Film / Harold and Maude

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"A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt, even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room."
Maude

Harold and Maude is a 1971 film directed by Hal Ashby, starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon.

The film follows the exploits of Harold Chasen (Cort), a wealthy but morbid teenager whose primary interests include attending random funerals, driving around in a hearse, and staging gory and over-the-top fake suicides for his domineering mother. Then he meets Maude Chardin (Gordon), a sparky 79-year-old woman who shares his interest in attending funerals, and finds in her a kindred spirit despite their being apparent diametric opposites. Soon the pair enter into a most unusual May–December Romance.

While this film received mixed reviews and tanked at the box office on its initial release, it eventually developed a cult following and has gone on to influence people such as Wes Anderson, the Farrelly Brothers and other purveyors of cinematic quirk. It also features a memorable soundtrack by Cat Stevens, who worked closely with director Ashby.

Not to be confused with Maude, or the Harold & Kumar series.


This Film Contains Examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Harold's psychologist seems to think that Harold's May–December Romance is a variation on the Oedipus complex. Just to drive the point home, he has a picture of Freud hanging behind him.
  • Asian Hooker Stereotype: Uncle Vic invokes this when he talks to Harold about the perks of being in the Military, including "plenty of slant-eyed girls".
  • Awesome, but Impractical: As if a Jaguar E-Type were long enough to actually serve as a hearse.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Sunshine's attempt at Romeo and Juliet.
    • Sunshine does make a convincing "corpse", though.
  • Because I Said So: Mrs. Chasen is implied to have used this rationale for every decision she ever made on Harold's behalf, to the point that Harold no longer vocally protests or questions. He protests in other ways, however.
  • Big Fancy House: Where Harold lives.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Harold's reaction to the fact that Maude just poisoned herself and will die shortly.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Maude kills herself, but Harold learns a lesson about living.
  • Black Comedy: The biggest laughs come from a series of staged suicides.
  • Building Is Welding: Harold lights a welding torch and wears a welding visor to customize the Jaguar E-type his mother bought for him to replace the hearse she loathed.
  • Bungled Suicide: Inverted: Harold's staged suicide attempts throughout the film are very well executed.
  • Chase Scene: Maude and the motorcycle cop.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Sunshine.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Sunshine's reaction to Harold's Seppuku performance in two ways. One, she doesn't believe Harold really killed himself and successfully guesses he's acting. And two, she isn't freaked out that her date staged a random suicide in front of her.
  • Cool Car: Harold's hearse. Both the Superior-bodied '59 Cadillac and the home-converted Jaguar E-Type.
  • Cool Loser: Harold.
  • Cool Old Lady: Good old car-stealing, hookah-smoking, murder-staging Maude.
  • Creator Cameo: The conspicuous, lanky bearded man at the amusement park is none other than Hal Ashby.
    • Cat Stevens did not, despite some internet sources, do a cameo as a hitchhiker.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Maude is implied to have lived through a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
  • Disappeared Dad: Harold's father is dead.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: At one point, Maude essentially hands Harold a giant wood carving of her vagina and tells him to feel around. (Harold tries performing cunnilingus on it.)
  • Draft Dodging: Uncle Vic wants Harold to join the military. Harold and Maude concoct a plan to get him out of it.
  • Dramatic Drop: Harold's mom, after discovering that he has ruined his third and final date.
    • Also because at first glance it looks like he actually killed Sunshine.
    • Harold also has one with the Seppuku knife.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Maude could show the ol' Duke boys a thing or two about reckless driving.
    • Not to mention drifting a huge and cumbersome '59 Cadillac hearse.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Harold's family, small though it is.
  • Emo Teen: Harold is notable for being an emo teenager back before emo was even a thing.
  • The Film of the Book: The screenplay is based on Colin Higgin's story, which he wrote for his Master of Fine Arts thesis. The eventual novel is now out of print, but used copies can be found for sale.
  • Flipping the Bird: Harold does this at one point behind his mother's back, both figuratively when he reassembles the Jaguar she replaces his hearse with into another hearse, then literally immediately after showing her.
  • Flower in Her Hair: Maude.
  • Foreshadowing: Various lines by Maude imply that she will commit suicide on her 80th birthday.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Harold wants to marry Maude after only knowing her for about a week.
    • Mrs. Chasen was hoping that her attempts to set Harold up with random women (selected from a pre-internet computer dating organization) would result in this.
  • Freaky Is Cool: When Harold Met Maude.
  • Freudian Couch: The second time Harold is at the psychiatrist's he is seen on the couch, lying on it with arms crossed as if he were dead. His feet are also where his head should be.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: Harold is much more open and relaxed with Maude. When he's with his family, he's very taciturn and prone to acting out his displeasure.
  • Given Name Reveal: Sunshine's real name is Dorée. That is, actually it's Dor.
  • Gorn: Harold's wrist-and-throat-cutting stunt. He covered an entire bathroom in artificial blood. He actually manages to shock his mother, but only with what he did to the bathroom.
  • Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!: Completely subverted in everyone's eyes (including the audience's), except for Harold's.
    Harold: You're so beautiful.
    Maude: Oh, Harold. You make me feel like a schoolgirl!
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Maude's surprise 80th birthday party.
  • The Hero Dies: Maude herself at the end.
  • Karma Houdini: Maude. She steals five cars plus one police motorcycle (yeah, plus a shovel and a tree), and she might have stolen more vehicles before the events of the film. She even admits to not having a driver's license, but it's not like the police ever show up at her place to arrest her.
  • Last Kiss: Harold kisses Maude just as Maude is being wheeled into the emergency room.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Harold likes staging his own suicides. That doesn't necessarily make him a freak, though. (But tell that to his family....)
  • Manic Pixie Dream Woman: Maude, right down to the casual attitude towards theft. Age shall not wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.
  • Marry for Love: Harold wants to marry Maude rather than the more 'suitable' young women his mother picks for him.
  • May–December Romance: The big one, and an extremely rare gender-flipped variant. (See also 1974 German film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, another example of a gender-flipped May-December Romance.)
  • Modesty Bedsheet: In the scene where they're in bed together, Harold is shown naked from the waist up, while Maude is covered up to her shoulders as she sleeps.
  • The Mourning After: How Harold expects his future to be. The very last scene of the movie subverts it somewhat.
  • My Beloved Smother: To his credit, Harold fights his mother every step of the way.
  • Mysterious Past: Maude. It's implied that she's a holocaust survivor from Austria, but other than that details are scant.
  • Name and Name
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: We never learn about Harold being a skilled mechanic until he converts the shiny new Jaguar XK-E his mother gave him into a hearse.
    • Then again, he managed to get a '59 Caddy hearse from the junkyard and turn it into mint condition. And he certainly didn't do so by merely putting it through that car wash.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Harold is on the milder end of the "fetishism" scale, and somewhere in the middle with the nightmares.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: Maude attempts suicide on her 80th birthday since, in her own words, "75 is too early but by 85 you're just marking time".
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: A variant. After Maude tells Harold that she's ingested poison and has minutes to live, Harold stares at her in silence, waiting for some kind of punchline, until he realizes that she's being completely serious.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Maude uses this as her first defense against the police.
  • Opposites Attract: He's a death-obsessed loner Emo Teen from a smothering, meaningless upper-class existence. She's a life-obsessed octogenarian from a poor background. They perpetuate crime.
  • Parasol of Pain: It is implied that the umbrella hanging on Maude's wall used to be this. She's certainly old enough to have been a practitioner of Bartitsu or even of Suffrajitsu.
  • Parental Neglect: The reason why Harold started staging suicides.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: What Harold means when he says 'I love you' in the ambulance.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Cat Stevens.
  • Public Exposure: Maude poses nude for the sculptor Glaucus.
  • The Reveal:
    • Maude telling Harold that she'll be dead by midnight.
    • Maude's reason for hatred of authority: she's a Holocaust survivor.
  • Riches to Rags: It is implied that Maude's family used to be well-to-do before WWII.
    Harold: Harold. Harold Chasen.
    Maude: Oh how do you do! I'm Dame Marjorie Chardin, but you can call me Maude.
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Running Gag: Harold's suicide "attempts" and that he seems to always be wearing the same outfit as his psychologist.
    • Maude 'borrowing' cars.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A play has been produced a few times based on the movie: one on Broadway in 1980 (closed after four shows), one that ran in Paris for several years and one by the Compagnie Viola Léger in Moncton, New Brunswick.
  • Secondary Adaptation: There was also a French made for tv production in 1978, translated and written by Jean-Claude Carrière.
  • Seppuku: One of Harold's staged suicides uses this theme. "Do you... enjoy knives?"
  • Skeleton Key: Maude carries a keyring of them that she uses to drive off in whatever vehicle she chooses. (At one point they ride off on a cop's motorcycle.)
  • Something Else Also Rises: Harold and Maude at the carnival -> fireworks -> Harold and Maude in bed the next morning.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Harold continues doing his wacky suicide attempts every time his mother sets him up on a blind date in order to drive them off. This doesn't work at all with Sunshine the actress, who not only admires his performance, she joins in and starts doing Romeo and Juliet in a hamtastic, terrible way.
  • Starts with a Suicide: A staged one, of course. This time it's hanging.
  • Suicide as Comedy: It plays Harold's regular apparent suicides for dark humour. At least, until the end.
  • Suicide Is Painless:
    • Harold's suicide stagings. Subverted again and again and again and again... and again.
    • Maude thinks that dying before eighty would be too early, but dying after eighty would be overstaying. Her solution is to poison herself the second she turns 80.
  • Sunny Sunflower Disposition: Maude.
  • Waving Signs Around: Maude has a sign that says "Peace!" which is used to create a tiny yet hilarious Powder Keg Crowd.
  • Wham Line: Maude telling Harold that she's poisoned herself. Also counts as Poorly Timed Confession as she revealed this during her surprise 80th birthday party that Harold had planned.
  • What Does He See in Her?: Everyone's reaction to Harold and Maude together.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened with Sunshine? She and Harold had a lot in common, maybe they hit it off?
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Mrs. Chasen's and Uncle Vic's attitude toward Harold, which slides right into their Why Couldn't You Be Different? attempts to change Harold against his will.

Alternative Title(s): Harold And Maude

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/HaroldAndMaude