Analysis: Harold & Maude (don't read if you've not seen this film)

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WARNING: Don't read if you've not seen this film.

The development and growth of a relationship between the two principle characters is the basis of the movie, "Harold and Maude." Harold is a young man with a bizarre psychological fascination with death, and Maude is an old woman who is also interested in death but enjoys living and has lived her life to the fullest. They are brought together through a common activity: attending funerals simply because they enjoy them. Their diverse characters become meshed as Maude begins to influence and change Harold’s perceptions and attitudes about life.

Before Harold meets Maude, he is a disturbed individual with no friends. He performs “suicides” to upset his mother, who sends him to a psychologist. His first encounters with Maude are at funerals, and she pursues him because they share this common interest. As their relationship develops, Maude shows Harold some of the joys she has found in life and shares her philosophies with him. Harold tells her of an explosion during a chemistry laboratory experiment at his boarding school, which caused people to think him to be dead. He says that he enjoyed being “dead,” to which she replies, “some people do enjoy it, but they are just backing away from life. LIVE!” Maude says that she enjoys watching things “grow, bloom, fade, die and change into something else” and shares with Harold her desire to come back to her next life as a sunflower. Harold tells her that he would be a daisy, because they are all the same. This desire signifies a desire to be “normal” and accepted in society. However, Maude shows him that the flowers are actually all different in their own ways and says that one of the main problems in society and a cause of much of the world’s sorrow is people who are individuals but allow themselves to become absorbed into the society and try to fit in with the masses.

Maude shares many of these ideas and beliefs with Harold, teaching him to dance, play the banjo, enjoy his life more and “LIVE!” She claims that by “aiming above morality” one can live a better life, and tells Harold that he should do things he enjoys and not conform or let the world judge him too much. Her decision to commit suicide shows that she feels she has done her part in helping Harold be a happier person and has succeeded in teaching him how to love and enjoy life, which are qualities he did not possess prior to their meeting. She makes him understand this when, after he tells her he loves her, she says, “Go and love some more.”

After Maude’s death, Harold drives his car over a cliff, but in reality, he is not in it when it plunges to the ground. He walks away, playing his banjo and dancing, which are things that Maude had taught him. By driving his car over the cliff to make people think he has “died” again, Harold will be happier since he enjoys being “dead,” but the banjo and his dancing are symbols of the effects of his relationship with Maude. These signify that Harold has grown due to their relationship and has accepted and will use the advice that Maude has given him in order to “live” and lead a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.

To try to compare this movie with any other that I have seen would be almost worthless since it has a very distinctive nature and the relationship itself is so meaningful and important. Through Maude, Harold grows and, relatively speaking, becomes a normal and well-adjusted person, capable of the general human feelings of love and compassion, and possessing a new ability to enjoy life. In no other relationship have I seen this drastic change in any form, or the teaching and maturing aspects which Maude represents and which their relationship in itself exemplifies. Maude has a very immense influence on Harold’s life, and I can’t think of any other movies or relationships that have also shown an influence on a person’s life such as that displayed in "Harold and Maude."

((this is a paper I wrote in college, probably around 1989 or so. My professor loved it, although in reading it now, I find a lot of run-on sentences...))