In my fevering quest to like every movie I watch, I had to try hard for Harold and Maude. I had immediate expectations for the film seeing Cat Steven’s name roll by on the opening credits for the film’s music; however, that was not really enough to sustain the rest of the film. Harold and Maude is an interesting film in its reception- fans adore it and critics despise it. It’s not the first case like this and it certainly won't be the last. A romantic relationship between a young boy and a 79 year-old woman is both awkward and unlikely, and this cannot be avoided within this film. It goes far beyond the already risqué affair seen in The Graduate.
The film centers on a boy, Harold, who has an inherent obsession with death. It would not surprise me for many people to turn away from the film upon hearing this, but within its context, it’s somewhat of a guilty laugh. Harold’s strange fascination with killing himself is grossly entertaining. On the contrary, his mother despises it and grows tired of his “amateur theatrics.” Her casual and dismayed glances toward her son hanging from the house’s rafters or floating face first into a pool would leave any loving mother up in arms, but for the casual viewer, it’s quite humorous. Even better are the reactions of Harold’s blind dates, arranged by his mother, who watch their date light himself on fire or chop his own arm off with a meat cleaver. My only attempt at explaining Harold's character is to claim that he’s still a kid, naïve and unknowing of the realities of growing up. He’s an odd boy who has no friends, so why not pass the time by pretending to cut off your own arm? Anyways, what I find more difficult to comprehend between our two characters is actually Maude.
Maude is the antithesis of Harold. While he spends his time thinking of new ways to kill himself, Maude finds genuine joy in every bit of life. He is an outspoken, social outcast whereas Maude is self-assertive and proactive. Once together, Harold follows Maude on quirky escapades, recalling one where they outrun the cops in a stolen El Camino with an uprooted sidewalk tree so they can replant it in its natural environment. Soon after, Harold begins to retract from his suicidal pranks and takes up a more productive hobby learning to play the banjo by way of Maude. In her 80 years, Maude has learned to live life to the fullest and throughout their relationship passes this wisdom on to young Harold. In all, I find it difficult to understand her own reasoning for attending funerals like Harold does.
Such contradictions are not a flaw of Maude's character, but one of directing. In one scene when Harold and Maude sit together on the dock after their date at the carnival, the camera quickly cuts to a shot of Maude’s inner arm where we see a small set of numbers, presumably a serial number from a concentration camp during WWII. If so, why? The film neglects to acknowledge it aside for the half-second glimpse. And if this is not the case, then what was being shown?
Without dragging the film too far down and revealing its strange ending, I must say that I did enjoy watching the film. A fan favorite in 1971, Harold and Maude was nominated for two Golden Globes, one for Best Motion Picture- Musical/Comedy and another for Ruth Gordon’s performance as Maude, which I also enjoyed. For it to be a good film, its demeanor must not be taken seriously and instead should be cherished for its laughs. So you be the judge.
Harold and Maude trailer to some music by modern Rogue Wave.