Bed"2:51
5."Togetherness / Lolita" (previously unreleased)2:58
7."Lolita on Humbert's Lap"3:34
8."She had nowhere else to go"3:19
9."What About Me"1:41
10."Lolita" (contains unreleased material)1:21
11."She had nowhere else to go" (previously unreleased)1:56
13."Lolita" (previously unreleased)2:11
15."Love in the Morning" (previously unreleased)2:01
16."She had nowhere else to go" (previously unreleased)2:58
17."Togetherness / Lolita" (previously unreleased)3:03
18."Requiescant (alternate)" (previously unreleased)1:53
19."Lolita In My Arms"1:37
20."She had nowhere else to go" (previously unreleased)2:39
21."What About Me" (previously unreleased)1:52
22."Love in the Morning" (previously unreleased)1:36
23."Humbert's Diary"2:57
24."Lolita" (previously unreleased)1:15
25."Togetherness" (previously unreleased)2:28
26."She had nowhere else to go" (previously unreleased)3:42
27."Humbert on the Hillside"1:42
28."Lolita" (previously unreleased)1:30
29."Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury"2:20
30."Lolita (finale)"4:07
Total length:77:03


  1. ^ "Lolita (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Lolita (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Movie Lolita – Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  4. ^ a b James, Caryn (July 31, 1998). "'Lolita': Revisiting a Dangerous Obsession". The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  5. ^ Black, Joel (2002). The Reality Effect: Film culture and the graphic imperative. New York: Routledge. p. 262. ISBN 0-415-93721-3.
  6. ^ Wright, Shane (January 1, 2020). "Howard cabinet debated film's merits as viewers stayed away". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  7. ^ According to Gale, in Sharp Cut, Pinter was paid for his work but he asked to have his name removed from the credits, as permitted by his contract.: "In November 1994 Pinter wrote 'I've just heard that they are bringing another writer into the Lolita film. It doesn't surprise me.' Pinter's contract contained a clause to the effect that the film company could bring in another writer, but that in such a case he could withdraw his name (this was also the case with [the film] The Remains of the Day—he had insisted on this clause since the experience with revisions made to his Handmaid's Tale script" (352).
  8. ^ Hudgins observes: "During our 1994 interview, Pinter told [Steven H.] Gale and me that he had learned his lesson after the revisions imposed on his script for The Handmaid's Tale, which he has decided not to publish. When his script for Remains of the Day was radically revised by the James IvoryIsmail Merchant partnership, he refused to allow his name to be listed in the credits"; Hudgins adds: "We did not see Pinter's name up in lights when Lyne's Lolita finally made its appearance in 1998. Pinter goes on in the March 13 [1995] letter [to Hudgins] to state that 'I have never been given any reason at all as to why the film company brought in another writer,' again quite similar to the equally ungracious treatment that he received in the Remains of the Day situation. He concludes that though he never met Nabokov, 'indeed I knew "Lolita" very well and loved it.' " (125). Hudgins also observes that Schiff was brought in after the efforts by Dearden (October 21, 1991), Pinter (September 26, 1994), and Mamet (March 10, 1995) and that Schiff "has no previous scripts to his credit" (124).
  9. ^ In his 2008 essay published in The Pinter Review, Hudgins discusses further details about why "Pinter elected not to publish three of his completed filmscripts, The Handmaid's Tale, The Remains of the Day, and Lolita," all of which Hudgins considers "masterful filmscripts" of "demonstrable superiority to the shooting scripts that were eventually used to make the films"; fortunately ("We can thank our various lucky stars"), he says, "these Pinter filmscripts are now available not only in private collections but also in The Pinter Archive at the British Library"; in this essay, which he first presented as a paper at the 10th Europe Theatre Prize symposium, Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics, held in Turin, Italy, in March 2006, Hudgins "examin[es] all three unpublished filmscripts in conjunction with one another" and "provides several interesting insights about Pinter's adaptation process" (132).
  10. ^ "An Interview with Stephen Schiff" by Suellen Stringer-Hye, Penn State University Libraries, 81996
  11. ^ Schiff : "Kubrick...made a film that might better have been titled Quilty. Very much in the thrall of Peter Sellers, he allowed Quilty to take over the movie, with Sellers improvising vast swatches of dialogue. If you look at the Kubrick movie today, the Sellers stuff still seems amazingly energetic and funny and alive; the rest of the story plods by comparison. The other strange choice in the Kubrick film, of course, is Sue Lyon, who, even though she was only fifteen when she played Lolita--the same age as our Dominique Swain--could easily have passed for a twenty-year-old porno star. Dominique can easily pass for a twelve-year-old, which we all think is a very good thing." From the Schiff interview by Suellen Stringer-Hye, 1996
  12. ^ Scott, Mary (October 3, 1997). "Europe welcomes Lolita". Screen International. p. 27.
  13. ^ Showtime (August 2, 1998), Lolita ( 1997) U.S. Showtime Premiere [8-2-1998], retrieved May 17, 2024
  14. ^ "Lolita (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  15. ^ "Lolita (1998) Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  16. ^ Berardinelli, James (January 29, 1999). "Lolita (1997): A Film Review by James Berardinelli". ReelViews. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  17. ^ "Television Review: Revisiting a Dangerous Obsession". The New York Times. July 31, 1998. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  18. ^ Toback, James (2002). "How the Directors and Critics Voted". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  19. ^ Taylor, Charles (May 29, 1998). "Recent Movies: Home Movies: Nymphet Mania". Salon. Retrieved May 27, 2012.
  20. ^ Phipps, Keith (March 29, 2002). "Lolita". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
  21. ^ Lolita soundtrack Archived November 15, 2013, at archive.today, Music Box Records website
  22. ^ a b "LOLITA (REISSUE)". Music Box Records. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
Works cited