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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Harold and Maude- Why this is a Classic Indie Film



About 8 years ago, I was introduced to a dark, funny, and touching movie. At first glance, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this story, due to the opening scenes and references to death. However, the more I watched this movie, I got more into the story and really began to feel like the character Harold, played by actor Bud Cort, was really a normal guy despite his eccentricities. I saw this displayed through Harold’s friendship with Maude, an older woman who could have been mistaken for Harold’s aunt or grandmother. What grabbed me about Harold and Maude and what might grab you, the movie viewer, is that this film shows the warm side to a somber person, teaches you how to laugh, and also teaches you how to appreciate and live life,

At first, when you see the character Harold, you may think, ok this guy needs to see a therapist and quick! In an attempt to get attention, Harold acts out fake suicide attempts. He also goes to funerals as a hobby. While Harold, at first seems a dark and sad person, you see when he buys his car and is drinking his soda that this is a young man who indeed is normal. Also, when Harold meets the crazy, fun loving Maude, played brilliantly by the late Ruth Gordon, you see other aspects of his personality come out. Harold smiles more, is inquisitive, and also has a sharp sense of humor (an example. the scene where Maude tries to guess why Harold can’t stay for tea she says “you have an appointment at the dentist”? Harold, not telling Maude why He can’t stay (he has a dinner date that he does not want to go to), says amusingly in response “kind of”. This is one of the funniest lines in the movie; it really made you feel the connection between being in pain at the dentist in relation to going to a dreaded date!

Usually, when you think of movies that make you laugh, you may think of films such as Ace Ventura or Knocked Up. When you watch Harold and Maude, scenes which feature the most normal or abnormal events will have you in hysterics. Harold’s overbearing mother, Mrs. Chasen, tries to set Harold up on blind dates. The humor with these dates comes from the women Harold is set up with. One date, talks so much and is so bubbly, Harold’s mother can hardly get a word edgewise in when she attempts to have a conversation . Another date, Sunshine Dore, is an over the top aspiring actress, who tries to fit in with Harold. She lies about her expertise on knives, and ends up really stabbing herself in the chest when she tries to impress him. Another area of funny scenes in “Harold and Maude”, revolve around the growing friendship between the two. Maude, being outgoing and wild, is not afraid to do anything. Harold, being more reserved and quiet, has hesitations about breaking the rules.

In the movie, when Maude decides to steal a tree from a public place so it can be planted, she asks Harold for assistance. Harold at first is against the idea. However, that all changes in a small amount of time. Harold gives in and the two very calmly get the tree, and Maude drives off in a police officer’s car! (Maude will steal any car and drive off with it, as if she just bought it!) The calm approach and teamwork that Harold and Maude use when they need to do something, even if it’s a scheme, will bring when you watch even more laughs: you actually can’t believe that the two have gotten away smoothly with their plan, even if it is a felony.

One aspect of Harold and Maude that you will come away with, (and I know that I did) is how to appreciate and love life more. Maude, being the free spirit she is, finds joy in art, nature, and life. Harold, being a sheltered young man, has yet to experience the joy of these things. A great scene (and one that almost made me cry) was when Maude invited Harold to smell different aromas through her oxygen device. Harold experienced the smells of cigarette smoke, a subway station and even snow. The look on Harold’s face after he experiences these smells really makes you believe that he has been touched by this new experience. Actor Bud Cort, who is excellent in this movie with conveying expression through his eyes, carries out emotion well. An additional great scene that also helps you appreciate life is one that involves flowers. Maude asks Harold what his favorite flower is. She afterward then, relates flowers to people, describing how people are flowers in full bloom, yet they allow themselves to be treated as weeds.


Harold and Maude is just a truly great film. Actors Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles (Harold’s mother) and Ruth Gordon really carry this movie through their unique acting, comedic timing, and emotion. Also, Cat Stevens did a phenomenal musical score for this movie. Every song he composed for this film went directly and related to each scene. I wish Harold and Maude could have gotten more recognition from the film academy, but I am glad to have been exposed to it and I hope others will one day as well.

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