"Lolita": Book vs. Film

Saturday, 28 July 2018

In debates of whether the book or the film is better, people tend to lean towards the book. I understand that's the case because, well, it's the OG. And reading involves using a lot of your imagination, so books are more subjective in terms of how you imagined the character or the setting, and thus I feel that you're more indulged in the story. Where, unlike in the books, the entirety of the story in the film is portrayed through the director's vision as well as the actor's.


I want to take a look at Vladimir Nabokov's classic (and my all time favorite) book, Lolita; I've included it in one of my reading lists, but it was only several months ago that I finally flicked through the last pages and finished the story. The reason why it's my favorite is because, through the unique and truly brilliant storytelling, I was so invested in the plot and the characters.

The story is written through Humbert Humbert's perspective. Humbert is the protagonist and unreliable narrator, who sometimes breaks the fourth-wall and speaks directly to the readers. As we read his thoughts and actions throughout the story, you're convinced at how much of a cruel creep he is for 'kidnapping' his landlord's twelve-year-old daughter and for his hebephillic nature towards preadolescent girls. But through Nabokov's skillful and aesthetic writing, you also see the passionate side of Humbert. The poetic descriptions of Dolores Haze shows us that's he's more than just in love but infatuated. The difference between morality and desire creates this internal conflict within Humbert - which is what makes this book, for me, so intriguing.

Now, whenever I read a book and then watch the adapted film, they never feel the same. For instance, when I watched The Lovely Bones directed by Peter Jackson, a film adaptation of one of my favorite books, I was disappointed. Although they got the visuals accurately aligned with my what I imagined from reading Alice Sebold's novel, they missed a lot of important details that it just didn't feel the same as the book.


Reading Nabokov's Lolita, I was captivated by the writing style: "Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.", "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta." Some of the made up words, a little french, and use of clever wordplay is what captivated me. After finishing the book, I wondered how anyone would be able to replicate this genius onto the screen.

I don't think I ever got round to watching the 1967 adaptation, but I did watch the 1997 version with Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. I think Adrian Lyne, director, did a great job recreating the beloved the book - I thought the tasteful cinematography matched the aesthetic of Nabokov's writing, they added the tiny details mentioned in the book which I loved (for instance, the way she tiptoed and flattened herself against the doorway to allow Humbert to pass through in Part 2 Chap. 29), and I think Dominque Swain's portrayal of Lolita is almost accurate.

Overall, I feel that the film almost aligns with the book. However, I also think that they missed a lot of details which I think were important to revealing some of the characters - specifically Humbert. They hadn't included his previous marriage to Valeria nor his flings and affairs with prostitutes. For me, the film represented Humbert simply as the European intellectual with an obsessive fixation on pubescent girls. In my view, I felt that they didn't capture enough of his dark side so I couldn't feel that "internal conflict" that I discerned from reading the book (although, I think that was revealed at the end when he confronted Clare Quilty - who was a representation of desire which he's in conflict with).

Overall, as much as I adored the film, the book is in my favor. It's understandable that you can't pack every single detail into the movie, but because the story tends to be simplified for the screen, the film doesn't do complete justice.

What do you guys think of film adaptations of books?
Are there any examples of movies that you think did justice or that totally failed the book?

Join the conversation!

  1. I've only read the book back in high school and I loved it! I somehow forgot the whole age gap thing, because of the way it was written. It somehow made me feel for Humbert. I watched the 1967 adaptation way way back too, though I don't remember much, but I certainly do like the book more.

    I'm a new follower on Bloglovin', btw! :) Looking forward to reading more of your writings.
    http://helloannajo.blogspsot.com

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    1. Hey Anna! Yes, the author's purpose is to convince you that Humbert is just another person in love and diverting you from the reality of the situation - which is what makes Humbert the unreliable narrator. I think it's such a great and interesting book to read and analyze (maybe not for high school though!).

      Thanks for following! Will be sure to follow back :)
      - nicole

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