I absolutely love going to the movies and reveling in some of the great storytellers’ writing prowess. Dialogue, when written well, can be a pretty fantastic thing, especially since I think writing words that sound natural when spoken is difficult. However, there’s something to be said (no pun intended), for narrative that does not rely on dialogue. This is a challenge unto itself because you are putting your faith entirely in the actors and how they are able to advance the plot with mere
A great example of this, or two for that matter, is Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film Lolita and Adrian Lyne’s 1997 adaptation of the same. First off, I have to say that I like these films for their clever nod to the film noirs of times past. The male voice-over narration and the dangerous woman role, a.k.a. femme fatale, are both signatures of the old-school genre. Granted the femmes in traditionalist noir are a bit older, but in essence Lolita is the young neophyte femme fatale: leading the male protagonist astray for her own gain.
But I digress. What is really fascinating when watching both adaptations are the scenes when not a word is spoken. Feelings are conveyed with measured glances. Keeping in mind Lolita’s young age, the level of silent manipulation that is thrown about is befitting of a situation where secrecy is essential.
I think Kubrick’s version excels at this more so than Lyne’s, probably due to the era, when sexuality, even implied, had to be toned down on screen. Sue Lyon, as the titular teen, is given the difficult task of alluring and manipulating James Mason’s Humbert with rarely a touch or a word. You can see this from the characters’ very first meeting, while Lolita lays out in the yard in her bikini, and shrewdly appraises the older fellow from behind her shades. She is constantly appraising Humbert, and it’s as if you can actually see the wheels turning in her head, thinking how she can use the man for her own interests.
This is again shown quite clearly in the scene where Humbert picks her up from camp and is telling her about her “sick” mother. As she gazes at him, eyes a bit narrowed, you can tell she knows more than she probably should, and is aware of her power over him.
For Humbert’s part, I enjoy Jeremy Irons’ more recent portrayal for truly capturing the opposite. For his part, he manages to evoke longing, desire, and vulernability from a single look. As he watches her eat ice cream out of the fridge, his ardor is written on his face, no words are needed. By ignoring the young girl’s often blatant disinterest and deceptive looks, his desperation leads him down the path to emotional turmoil.
All in all, I love talky movies, where characters are blabbing dialogue about 100 words a minute and zingers are being tossed back and forth across the screen. But I have to love a movie for its simplicity when it takes the chance of just letting us see the story progress rather than telling us how it does.