A young man walking down a staircase preparing to hang himself is not the typical beginning for a love story, but it’s the first scene in Harold and Maude. Harold and Maude is dark comedy that challenged my views on life and love. The story is about the relationship between two people belonging to different generations. Bud Cort, as 20 year old Harold, is fascinated by simulated suicides: hanging, slashed wrists and throat, a shot in the head, drowning, harakiri and, most hilariously, by sacrifice. Harold enacts them all, not to kill himself, but to draw attention from his mother. No one saw him, until he met Maude.
Ruth Gordon plays the role of the 80 year old, free-spirited, independent thinker, Maude. Maude just can’t get enough of life, and is not afraid to break the rules.The writer Colin Higgins, and director Hal Ashby, show why life is worth living through Maude. Harold is influenced by Maude to look at life in a new way. She leads him through a number of spontaneous adventures allowing him to see that there’s more to life than death.
For example Maude convices Harold that they should steal a city tree so they can bring it to the forest. Harold believes that it’s a bad idea because the tree is government property, but Maude wants to give the tree meaning and life. While Maude is setting the bad example of stealing she is also showing Harold that you can change. You can always find life. But the movie is not all about witty quips and “funny” scenes.
There are mournful moments, such as a significant glimpse of the real reason why Maude has such a passion for life, and the gradual romantic development of Harold and Maude’s relationship. Harold’s baby face and teen-age look is creepy and cringey alongside Maude’s tiny and wrinkled frame, but as performers they bring it home. We gasp in horror, but end up rooting for the couple as they are obviously made for each other. In the end, we can’t diminish Harold and Maude’s specialness.
Just like Harold, we slowly fall in love with this amazing larger-than-life pint-sized woman. She has inspired me to buy a banjo and “Go and love some more.”