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The Lolita Myth In Hollywood Cinema


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A talk at the University of Nevada, Reno. August 20, 2009.

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The Lolita Myth In Hollywood Cinema

  1. 1. Center for Basque Studies University of Nevada, Reno 8/20/2009 Katixa Agirre
  2. 2. <ul><li>Main character in Nabokov's novel Lolita (1955): a 12-year-old orphan who gets sexually involved with his stepfather. </li></ul><ul><li>A precociously seductive girl (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary) </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>“ Lolita is not a perverse girl, it is the sad satyr's imagination which makes a magical creature of this young American schoolgirl. There is no nymphet outside Humbert's gaze.” </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>… a narrative shared amongst members of the same culture </li></ul><ul><li>… a means of disguising or masking ambiguities within a culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Its role might be ideological </li></ul><ul><li>Nowadays, myths are mostly narrated by the media </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>Ambiguities in the understanding of childhood (sexual/asexual, powerful/powerless) </li></ul><ul><li>Obsession with youth and beauty </li></ul><ul><li>Crisis of masculinity in the times of 3 rd wave feminism </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Rereading Lolita and finding the real girl behind the image Humbert has created </li></ul><ul><li>Empowering girlhood and encouraging a sexuality non defined by patriarchy </li></ul><ul><li>Discussing the new Lolitas the media has brought to life </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>Its obsession with the seductress girl since its beginnings </li></ul><ul><li>Its global impact on the world and on cultural imaginary </li></ul><ul><li>Two versions of Lolita </li></ul><ul><li>I like Hollywood movies! </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962) </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita (Adrian Lyne, 1997) </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Major changes mostly due to censorship </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita is older and sexier </li></ul><ul><li>Humbert is a nice guy with no pedophilic past </li></ul><ul><li>Time change: from the 40s to the 60s </li></ul><ul><li>Not a road movie: family life at home </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Lolita: same age and aspect. </li></ul><ul><li>Same historical setting. </li></ul><ul><li>Direct quotes from the novel (17) </li></ul><ul><li>Humbert’s past is emphasized: his teenage love explains his current pedophilic tendencies </li></ul><ul><li>It looks quite faithful to the </li></ul><ul><li>novel, doesn’t it? </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>With a tragic past </li></ul><ul><li>And a poetic aura </li></ul><ul><li>And Lolita is an evil girl </li></ul><ul><li>She bribes Humbert </li></ul><ul><li>And enjoys when Humbert rapes her! </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>Humbert drugs and bribes Lolita </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita cries every night </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita is an orphan with nowhere to go </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita doesn’t enjoy Humbert: “Never did </li></ul><ul><li>she vibrate under my touch” </li></ul><ul><li>Lyne’s version seems more faithful to the Lolita myth than to the novel. </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Using particular devices such as: pastiche, parody, intertextuality, open ends, irony, mix of genres… </li></ul><ul><li>Postmodern portrays of Lolita shed new light on the myth but are connected with old Lolitas as well. </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>New Lolita: same age, much more intelligent. </li></ul><ul><li>Men immature / girl mature </li></ul><ul><li>Constant references to Nabokov, Lolita , and other Humbertish characters: Roman Polanski, Jerry Lee Lewis… </li></ul><ul><li>Nothing sexual happens </li></ul><ul><li>General idea: men unable to commit to women. </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Deconstruction of the myth of Lolita. </li></ul><ul><li>Angela Hayes: the perfect Lolita? </li></ul><ul><li>Older, cheerleader, takes the initiative, seductress… </li></ul><ul><li>Last scene: Angela reveals she is just pretending. </li></ul><ul><li>Male protagonist: Lester Burnham, anagram for Humbert Learns. </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Parody of Lolita. </li></ul><ul><li>Neo-noir genre: classic noir marked by self-consciousness and irony. </li></ul><ul><li>Timorous schoolgirl – expert sexual predator </li></ul><ul><li>Reference to the car scene in Lolita </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>Retelling the story of Little Red Riding Hood </li></ul><ul><li>Lolita takes revenge </li></ul><ul><li>Girl power philosophy: the violent girl </li></ul><ul><li>Mixed messages: seduction as a trap. </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>A powerful cultural myth </li></ul><ul><li>A model for girls’ sexuality </li></ul><ul><li>A dangerous temptation </li></ul><ul><li>But it’s being called into question by feminism, girl power movement, new gender relations… </li></ul><ul><li>The myth won’t die, but it is changing all the time. </li></ul>