Directed by Hal Ashby
Expectations: Kinda low. I remember liking it a lot, but I’m not excited to watch it again.
I was supposed to start writing this review about an hour ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to start. Most movies I have no problem finding something to write about, but rarely there comes a movie where I’m just dumbfounded as to what to say about it. I’m unsure that this will be a review of any worth, but I’ll do my best. It’s not that I didn’t like Harold and Maude; I enjoyed it a lot (although less so than the first time I saw it roughly 12 years ago), and maybe that’s as good a place to start as any.
I think the main reason I enjoyed it less this time was that I wasn’t as able to connect with the main character, Harold. He’s a rich, bored teenager who amuses himself by staging fake but elaborate suicide attempts for his mother to find. This fascination with death is one that Harold and I share, and while I never play acted setting myself on fire or seppuku, I know the feeling. I was a teen myself the first time I saw this, and my dark sense of humor and my lack of direction made Harold an instant surrogate for me. But now, years later, while I still harbor many of the same thoughts, I don’t feel quite so dislocated and directionless, and therefore I find the film harder to connect with.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is a “blink and you’ll miss it” reference to Maude’s past. In one quick shot, we’re shown something that’s never referenced or talked about, but if you know what it means, it says volumes about Maude. All of a sudden, Maude’s grand talk about living life to its fullest rings truer than ever and we understand a bit of why she is the way she is. And it’s masterfully done with only a single shot. Conversely, you could also say that it’s too easy a pull, going directly for a moment in history that will resonate the quickest with audiences. Whatever side of the coin you land on, it’s a great moment to discuss and ponder.
I also really enjoyed Harold’s mother’s attempts to make Harold the man she thought he ought to be. Harold is something of a brooder, leaning towards the artistic or intellectual type of guy. We’re never told what his aspirations are, or even if he has any, but I think it’s fair to assume that he wouldn’t have done manual labor. But his mother’s idea of a man is one-dimensional and physical, so in her attempts to make him snap out of his suicidal reverie, she sets up blind dates to get him interested in girls, buys him a phallic sports car and does her best to get him to enlist in the military. Harold’s attempts at suicide are calls for attention, but his mother seems only capable of providing exactly the wrong attention.
There was only one scene that didn’t ring true, and it comes right at the end. It’s the hospital scene, and given the nature of the characters and the story up to this point, I have a hard time believing that it would’ve gone down like that. I think Maude wouldn’t have been such a pushover to go with Harold in that moment, and the film seems begging for a different scene here. What we get is more romanticized and “movie-like”, which is perhaps the most 1971 thing about the whole movie. It’s sad, though, as Maude is a great character and I wish this scene was more true to her spirit.
Well, I had a lot of reservations that I wouldn’t be able to string any coherent words together about this movie — and maybe I didn’t — but I honestly think it turned out pretty good. I’m glad I soldiered on, in the spirit of Maude, and dared to look like a fool. Harold and Maude is one of the most unusual romantic comedies you’ll ever see, and it’s one I’d definitely recommend.
Harold and Maude was a Reader’s Choice selection from Karl of Xsmarkthespot.