Harold and Maude

This review has been written as part of Ryan McNeil’s Blind Spot series over at The Matinee.

Harold (Bud Cort) is a wealthy young man disconnected from society and obsessed with death. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a gleeful near-octogenarian with a passion for life and a desire to try new things. Bizarrely, these two opposite ends of the spectrum meet and become friends – and possibly more.haroldmaude2Harold and Maude made my list of Most Anticipated Movies on the 1001 List, almost entirely on the basis of the recommendation of a friend who otherwise almost exclusively likes science fiction or Studio Ghibli films, so for him to recommend a character-based comedy/drama it must mean something. Also, I’d heard a lot of comparisons between it and Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, which I loved. I am therefore very pleased to announce that it lived up to my considerably high expectations, and I found the film oddly charming, whimsical and often exceedingly funny, in a similar vein to the likes of Wes Anderson.maude6Harold is a character that, when I was a few years younger, I probably would have identified with a great deal. He’s bored with life, with few-to-no friends and even fewer hobbies, besides repeatedly faking his own suicide in various different manners. In fact, he does this so often I began to think this was secretly a vampire film, and that in effect he was actualy immortal, and was so bored because he’d been alive for centuries, and his fascination with dying was derived from the knowledge that he could never embrace it. I never faked my own death, but I can’t say the concept never crossed my mind.Harold-and-Maude-1
Harold’s mother, played by Vivian Pickles, is an overbearing presence in his life, and she dearly wishes to marry him off to some bright young thing. She takes out a dating form in her son’s name, filling in all the information as though it was for her, because surely her own son must think the same way she does – yet she becomes distraught when the dates don’t always go as planned. The manner by which they go awry is not technically her fault though, as Harold takes it upon himself to ‘test’ the resolve of his potential bride by martyrdom or mutilation, but always in a cool, calculated manner, and always hilarious in a dry, unexpected way.

Ruth Gordon’s Maude, on the other hand, is vibrant and bright, the exact opposite to Harold. Whereas he lives in his mother’s stately home, surrounded by all of life’s luxuries, she lives in an old train carriage, complete with veranda and garden, bedecked with trinkets and artefacts she has either collected or created throughout her life. Her character is handled wonderfully – one fleeting shot of numbers tattooed on her arm is the only explanation required for why she values every second of life she has. At times the relationship formed between these two seems, well, icky, especially as Cort looks about twelve, even to the point of the film’s vicar (Eric Christmas) giving Harold a speech about how disgusting he finds it all, but to me this was all hilarious, particularly Christmas’ delivery of the line “flabby buttocks,” which is something you never really expect a priest to say.photo_10
Other than the suicides, there are many more enjoyable set pieces in the film, the highlight of which was a brief car chase. Maude, it seems, has something of a disregard for the law – she doesn’t believe in driving licenses, for one thing – and she regularly steals cars just to drive them around, and to teach their owners a lesson in ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ One of these sojourns sees her liberate a tree from a city – the smog gives them asthma, you see – which results in a chase between Maude and Harold in a stolen truck with a tree in the back, and Tom Skerritt’s Village People motorcycle cop. It’s joyous, and random, and wonderful to behold.images
I liked this film far more than I was expecting to – it’s films like this that make me so glad I’m doing the 1001 List – and there are many reasons for it. The soundtrack, exclusively sung by Cat Stevens, is full of some previously unknown gems of his I’ll be seeking out again soon, though, as with Simon & Garfunkel in The Graduate, the same constant vocal style became distancing after a while, so maybe it works better without the film in front of it. The brand of humour was right up my alley, with Harold’s one-armed war veteran uncle – apparently General MacArthur’s righ hand man, despite him now only owning a left – who rouses Harold’s death obsession with tales of the war, and whose bundled up sleeve can perform a drawstring salute, and the treatment Harold provides the new car his mother buys him is great, potentially inspiring the creation of Pimp My Ride.hm3
Above all else, what I really dug was the characters, and the impact they had upon one another’s lives. By the climax Harold has been on a journey that’s turned his beliefs, idealisms and entire life upside down. It’s doubtless he’ll remain a bit of an oddball, but maybe he won’t be so obsessed with death – at the start he even fascinates over the last trail of smoke from a snuffed match. There’s a real sense of joy in this beautifully shot film, and it’s one I plan to revisit many times in the future. These are characters I want to spend more time with, in situations I long to see more of, and Cort is an actor whose filmography I now need to delve deeper into.

Choose Film 9/10

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15 thoughts on “Harold and Maude

  1. Sadly, Cort was the victim of a serious car accident which sidelined his career. This is (I think) his best for a lot of reasons.

    Were I a younger man, I’d identify with Harold, too. Despite the age difference, I still understand where he’s coming from, and the fake suicides are tremendous.

    This is a film I think it’s impossible not to like…sort of an anti-Salo. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy this film is immediately suspect in my world. .

    • Alas, you’re last statement describes the people I saw the film with – I suggested it for a movie night with my friends, and they just didn’t seem to get it. That is sad about Cort. I remember him from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Dogma, but nothing else.

  2. Yes, as much as I’ve singled out some particularly horrible films on the list, there are more great films on it. I happened to have seen a lot of them already, but in my post on completing the list I singled out 30 films that were at least 4 stars for me that I would not have likely ever watched were it not for working on the list.

  3. I really liked this a lot more when i re-watched it a few years ago. I think the darker sense of humor just worked better, and it’s a fun little film. Glad you caught up with it.

  4. Good review Jay. Sure, it’s a weird movie by how a young guy is with a much-older woman, but when taken into the context of who these characters are and why they live the lives they live, it all makes perfect sense. And in a way, it’s sort of the ideal romance, just a bit too quirky.

    • My pleasure, thanks for hosting the blind spot series! And I didn’t leave a comment on your Charade post for a very similar reason – I haven’t watched that yet either, despite owning the DVD. Maybe next year.

  5. Nice, great rating. This film is seriously underexposed, I feel (outside the cinephile community anyway). Every time I’ve told a friend about the plot, they’ve looked at me as though I were a lunatic. But everyone I actually showed it to, has loved it so far.
    I’m so happy you liked it and your comparisons to Submarine (yay, someone else who likes that movie) and The Graduate are spot on. Can’t wait to rewatch this one for the next episode of our podcast.

  6. Pingback: 2014 Mid-Year Update | Life Vs Film

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