Harold and Maude is a morbid love story about a young man and a 79-year-old woman. Harold enjoys faking suicide to shock his mother, however, Harold has faked his death about sixteen times, so it no longer fazes his mother. She ignores it.
When Harold crashes a funeral, something he does on a regular basis, he meets Maude, an elderly woman who is full of life. The two begin a friendship, and soon, Harold is spending every free hour he has with Maude.
Harold’s mother, concerned about his morbid behavior, tries to set him up on several dates. Harold proceeds to scare off every girl that comes by his house. When his mother’s plan fails, she tries to enlist Harold in the Army. Harold’s military career is put on hold when his Uncle Victor, the man who can accept him into the Army, believes he is not fit to join the military.
On Maude’s eightieth birthday, Harold is about to ask her to marry him when he learns that she has taken pills to end her life.
She believed that no one should live past eighty; after eighty, one is “just marking time.”
Harold rushes Maude to the hospital, but it is too late. The doctors cannot do anything for her. Grief-stricken, Harold drives his car recklessly over a cliff. This leads the viewer to believe that Harold, indeed, committed suicide. However, it is revealed that Harold is still at the top of the cliff, with his banjo that Maude encouraged him to play. Seemingly cheerful, he dances off into the distance.
The film pokes fun at several different institutions, including law, kinship/family, and the military. All of these institutions play an integral role in the film, with law and kinship/family playing the biggest part.
The film begins by showing a seemingly dysfunctional family; the viewer sees Harold fake his death for the first time. Harold fakes suicide for his mother’s benefit because when he was younger, he was caught in a fire at his school. He managed to escape, and went home, not seeing his mother. The police soon paid a visit, and proceeded to tell Harold’s mother that Harold had died in the fire. Harold enjoyed his mother’s reaction and felt that he like being “dead.”
This makes fun of the parent-child relationship. In a normal family, children do not fake their deaths for their parents. Also, in a normal family, when and if a child does fake their death, the parent is shocked and saddened. However, in Harold’s world, his mother is used to his antics, and just ignores his pranks.
It could be interpreted that Harold wants his mother’s attention. It is shown early in the film that Harold’s mother is a busy woman. Harold is acting out in this way not because he likes being “dead”, as he told Maude, but because he is starved for attention. When Harold’s mother begins ignoring his “deaths”, he goes outside the home to search for attention; this is where Maude enters his life. This could be why Harold spends so much time with Maude. She enjoys his company, she listens to him. Perhaps that is all he needed.
The movie also pokes fun at the kinship/family institution when the film begins to reveal that Harold is in love with Maude and they begin to have a romantic relationship. By today’s standards, this would not be much of a shock. Society today is used to seeing older people in romantic relationships with younger people, but in 1971, when the film was made, that was not the norm. At that time, most romantic relationships were between people of relatively the same age. The film exaggerates the age difference, and that in itself shocks the audience.
The poking of fun at the institution of law is a major point in the film. Maude has a devil-may-care attitude towards the world around her. She does not believe in having a driver’s license and she steals cars. Maude also does not believe in following the rules of the road. The viewer sees this in the scene after the funeral where Harold first meets Maude. Maude climbs into a car that is not hers, and peels off down the street with no regard for stop signs or cars that might be in her way; she gets very close to hitting another car.
Harold and Maude also steal a tree from a city sidewalk. Maude feels that it should be planted in the forest where it can grow and thrive. She believes that in the city, because of the smog, it will die. So the two of them uproot the tree, put it in the back of a car they stole, and head for the country, breaking the rules of the road, such as paying tolls on the highway, along the way.
On the way back to the city after planting the tree in the forest, Maude, still driving the stolen car, gets pulled over. The officer asks for her driver’s license, and she tells him that she does not believe in having one. The officer then asks both Harold and Maude to step out of the car. Maude, while the officer is sitting in the stolen car, proceeds to signal Harold to get on the officer’s motorcycle, when Maude then starts and drive away with.
The hilarity of the scenes is what makes fun at the institution of law. The whole scenario is so absurd that one cannot imagine someone ever getting away with that, but Maude does. The police are portrayed as bumbling idiots that, however hard they try, cannot do their jobs correctly. Even though Maude’s intentions are good, she is still breaking the law, and the police cannot execute their jobs correctly.
The military is also made fun of in the film. When Harold’s mother tries to enlist him in the Army after he botches every date she sets up for him, Harold and Maude come up with a plan to get the Army to not accept him. Harold, when he talks to his Uncle Victor, the man who is to recruiter Harold, is over-zealous about the possibility of killing another man while in the service. This enthusiasm leads to Maude’s “death” (which, of course, is faked). Uncle Victor was so shocked that Harold’s career in the military came to an abrupt stop.
The fact that Harold is not enthusiastic about joining the Army and his Uncle Victor, who lost his right arm in battle, is, leads to this game of absurdity between the two characters. It can be taken that Harold is actually making fun of his Uncle Victor instead of the military when he implements the plan to be over-zealous about killing people.
It can also be interpreted as making fun of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was such a terrible spectacle where thousands of men lost their lives. In a way, Harold and Maude’s plan was also a terrible spectacle, leading to Maude’s untimely death. The reverence and appreciation for the military was lost in this scene.
These institutions, as well as others, are portrayed in the light-hearted manner that makes the film a comedy. The makers of the film did not intend to be disrespectful to any of these institutions, it was only that these institutions are such a major part of everyone’s life that the humor would not be lost to anyone who saw this film. This is an easy-going, humorous film and should be interpreted as such.
Cite this Harold and Maude
Harold and Maude. (2016, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/harold-and-maude-essay/