Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stanley Kubrick's Lolita

It might be a little known secret, but for anyone not in the know there is a popular trope of having "loli" characters in anime. Those that like these "loli" characters are often known as "lolicons." In anime it's often just a humorous bit of a fun. Same for brothers that have sister complexes and vice versa. They are well-known anime tropes and are almost expected to appear at some point and when they appear it is not an indication of anything darker. Right or wrong, it's just meant to be a bit of humor. 

But there's also the inevitable hentai (porn) doujinshi (fan made manga) on the subject that can be found with relative ease on the internet. I don't even feel like going into an analyzes on that right now. The depiction of underaged anime girls (and sometimes "shota" - or anime boys) engaging in graphic intercourse with an anime adult for masterbatory purposes of real life adults (who don't consider themselves engaging in pedophile-like behavior) is something that can't quite be analyzed in a couple of short sentences. 

However, lolicon characters are not all pedophiles for the most part. Nor are the real life people that have an appreciation for those loli characters or any other characters for that matter. That's not what is really being suggested. 

However, this trope doesn't make the jump outside of Japan very well. History does back this claim up. 

As an "anime blog," I do feel that it is worth mentioning while reviewing one of the originators of this trope. Of course, it started with the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, but the first instance of this future anime trope being manifested in a visual medium as far as I can tell is more than likely Stanley Kubrick's 1962 movie Lolita

I've never read the novel. I'm not sure I want to given the subject matter. As I understand the novel is a bit more graphic in certain areas. I very well might read it, though. It is almost certainly a unique read. 

Kubrick's movie is an uncomfortable and sometimes even hilarious masterpiece. It's tough to tell whether or not it was designed to be hilarious, but the comedy actually makes this movie more palatable. That and the fact that the movie's darker events are heavily subdued. As a purist this is a frustrating, but as someone who understands that Sue Lyons was 14 years old when she made this movie I understand that it really couldn't and shouldn't have been made any other way. Kubrick was intelligent enough to convey meanings through use of dialog and without graphic depictions and that actually works much better in a mainstream visual representation. This movie is actually pretty easy to watch, all things considered. 

But the darkness that is kept at bay somewhat for much of the film finds an outlet in Peter Sellers's character Clare Quilty. Even though James Mason's character Humbert should be despicable and hated just as much, it's tough to make the argument that Humbert isn't in some ways this movie's "hero." If this movie has such a thing. At times Humbert seems like the sanest character in the movie, especially in the early goings where we meet the swinging neighbors. 

Humbert is just your upright fish-out-of-water character trapped in the States. Only, he happens to have eyes on a 14 year old girl and dreams of killing the girl's mother (Shelley Winters) in order to have her. And he gradually becomes much more obsessive as the movie goes along, especially after he finally gets to spend the night with Lolita in a hotel.

Quilty, on the other hand, is the film's elusive villain. 

The opening scene where Humbert tracks Quilty down and kills him is actually the most sensible thing about this movie. Granted they are both pedophiles, but we don't exactly know that about Humbert's character just yet. When Humbert kills Quilty at the beginning of the movie and then the movie flashbacks to when everything started, there's a strong sense that justice was meted out by the time the movie ends... which is essentially at the beginning scene. Moving the ending of a story to the beginning is always a ballsy move, but it works here. 

Having Peter Sellers exercise his ability to use multiple voices was also a good choice. His Dr. Zempf impersonation was what undoubtedly lay the foundations for his portrayal of Dr. Strangelove, too. Also, Sellers was really good at embodying the mundane as well as the insane without being strictly comedic and this movie really needed that kind of actor to play the "villain." The movie may have felt comedic at times and Quilty may have been somewhat comedic with his voices, but Peter Sellers played a largely straight role and that made it all the more creepy and absurd and realistic. 

But I honestly think that James Mason stole this movie singlehandedly from Sellers. Sellers, even in shitty movies, was a scene-stealer, but Mason outdid him. It should be impossible to take a pedophile and make him more like the "every man in an absurd situation." Part of that was the censored script and another part was Kubrick's change of the tone from the book. However, the biggest part was undoubtedly James Mason's portrayal of Humbert.

Sellers played his role straight and so did Mason and that's why this movie works. The pursuit of Lolita is told matter of factly with little mention given to the whys and hows. It just is.

When Quilty references the Spartacus movie during his confrontation with Humbert, I think that actually set the tone for this movie, too. A bit of a wall is broken and hand is reached out to the audience and it's saying, "We know things will get weird and disturbing, but this is a movie and it will be a fun one, too. Just watch." This approach spares the audience much of the guilt they'd feel otherwise for enjoying a movie like this. 

Because everything is so matter of fact it becomes akin to an eclipse. It's just fascinating to look at. It's a tough movie to dislike and it's somewhat difficult to dislike all of the characters completely. Or, in some cases, we end up disliking the only characters in the film we probably should like since they aren't fucked in the head. Lolita's mother, for example.

Normally the visuals play a large part with Kubrick and they do here as well, but in this case it was the writing and acting that really pushed this movie even more so than the visuals. The way the dialog was manipulated to make up for the censorship was genius. 

All in all, I really have nothing but good things to say about this movie. It's not Kubrick's best, but it is Kubrick in a time period when he was at his best. And I think I might be correct in saying the movie he made is actually better than the movie he wished he could have made. 


  1. May be the all time great movie at cleverly dancing around tricky subject matter in the age of censorship.

    Speaking of Mr. Kubrick, I got Killer's Kiss from netflix and saw it a few days ago. It was Kubrick's second movie and he referred to it as a film school movie but you can sure see the budding genius. I think it may be the grittiest looking 50s movie I've ever seen. The story is good, not great but the look of the film is stunning. Another Kubrick movie I could watch without the sound. The third movie he did, The Killers is supposed to be where he hits his stride. I haven't seen that one or the first one he did. I think he did 9 five star classics in a row from Paths of Glory through Full Metal Jacket. He only did 13 and I'd call 9 of them great and I've only seen 11.

    1. On the list of Kubrick's films I haven't seen there's his first three and then Eyes Wide Shut. Every time I look at his list of directed films on IMDB I keep expecting there to be more than 13.

      On a sort of completely different note, I was looking up Francis Ford Coppola and I looked at the films he has to his credit on IMDB. It's strange how someone could be so on point during the seventies and then just drop bomb after bomb outside of a brief resurgence in the 90's. I honestly didn't know Coppola was still trying to direct movies, but it seems he is. So maybe Kubrick had the right idea by making the best movies of his career be the close to the only movies of his career.

  2. I think some of Coppola's crappy movies have to do with his financial problems. After his early successful films, he started his own studio. This probably wasn't a good idea for a guy who was notorious for going way over budget. When you start going over budget with your own money, shit happens. He has filed bankruptcy at least once and I think he had to do some of those crappy movies just for the money to help bail himself out.