Harold & Maude (1971) – 4.5/5 Stars

harold maude

It’s hard to believe a film such as “Harold and Maude” was made in the 1970s. Movies like this one, the off-kilter teen coming-of-age story, haven’t really become common place until today. Hal Ashby and Colin Higgins’ film was undoubtedly ahead of its time. It’s not rooted in pop culture, popular folk-style music is a central element and its sense of humor is a one- of-a-kind blend of dark and free-spirited. Teenagers of today would have an appreciation of it that teenagers in 1971 probably didn’t have. It was still probably uncomfortable for a lot of people to embrace the relationship of an older teenager and a crazy old woman, but it’s a thing of beauty in this movie.

Bud Cort stars as Harold, a morbid teenager obsessed with faking his own suicide, likely because he’s been raised in a mansion by his self-centered mother his entirely life. Although a bit repetitive, Ashby creates some of the most memorable scenes on film, like when Harold’s mother fills out a matchmaking survey for her son and answers every question for him based on what she thinks while the entire time, Harold is brandishing a pistol and pointing it at her and himself. At one point she can’t take it anymore, so Harold sees a shrink, who is of no help.

One of Harold’s favorite activities is attending funerals, and on one occasion he meets Maude, an old woman with no sense of logic who is just shy of her 80th birthday. Played by Oscar- winner Ruth Gordon, she is a delightful character. Gordon paints her as cuckoo but completely lovable, even if she’s a nutjob. She and Harold spend a lot of time together and she enlightens him with her strange but wonderful world view. Their relationship is about teaching the death-obsessed Harold about what it means to live.

Maude is a special soul. Her attitude is inspiring. She might be crazy in her ways, but she’s as wise as any person experienced in years. There are countless of surprisingly powerful moments from this film, but one great example is of Maude telling Harold how in a field of daisies, each is different though they may look the same. She pities those who see themselves as the latter and not the former. Ashby pulls away to a pan of a huge cemetery where the two can’t be seen among the thousands of identical graves. That’s a vital theme, really relevant stuff in a coming-of-age story. The fact that there’s anything profound in this story is impressive.

“Harold and Maude” is also funny in a mature way. Nothing is recycled physical humor and as many ways as we see Harold pretend to kill himself, the way it juxtaposes with other elements of the story such as his ignorant mother is true comedy. Higgins and Ashby are all about defying expectation and its really smoothly worked in throughout the movie.

I won’t spoil the film, but there’s one scene that makes “Harold and Maude” a masterful film and not just an ordinary quirky comedy. Normally when you drop a knowledge bomb on your audience, you expect it to sharply impact the rest of the film. It’s just merely included here, added to what you know about the complex characters and the fact that it doesn’t get so much attention makes it so powerful. Few comedies ever achieve great touching moments like these and that’s part of what makes “Harold and Maude” timeless.

4.5/5 Stars

Harold & Maude (1971)
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Written by: Colin Higgins
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon


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