Thin Lyne Between Love and Hate

"I would never, never tell somebody how to eat a banana": Director Adrian Lyne on tbe set of Lolita

"You look like kids, but you don't act like kids. It's like you're short 40-year-olds," a desperate mother tells Jodie Foster's precocious Valley girl in Foxes, director Adrian Lyne's 1980 twist on teenage girlhood. The parallels with Lolita, Lyne's latest, long-protracted release, couldn't be more striking: from the precocious girls' clashes with brutal fathers and sex-starved mothers to the camera's languorous looks at adolescent limbs. Foxes even sports a girl-and-her-banana scene that almost exactly matches the fruit fest in Lolita.

But the director of 9-1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Indecent Proposal claims not to see the connection, preferring to view the new film apart from the rest of his corpus. In fact, during a recent phone conversation, the auteur is curiously humble, deflecting attention away from his role in remaking Lolita.

CITY PAGES: You've often said that your Lolita reflects the novel more perfectly than Stanley Kubrick's [1962] version. But in what ways did you depart from the novel?

ADRIAN LYNE: I shot a lot more scenes than ended up in the movie. It's just a question of length, really. I had to lose the famous scene in the novel where Lolita sits down on a sofa next to Humbert, and by the end of the scene he contrives to come. And there's a question mark in the novel whether she knows what's happened or not. There's a number of things in the novel that I didn't put in. I was anxious to put in, for example, that she cried and that there was always a sense that this wasn't a thing that was pleasant for her. But at the same time, Nabokov said she had the mind of a hooker, a little hooker.

CP: Why did you change the scene at the Enchanted Hunter's Lounge? In the novel, Humbert drugs Lolita. He plans to make his big move, he says, "upon a completely anesthetized little nude." Why would you take that out?

LYNE: It was important for me to understand that he loved her. In his fucked-up way he did love her. Right? Cause I get that from the novel. So it was a choice, in that if you want to get a sense that this is a tragedy, despite the awfulness of what he's done, then I couldn't put it in. But it's not out of a desire to whitewash, it's a desire to arrive at the conclusion that the novel did. And I'm sure you don't buy it at all, but that's the truth. The truth is that there are a lot of personable, amusing, pleasant-to-be-with perverts. They're not necessarily walking around looking and behaving like the devil.

CP: What other Nabokov novels do you think would make good movies?

LYNE: Well, you know, I haven't read that many. Dmitri Nabokov likes this film a lot and he thought his dad would have liked it. I haven't read that many. I read The Enchantress [The Enchanter], which was the precursor to Lolita. I don't know all of his books. I know Lolita well. I read the chess one--I've forgotten, what's that called?

CP: In preparation for Lolita, did you look at the work of other directors who had dealt with some of the same themes?

LYNE: God, it's such a long while ago, I've forgotten. I always do a huge amount of research, and stick images all over the walls of my office. I literally cover the walls with imagery, be it kids of her age and that sort of thing.

CP: The similarities between Foxes and Lolita are remarkable, aren't they?

LYNE: It's interesting that you should say that. To be honest, it's such a long while since I made that.

CP: It seems many of your films deal with power struggles over sex.

LYNE: What's interesting in the novel, and in the film, hopefully, is that there is a kind of power struggle and the balance of power changes. In the first act, all of the power, obviously, is with Humbert. He's exploiting her. She's a kid. As she becomes more aware of her strength, and her power over him, the power changes into her hands.

CP: Did you try to give Lolita's character sexual agency?

LYNE: To make her sexually attractive, you mean?

CP: No, to make her a more active participant.

LYNE: Than what?

CP: Than in the novel.

LYNE: No, I tried to make her the way she was in the novel. I just did it the way I thought that the novel did. You know, he says, amongst other things, [that] she had the mind of a little hooker. Nabokov didn't write a novel about a shrinking violet who was ruthlessly exploited by this hateful man. That's not the novel he wrote. He wrote a more complex and interesting story. I tried to do a film that was in shades of gray, really.

CP: How do you think Lolita will affect the life of Dominique Swain [the young actress who plays her]?

LYNE: Honestly, we took great pains. I talked a great deal with her parents, I talked with her, we sent her to a psychiatrist. To be absolutely honest, I was a lot more worried, and her mother was a lot more worried, than Dominique ever was during the course of the shooting. She...enjoyed the whole process. She was somebody who really played herself. She was at a time in her life when she literally had a foot in both camps, in childhood and adulthood, and by the end of the movie I couldn't have used her again.

CP: So you accelerated the process?

LYNE: No, I don't think that I accelerated it at all. She just grew up, as kids do. Sexuality doesn't fly in the window conveniently at 18 when it's legal. It's a movie, you're not doing this stuff for real.

CP: So what kind of direction did you give her, for example, in the scene where she eats a banana?

LYNE: I would never, never--and this is the case with any actor--tell somebody how to eat a banana. In the script it talked about her toothing the banana in a certain way. And that, funny enough, was based on the way Stephen Schiff's [the screenwriter's] wife, ironically, would eat bananas. She would always kind of get the kind of skin, you know what I'm saying--she would make tooth marks. So that was in the script. But [Swain] understood what was needed in the scene. You know, none of us knew what it was gonna be like when she kissed [actor Jeremy Irons] for the first time. We were all waiting with bated breath, almost poised on the abyss. And there was a collective in-drawing of breath when she kissed him with such gusto. And relief, in a way. But, then again, I had known that she had kissed her boyfriend, like, properly, before we started the film.

CP: Just like Humbert felt relieved that Lolita had had sexual encounters before him?

LYNE: Right, that he wasn't her first lover. Look, there's no way to justify what this man is doing. It's hateful. The guy's a monster. He's a pedophile, period. You'll put that in, won't you?

Lolita starts Friday at the Uptown Theatre.

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