My wife referred to Harold and Maude (that I never heard of before I met her) so many times that I finally caved in and watched it. What helped my decision was that somebody left a copy of the borrowed DVD at our house for a day or two and that I learned that it was directed by Hal Ashby. His “Being There” was on of the most though provoking movie I have ever seen. I was expecting a similar result, with a different topic. I admit I am more baffled by this movie though; I did not manage to decipher it to the same extent. Maybe I need to think more about it.
Despite not getting it fully I liked it. It is a tragedy wrapped in a comedy. Harold seems quite disturbed with his focus on death, suicide reenactments, and visits to funeral. But later we learn that it is actually a reaction to his mother, who is the person we should consider abnormal, with her combination of constant scheming for his son and disattachment. So one of the themes is how parents are out of touch with the lives of their kids and try to cover it up with misguided burst of actions.
But the main topic is the friendship between 19 year old Harold and 79 Maude. Just the existence of this combination reveals our social standards of what we consider age appropriate relationships. This goes way beyond the stereotypical a May-December kind of thing both in terms of actual age difference and the usual gender are reversed too. But their friendship is truly based on passion. It starts off with passion for death but eventually turns towards each other. Their passion for death is different though.
It’s hard to write about this movie without spoiling the end, so I will not even attempt that. The closure of the movie gives closure to Maude and force us looking back at the whole movie and reevaluate her actions. Her engagement with death is through life. She celebrates life with laughter, action and mocking death. But at the end right before she commits suicide on her 80th birthday her tattooed arm is revealed. I admire her reaction of what she must have gone through. Having heard of other Holocaust survivors who committed suicide decades later I am not surprised at her final decision. Looking at suicide statistics the elderly comes right after the teenagers. But I would like to close with a more upbeat quote from the movie.
Harold: Do you pray?
Maude: Pray? No. I communicate.
Harold: With God?
Maude: With *life*.