Man… This movie really took my breath away.
Harold and Maude is an auteur romantic comedy directed by Hal Ashby about the adventure that almost 80-year old Maude takes young 20-something Harold on. They meet through their mutual hobby of attending funerals. The few things I want to discuss about this movie is the black humor, amazing soundtrack, and personalities of the three prominent characters: Harold, his mother, and Maude.
<<Beware of minor spoilers!!!>>
Harold is first seen as trying to hang himself. His mother walks in and rolls her eyes, leaving the audience to realize that he has tried to trick his mother numerous times before the events in the movie. Throughout the movie, we are able to see that Harold is obsessed with death. He “kills himself” countless times, drives a hearse, and attends the funerals of people whom he has never met. Each time that he performs his “suicide”, it’s presented in a humorous way. I could hear the chuckles and silent giggles of the people around me. It happens so often that it forced me to essentially think, “Oh, that Harold is so silly”, in a similar way to that of his mother. Of course, suicide, in real life, is no joke. But Hal Ashby made comedy out of suicide, while not ruining it’s tact. Harold has a valid reason for doing what he does. It’s not just comedy, but more like an outlet for his frustration.
The next thing I want to talk about is the soundtrack. All of the songs in the movie are by Cat Stevens. Fun fact: Hal Ashby was obsessed with Cat Stevens at the time so the movie was inspired by his album. The two main songs that stand out and have the strongest messages are: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” and “Trouble”.
Let me first say that these songs are so amazing! I listen to both regularly now. Thanks Hal for using Cat Stevens as your soundtrack!
The first time we hear the song, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” is when Maude plays it on the piano and sings to Harold. The message in the song is to do what you want to do and to never let anything stop you. It’s a perfect message and is directed toward Harold who isn’t really living. Not like Maude. Maude is a complete free spirit who literally does ANYTHING she wants. Including illegal activities. But I won’t go into that.
Harold, on the other hand, is controlled by his mother and doesn’t really know how to livelike Maude. Throughout the film, he is set up with numerous blind dates by his mother without his consent. Not only that, but there is a scene where where his mother fills out a dating questionnaire for Harold. While the scene progresses, the detachment between Harold and his mom becomes even more prominent. There is little to no communication between these two and I think that is why Harold “commits suicide” so often — to get her attention. When Harold starts hanging around Maude, he doesn’t have to get a kick out of dying anymore because he starts to experience the fun and vibrancy that life has to offer. So then, he learns from Maude to just be and undergoes a major transformation.
We can also literally see his transformation through the clothes he wears and the coloring in his face.
Harold and Maude is touching in almost every way. It’s a little off-putting at first to the average person because it’s a taboo love story, but it’s beautiful and a cult classic.
While watching the film, I wanted to start it over and watch it again. Crazy, I know, but there are just some parts that stuck with me and I wanted to watch the scene again. I feel like I can’t just have it available to me on the internet. I want the DVD in my hands. I want to be able to watch the deleted scenes, the commentary, put it on a loop. Basically, I love this movie.
Each and every scene means something in this movie, whether it’s the shot composition, key lighting, or plain ol’ dialogue. This film was very thought out and we, as an audience, can see that. Everything from the soundtrack to the mise-en-scene falls together perfectly. Bravo, Ashby. Bravo.