Harold and Maude

Released:  1971

Cast:  Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles

SUMMARY:  Young adult Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is obsessed with death, particularly suicide.  He frequently makes fake suicide attempts:  the film starts with a staged hanging.  These dramas have become so routine that his mother, wealthy widowed socialite Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles), no longer reacts to them.  That does not stop Harold from creating many more elaborate hoaxes, including one in which he appears to have cut his own wrists and splashed blood all over his mother’s bathroom.  After this one, Harold’s mother sends him to a psychiatrist.  As he tells the psychiatrist, Harold’s other form of entertainment is going to funerals, mostly of people he didn’t know.  It is at one of these funerals that he first sees Maude (Ruth Gordon).  When they run int each other at another funeral, Maude approaches Harold and introduces herself.  She explains that she is 79 years old, soon to be 80, and that she also likes to go to funerals.  However, unlike Harold’s dreary, depressed outlook on life, Maude is intent on living her life to the fullest.  She routinely “borrows” cars when she needs to go somewhere, and doesn’t worry about the consequences.  At first, Harold is put off by this attitude, and Maude’s outgoing personality, but he soon begins to warm to her.  He begins to spend most of his time with her, and she begins teaching him how to play the banjo.

Meanwhile, Harold’s mother has decided that the answer to Harold’s problems is to marry him off.  She sends in a form and has him computer-matched with several young women, whom she then invites to their home.  Harold meets each of them, but uses his fake suicide attempts to scare each one away:  the first date watches as Harold seems to set himself on fire, the second one sees him appear to chop off his left hand, and the third witnesses him commit hari-kiri (ritual suicide).  These dramatic attempts succeed in scaring the women away.  Harold continues to spend time with Maude, and even enlists her help in a scheme against his military-recruiter uncle.  Harold’s mother has signed him up for the military, but with Maude’s help, Harold convinces the uncle that he is a homicidal maniac:  this ends Harold’s potential military career.  As they spend more time together, Harold begins to fall for Maude, and eventually announces that he’s going to marry her.  He plans to propose at her 80th birthday party.  However, on that night, Maude tells Harold that (as she had previously hinted) she is committing suicide that night — and that she has already taken an overdose of pills.  Harold is horrified, and immediately drives Maude to the hospital, but the doctors are unable to stop the effects of the pills, and Maude dies.  Harold then appears to drive his car off a cliff, but is revealed to actually be standing atop the cliff with his banjo.  After watching his car hit the rocks below, he walks away, singing and playing a song he once sang with Maude.

MY TAKE:  I will admit that the first time I saw this movie, I didn’t like it.  The main thing that stuck in my head was the sexual relationship that developed between Maude and Harold, which frankly gave me the heebie-jeebies.  However, after watching the movie for a second time, my opinion has vastly improved.  It’s actually pretty funny.  The humor is hard to describe, because on the surface suicide attempts, even fake ones, do not seem amusing.  When you watch the movie, though, and see Harold doing these things — and trying desperately to get a reaction from his mother — you can’t help but chuckle.  It’s even funnier when he scares the crap out of his dates with these methods.  To top it all off, his mother usually delivers some dry one-liner at the end of the attempt, revealing that she’s not impressed.  It is also heartwarming, though bittersweet, that Harold does begin to see the beauty of living.  Ironically, this comes from an 80-year-old woman who plans to kill herself on her birthday.  I was sad that she really did die, because it doesn’t really seem like somebody that full of life should choose to end it.  However, it’s a very Maude-esque thing to do.

RATING:  Funny; great example of dark humor.


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