You are an odd kind of person if you read Lolita and don’t ask yourself how in God’s name can this be made into a film. All I could envision, as I closed the book for the first time a good decade ago, was that Lolita could be made into pornography, boredom or boring pornography.
But when I saw what Stanley Kubrick did with it in 1962, I easily understood two things: why Nabokov didn’t care for it and how Kubrick made it work. The answer to the first question is actually very straightforward: Nabokov didn’t care for cinema, considered it vulgar and cheap. The answer to the second one is less obvious. Kubrick made it work by… adding humour to it. By diffusing the dubious sexual tension with the light and the playfulness of Peter Sellers. Times demanded that but also, I believe, the source that in its original form is too literary for the screen.
I said Kubrick made it work. No, it’s not just that: with Lolita, Kubrick made his greatest film. Weirdly for a book as brutal as that, Lolita is a film that has warmth to it. Something Kubrick never had much time for.