Cinema Club: Harold and Maude (1971)

Posted on July 11, 2013

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Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

‘If you want to sing out, sing out. If you want to be free, be free. There are a million things to be’.

I remember telling my Mum once that I’d never truly been happy. I’ve since discovered that it was a lie, and that happiness is something I have felt on a huge amount of occasions, whether it was sitting on Skot’s roof during the college days, a day on the waltzers with Ben and Andrew, or even listening to someone you adore get caught up in talking about something they love. I’ve been happy, a lot. Happiness as an idea though, is damaging and dangerous. As I and many others have written on a whole multitude of occasions, one thing that we get wrong on a frequent basis is our idea of happiness. We view happiness as a goal, as a state of mind that we will eventually grow into, as opposed to the often fleeting but always life fulfilling emotion that we feel more than we realise. One of the reasons for this, I assume, is a tendency to over-analyze, to try and discover something that doesn’t need to be discovered, to try and learn on the job as opposed to just letting it wash over you.

‘Harold and Maude’ isn’t a great film. It is a very good film, yes, without doubt. It is a film that a whole lot of people will enjoy, will like, will recommend, but I don’t know if I can imagine it being anyone’s favourite film in the whole world. Does this matter? You might come out and say ‘yes’, because whatever art you are creating must strive to be the best it can be, everyone should want to be the best at what they are doing. On this morning, and maybe this is the delirium of the night shift kicking, I’ll disagree. Sometimes something can be created just for the sheer pleasure of creating, something can be put together with the sole intention of being enjoyed organically and that’s that.

That is what I got from ‘Harold and Maude’. Why is Harold so obsessed with death? Sure, his mother is overbearing, but why the constant displays of open suicide? It doesn’t matter, that is the character, just accept it. Why is Maude so carefree, so willing to take risks on a whim? There is a brief snapshot in the film where Harold recognises a Nazi concentration camp tattoo on her arm, but it is barely mentioned. Either way, it doesn’t matter, Maude is carefree because she is. There are a heck of a lot of themes running through the film, each of which could be picked apart and dissected. The contrasts between the title characters, Harold’s nihilism and youth against Maude’s age and proactive joy, the generational differences of those who grow up with everything and those who grew up in a time of fear, or the fact that moments of happiness are around every corner. ‘Harold and Maude’ was a film that didn’t encourage this, to its benefit. It was a exquisitely told story of love, of observing the little things in life, of accentuating our existence by just letting go sometimes. It was full of dark humour, whether it was Harold’s suicides or sabotage of his Mother’s pre-arranged dates, or Maude’s frequent car theft, or even the one armed Army General who has his suit rigged in order to be able to salute. This is a funny film, it’s a heartwarming film (even if death pervades the majority of it) and it is an at times joyful film.

Is it my favourite film of all time? Of course not, but I bloody enjoyed it either way.

(I always really wanted to go for a picnic at a demolition site as well).

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Posted in: Cinema, Reviews