Sheila Heti

Lolita On Film


Adrian Lyne, “Screen Test: Dominique Swain” (Lolita, 1997)

This is a screen test of Dominique Swain, who ended up being cast in the 1997 film version of “Jeremy Irons. As a movie, it wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t as good as this screen test at capturing absolutely the heart of Nabokov’s novel.

I would wage this screen test is not only the best adaptation that any film of this novel could hope for, but perhaps the best film adaptation of any novel, period. Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain read from their prepared lines, but what happens between these actors and the director (Adrian Lyne) around and outside the lines could not have been planned, same as the best novels seem to come galloping out of the author’s head as the author, terrified, pulls back on the reigns of this dark horse that even they cannot control or know. This video gives one the same feeling: humans revealing their darkness despite themselves. And the darkness that’s revealed is the darkness of “Lolita.”

Wait for Jeremy Irons hitting Dominique Swain across the face, taking her by surprise. Watch how she reacts as the scene continues, and how she reacts when the scene is done. It’s a kind of horror and truth that the script can’t capture. But it’s here in this video. Also watch Swain, being tested for all her Lolitaness, and how she embodies the part both inside her lines and out.

- Sheila Heti

  • Mary Gaitskill

    fantastic, maybe the best video so far

  • http://ryeberg.com/author/markus-kirschner/ Markus Kirschner

    I love this clip (it’s in the special features on the DVD) and I actually love Lyne’s adaptation of the novel. There are some gorgeous moments in the film, the seeds of which are planted here. My favorite part of this clip is when Lyne, off-camera, tells Swain “You’re a shriek.” She replies in an English accent, grinning ear to ear, “No, I’m a coniving little slut.” Now that’s good casting.

  • Amy Ponomarev

    I love what you said about the author pulling back on the reins of this dark horse that even (especially?) they cannot control or know.

    But I don’t think the girl in the video comes close to embodying Lolita

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Sheila Heti is the author of "The Middle Stories," "Ticknor," and "How Should A Person Be?" —  chosen by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Books of 2012. She's also published an illustrated book for children, "We Need a Horse," featuring art by Clare Rojas, and a book of "conversational philosophy" called "The Chairs Are Where the People Go," with Misha Glouberman. She works as Interviews Editor at The Believer and has contributed many interviews with writers and artists to the magazine. She is also the creator of the Trampoline Hall lecture series and The Metaphysical Poll, which collected the sleeping dreams people were having of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries (It was clear from the dreams that Obama would win). More Sheila Heti here.