Film / Harold and Maude

"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."

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Maude is implied to have lived through a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
  • 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.)
  • Dramatic Drop: Harold's mom, after discovering that he he has ruined his third and final date.
    • Also because at first glance it looks like he actually killed Sunshine.
  • 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.
  • Emo Teen: Harold is notable for being an emo teenager back before emo was even a thing.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Various lines by Maude imply that she will commit suicide on her 80th birthday.
  • Freaky Is Cool: When Harold Met Maude.
  • 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.
  • 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 have a driver's license, but it's not like the police ever show up at her place to arrest her.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Harold likes staging his own suicides. That doesn't necessarily make him a freak, though.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Woman: Maude, right down to the casual attitude towards theft. Age shall not wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.
  • May–December Romance: The big one, and an extremely rare gender-flipped variant.
  • 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 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.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Cat Stevens.
  • The Reveal:
    • Maude telling Harold that she'll be dead by midnight.
    • Maude's reason for hatred of authority: she's a Holocaust survivor.
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Running Gag: Harold's suicide "attempts" and that he seems to always be wearing the same outfit as his psychologist.
  • Seppuku: One of Herold'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. He solution is to poison herself the second she turns 80.
  • Sunny Sunflower Disposition: Maude.
  • Wham Line: Maude telling Harold that she's poisoned herself.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened with Sunshine? She and Harold had a lot in common, maybe they hit it off?

Alternative Title(s): Harold And Maude