Lolita (1997 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Produced by
Screenplay by Stephen Schiff
Based on Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Howard Atherton
Edited by
Distributed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
  • September 25, 1997 (1997-09-25) (US)
  • January 14, 1998 (1998-01-14) (France)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • France
Language English
Budget $62 million[2]
Box office $1.1 million (US)[3]

Lolita is a 1997 American-French drama film directed by Adrian Lyne and written by Stephen Schiff. It is the second screen adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's 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 male professor, Humbert (Irons), who rents a room in the house of the widow Charlotte Haze (Griffith), because he is sexually attracted to her adolescent daughter Dolores (Swain), also called "Lo" or "Lolita".

The film had considerable difficulty finding an American distributor[4] and premiered in Europe before being released in America, where it was met with much controversy due to its use of a child molester as the main character, Humbert. The film was picked up in the United States by Showtime, a cable network, before finally being released theatrically by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.[5] The performances by Irons and Swain impressed audiences, but, although praised by some critics for its faithfulness to Nabokov's narrative, the film received a mixed critical reception in the United States. Lolita was met with much controversy in Australia–it was not given a theatrical release in the country until April 1999.


In 1947, Humbert Humbert (Irons), a middle-aged European professor of French 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, largely because he is attracted to her adolescent daughter Dolores, also called "Lo", who he sees while touring the house. Obsessed from boyhood with girls of this age (whom he calls "nymphets"), Humbert is immediately smitten with Lo and marries Charlotte just to be near her.

Charlotte finds Humbert's secret diary and discovers his preference for her daughter. Furious, Charlotte runs out of the house, when she is struck by a car and killed. Her death frees Humbert to pursue a 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. However, Lo's increasing boredom with Humbert, combined with her growing desire for independence, fuels a constant tension that led to a huge fight between them. Humbert's desperate affections for Lo are also rivaled by another man, playwright Clare Quilty, who has been pursuing Lo since the beginning of their travels. Lo eventually schemes to escape with Quilty, whose name Humbert doesn't know, and he searches for them unsuccessfully.

Three years later, Humbert receives a letter from Lo asking for money. Humbert visits Lo, who is now married and pregnant. Humbert asks her to run away with him, but she refuses. 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.

After his visit with Lo, Humbert tracks down Quilty and murders him. After being chased by the police, Humbert is arrested and sent to prison. He dies in November 1950, and Lo dies the next month on Christmas Day from childbirth complications.



History of the screenplay[edit]

The first screen adaptation of the book, 1962's Lolita, was written by Nabokov and directed (after revisions) by Stanley 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. He was hired to write it as his first movie script, after the film's producers had rejected screenplays commissioned from more experienced screenwriters and directors James Dearden (Fatal Attraction), Harold Pinter, and David Mamet.[6][7][8]

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." Schiff stated that "Some of the filmmakers involved actually looked upon the Kubrick version as a kind of 'what not to do'" and quipped that Kubrick's film should have been called Quilty, due to the prominent role of that character.[9][citation needed]


Due to the difficulty in securing a distributor, Lolita had a very limited theatrical run in order to qualify for awards.[4] Accordingly, the film only took in a gross income of $19,492 in its opening weekend. Since the final domestic gross income was $1,147,784[3] on an estimated $62 million budget, the film was considered a flop at the box office.[2]


The film received mixed to positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 68% based on 22 reviews and an audience score of 75%, with a rating average of 7/10.[10] Metacritic reports an average score of 46 out of 100 based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11] Many critics evaluated the film highly and appreciated aspects of it, though some tended to qualify their positive comments. For example, 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."[12]

The film was The New York Times "Critics Pick" on July 31, 1998, with its critic Caryn James championing it and saying, "Rich beyond what anyone could have expected, the film repays repeated turns Humbert's madness into art."[13] Writer/director James Toback lists it in his picks for the 10 finest films ever made, but he rates the original film higher.[14]

Commenting on differences between the novel and the film, Charles Taylor 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".[15] 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."[16]


The CD soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone is available on Music Box Records label (website).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LOLITA (18)". British Board of Film Classification. March 18, 1998. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Lolita (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Movie Lolita – Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  4. ^ a b James, Caryn (1998-07-31). "'Lolita': Revisiting a Dangerous Obsession". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  5. ^ Black, Joel (2002). The Reality Effect: Film culture and the graphic imperative. New York: Routledge. p. 262. ISBN 0-415-93721-3. 
  6. ^ 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 that '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).
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ 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).
  9. ^ Rose, Charlie (1996). Guests: Stephen Schiff RSS (Television production). United States: The Charlie Rose Show. 
  10. ^ "Lolita (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2017-08-24. 
  11. ^ "Lolita". Metacritic. Retrieved 2016-02-02. 
  12. ^ Berardinelli, James (1999-01-29). "Lolita (1997): A Film Review by James Berardinelli". ReelViews. Retrieved 2010-07-16. 
  13. ^ "Television Review: Revisiting a Dangerous Obsession". The New York Times. 1998-07-31. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  14. ^ Toback, James (2002). "How the Directors and Critics Voted". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  15. ^ Taylor, Charles (1998-05-29). "Recent Movies: Home Movies: Nymphet Mania". Salon. Retrieved 2012-05-27. 
  16. ^ Phipps, Keith (2002-03-29). "Lolita". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
Works cited

External links[edit]