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Customer Review

401 of 428 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In my All-Time Top Ten, January 19, 2003
This review is from: Harold and Maude (DVD)
The editor's review of this film is a fair enough description of the plot. One should add that, despite being made in 1971, the movie manages not to look dated, precisely because it makes such fun of the early 70s style, and that the acting by the three main characters (Harold, Maude and Harold's mother) is simply inspired. Ruth Gordon is splendid of course, while Bud Cort gives a lifetime performance, but it is the portrayal of Harold's mother by Vivian Pickles (what a splendid name for someone in the role) that has to be the most undercelebrated aspect of this film. Her breezy blitheness, outraged exasperation, and British sensibility are all just too wonderful.

But before I go on ...

NOTE: It has been been pointed out to me that since some would consider this review to contain spoilers that I ought to warn people ahead of time. However, I'll add that it's hard to say how much spoilers actually spoil this movie; spoilers may help to make the movie's wisdom more readily apparent on a first viewing. In any case, there are several ahead.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Some Amazonites have complained that they encountered spoilers in my review despite presumably reading my disclaimer and warning (above) that there are spoilers in my review. I find this odder than some of Harold's mother's behavior, and it makes me want to ask, without at all intending sarcasm, "If you didn't appreciate the disclaimer when you read it, how will reading spoilers harm your appreciation of the film?" ... To paraphrase Maude: "Ah people ...." (They're my species.) ... Meanwhile, back at the review:

Filling out a dating questionnaire for her son, in response to the question "Do you find the idea of wife-swapping offensive?" his mother answers, "I find the question offensive." In response to the question, "Do you feel the women's liberation movement has gone too far," she replies, "It cer-tain-ly has." Even "Harold, eat your beets" is delivered so wonderfully that it's memorable. Eric Christmas also makes the bit-part of a priest into something delightful and memorable, principally by one splendid monologue.

But is this really a black comedy? Personally, I think of black comedies as being morbid and mordant, which Harold & Maude certainly has elements of, but also ultimately cynical. One should not mistake grimness in a film as a sign of nihilism; as the Japanese proverb runs, the ending is all-important. The film ultimately is not about an intergenerational love affair (surely the most "shocking" aspect of the film), but about Harold learning to embrace life. And it is precisely to make as effective as possible Harold's decision to live life to the fullest (rather than continue to prefer to be dead) that it is first necessary to make his life miserable.

As insanely amusing as much of the movie is, it is also full of profundity after profundity from Maude, who is a nearly continuous font of wisdom, with laughter and humor being simply the most crucial values in her wisdom. When she asks Harold what he does for fun, he takes her to a picnic in a wrecking yard. She replies, "I'll grant you, it has a certain something. But is it enough?" When Harold declines her offer of wine, she replies, "Oh go on, it's organic." And most beautiful of all, when Harold says, "I don't want you to die, Maude. I love you," she replies with perfect calmness, "Harold, that's wonderful. Now go out and love some more." If you've been caught up in the genuine spirit of this movie, the line will not seem like some breezy brush-off, but may instead bring tears to your eyes.

The scene of Harold's grief after Maude's death, intercutting silent images of him waiting in a hospital room and driving recklessly around the Marin headlands in the Jaguar he has converted into a hearse while Cat Steven's song, "Trouble" plays, is very well-done and sets up the climax of the film beautifully. Cat Steven's soundtrack throughout, in fact, is a splendid selection of songs, and certainly makes clear that, however morbid things might seem, this film is ultimately life-affirming in a very profound way.

Having watched this movie many, many times and having yet to tire of it, it seems to me there is more to it than meets the eye. And not just because, when Harold gives Maude an engraved birthday gift, she says, "This is the nicest gift anyone has given me in a long time," and then throws it into the San Francisco Bay saying, "That way, I'll always know where it is." And not just because one eventually notices, in the briefest of passing shots, the tattoo of a concentration camp inmate on Maude's arm. In the final analysis, it seems to me that Harold is actually already dead. That his theatrical suicides aren't faked at all, but also don't succeed because he himself is not aware that he's actually dead. It's probably more accurate to say that the director pushes the narrative to the point where Harold seems to be actually dead and not just faking, precisely to make his choice of life at the end all the more inspiring.

And inspiring it is. Harold & Maude is not (alas) for everyone. A viewer who is hidebound like the movie's priest, colonel or mother (read church, state, authority) will find Maude's sometimes gentle, sometimes brash mocking of convention more annoying than enlightening, just as the (not depicted) sexual relationship between Harold and Maude is the thing many people who miss the point remember about the movie. To this, Maude might say, as she does to a police officer, "Don't be officious. You're not yourself when you're officious. That's the curse of a government job." Or as she says, when the priest replies that he didn't like the way she'd painted his statue of the Virgin Mary, "Give it time. It'll grow on you. Some things take a while to appreciate."
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Showing 121-130 of 151 posts in this discussion
Posted on Feb 4, 2012 11:15:48 AM PST
McGreeves says:
Totally agree with you about Vivian Pickles. She gives an amazingly unique performance. I went to school with Colin Higgins and I remember when he was first developing this screenplay. We all thought it was wonderful, but, to be honest, I never thought it would actually get made. I remember that Colin wanted to direct it too, but I think Hal Ashby was the perfect choice to direct it.

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2012 10:28:02 PM PDT
Snow Leopard says:
Hi McGreeves:

I apologize if this is getting trivial or personal, but since you knew Higgins while he was working on his screenplay: was he out of the closet at the time and/or did he hit upon the idea of an intergenerational relationship as a "substitute" for a male-male relationship movie he didn't think had any hope of being produced? This is really just quite bluntly putting the question out there, but I've wondered about the possibility.

Meanwhile, go Vivian!

Posted on Jun 20, 2012 1:55:11 PM PDT
G. Matot says:
Snow Leopard, Thanks for 'getting it.' You nailed this movie in your review. The essence of the story is about Harold learning to live life to the fullest (and what Maude does to push him in that direction). So many people miss this because they get caught up in the strangeness of the movie. It really needs to be seen a few times to really grasp the true meaning.
Like Harold, I was brought up in a similar setting. So I really connected with the character and understood exactly why his angst was directed at his mother. I've seen this film probably over forty times and it still makes me cry and laugh. Thanks for the great review!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2012 2:41:18 PM PDT
Snow Leopard says:
G. Matot:

Thanks for the comment. I'd be interested to hear more about being brought up in a similar setting. We can email directly if it's something more well-kept private. But your point is still well-taken. The strangeness of the movie is in part, I think, the strangeness of the world that Harold (that we all) have to move in, with mother, church, state with all of their misinformation about how to live, &c. One commentator objects that Maude's "solution" is essentially "personal only"; that it (her solution) misses the "social reform" aspect of change we need to bring to the world. But, of course, the movie itself is a "social protest" created in the world that shows alternatives to the norms that are otherwise so surreal. At least for some people.

I have no doubt that many people manage to feel at home in the US for the most part. I'm not sure how they do it. Part of the strangeness in Harold and Maude is a witnessing to the strangeness we (at least some of us) are asked to live.

Thanks again for emphasizing that.

Snow Leopard

Posted on Dec 6, 2012 7:48:44 PM PST
W.T.Hoffman says:
Its always been one of my favorite movies. Everything in this review is what hits me too...the songs, the hippie outlook on life in the mind of an old woman, and the outrageously funny suicide attempts. (Dr: "Harold, do you do these suicide attempts for your mother's benefit?" Harold:" I wouldnt say 'benefit'.") However, is it REALLY a comedy at all? In the end, you have Maude dead, Harold's mother believing her son really DID commit suicide, when they find the car at the bottom of the cliff, and Harold apparently homeless, playing banjo. OK, so Harold learned to be light hearted. But, what is he going to be about, a year later? His obsessions probibly run deeper, than what Maude could cure in that lenght of time. BUT...is it a tragedy? I think that Harold's life was tragic from the start, but its the tragedy of the square world, that loves warfare (the uncle), loves money (the money), and loves empty relationships (the girlfriends). Harold was dying in that world. BUT...did he really escape it? We can only hope.

Posted on Jan 19, 2013 6:07:18 AM PST
John Reece says:
Why review the film and give the major plot lines away...spoiler for those who haven't seen the film.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2013 3:52:04 PM PST
Snow Leopard says:
W. T. :: It is an enduring mystery whether the change in Harold is permanent, or what he makes of it. Obviously, Colin Higins never felt compelled to write a sequel, or couldn't get one in the works.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 19, 2013 3:58:52 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2013 9:17:36 PM PST
Snow Leopard says:
John Reece:

Since I specifically wrote: "NOTE: It's been pointed out that a lot of the plot is given away in the following. It's hard to say how much spoilers actually spoil this movie; spoilers may help to make the movie's wisdom more readily apparent on a first viewing. In any case, there are several ahead" then I *could* snarkily reply, "Since you didn't read, (or read, but didn't grasp) the disclaimer, what harm in you reading the spoilers?"

However, I'd rather be more proactive than that. "Harold and Maude" has surprises in it, but the overwhelming impression that I received from my first watching had far less to do with any "spoiler" that might be given away about the movie.

It may be that in our attention-deficit culture, few would be willing to spend the time necessary on anything, much less a movie that rewards paying attention to it. Moreover, despite being a "cult" movie, it bears visually looking at, and unless you see all the pictures aforehand, there's no spoiling that. I can't spoil Vivian Pickles' performance, for instance. You simply have to see it.

No movie should be equivalent to its plot summary; that's what the book is for. But in this present case, I think worries about spoilers aren't that on point for what the movie is, does, or says.

If it is for you, I can only say I warned you.

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2013 6:27:05 AM PDT
David Zelz says:
Cardiff: Many of the songs are from Cat Stevens CD, "Mona Bone Jakon"; "If You Want to Sing Out" and "Don't Be Shy" can be found on a Cat Stevens greatest hits collection, "Footsteps In The Dark." Enjoy.

Posted on Jul 30, 2013 4:21:25 PM PDT
SuziCQ says:
You really need to warn people when your review contains plot spoilers. I haven't seen this movie and didn't appreciate you spoiling it.

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