Laying It on the Lyne

Today, in light of "Girl Power" and the many Lolita-get-your-gun movies of the '90s, this sordid little trap looks nearly quaint from the beginning, not to mention tediously predictable. But Lolita goes on to reach the apex of absurdity with its ending. After spending the entire film masterfully eroticizing Swain and delicately spanking us for being such naughty voyeurs, the director suddenly produces the deus ex machina of Humbert's belated remorse. Lyne doesn't dwell on it, mind you--he wouldn't want us to feel too bad about having had boners for two full hours. This is entertainment, after all, so the conclusion simply allows us to feel cozy while we wipe up.

How did they ever make a movie of that?: Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain in Adrian Lyne's Lolita
How did they ever make a movie of that?: Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain in Adrian Lyne's Lolita

Rather like the urban night of the Beats, Lyne's sexworld is a fantasy in which the female (like Jack Kerouac's Negro) possesses the secret of ecstasy. Thus the hero's guilt is alleviated by the knowledge that powerlessness has in fact been good for these heavenly creatures--just look at how magical they are. (A Humbertian philosophy if there ever was one.) The horror is how fully they might destroy us if given a longer leash. But we don't have to worry about that. And more than anything, it's this reassurance that lies at the heart of Lyne's vision: Females can do all sorts of crazy shit to rip up your world, but you still have the gun (e.g., Fatal Attraction), the money (Indecent Proposal), and, most importantly, the camera.

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