Harold and Maude (1971)



A 20 year old man is obsessed with death, specifically his own, and funerals.  Does it matter that he’s clearly from an upper-class family?  Of course not.  Harold (Bud Cort) has made a bit of a ritual of staging what appear to be suicide attempts in hopes of getting his mother’s attention.  His mother (Vivian Pickles) brushes every attempt off and seems more concerned with whatever else she is doing.  She’s set Harold up on three blind dates, and after Harold performs another suicide attempt, his mother seems more concerned with  the fact that he just ruined his last chance to be set up with a girl.

Harold finds a kindred spirit in Maude (Ruth Gordon) and the two seem like they have little in common, other than the fact that they enjoy attending funerals of strangers.  Maude is a full-of-life free spirit who has a true lust for life.  As they spend time together, Maude teaches Harold about life and making the most of the time we have on

This film was released in the early 70s at the height of the flower power movement.  I wouldn’t know, it was before my time.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had I lived in the time period.  It seems anti-establishment to a degree (Harold and Maude steal a car, city tree, and eventually a police officer’s motorcycle as he is writing them a citation), and I can understand the appeal and why it would be popular in that time period.  The film itself did not do well at the box office: it started turning a profit 12 years after it was released.  However, it apparently has a huge cult following.

Must like The Big Lebowski, Harold and Maude is a cult-classic film that I simply don’t get.  The movie dragged for me, and while I knew beforehand that Harold staged fake suicide attempts, after the third one it just seemed redundant and increasingly disturbing.  Much like his mother, I found myself brushing it off and looking forward to what came next instead of dwelling on and being concerned with his need for attention.

Ruth Gordon was a delight in this.  She plays essentially the same character that won her an Oscar for her role in Rosemary’s Baby (I haven’t seen that one so I have to take what other’s have written at their word.)  I think there is some universality in what she communicates to Harold about life and enjoying what we have.  It can be very easy for a person to fixate on the bad and let that run their life, much like Harold does.  Though she goes over the top throughout the film, Maude’s desire to make the most of each day and live life by her own rule is refreshing to see.

One of the other redeeming things about this movie is Cat Stevens.  I found his music enjoyable.

I won’t watch Harold and Maude again, but I can understand why it has a cult following.   However, it’s a cult I am not a part of.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


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