Mouffe at the Movies: Sue Lyon’s Lolita

We finished Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita today — reading it aloud, mind you — and almost immediately asked ourselves the question posed by the trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 movie adaptation. “How could they make a movie out of Lolita?” My guess is that the film minimizes Humbert Humbert’s monstrous delusional transgressions, instead playing up Lolita’s seductive precocity. That pop culture myth of Lolita dates back beyond the movie to the best-selling novel’s U.S. publication. In 1959, Robertson Davies claimed that Lolita is “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child.” Her name has been synonymous with such a blame-the-victim reversal of responsibility ever since.

We’ve ordered the DVD of the original film with Sue Lyon starring in the title role. I’ll try to withhold judgment until we watch it. For now, here is a clip montage from the movie (what is the sound track?) and a photo tribute to Sue Lyon set to Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Lyon and Donovan dated for a time in the 60s until he surreptitiously slipped her some LSD in a drink. Any trick in the book. Was Donovan channeling Humbert Humbert? Or is this an Internet myth/bad flashback?

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