"You've gotta make you're own kind of music.
Sing your own special song.
Make your own kind of music
Even when no one's around."
These words from the Mama Cass classic "Make Your Own Kind of Music" are a few simple words that define independence and individuality that defines "Harold and Maude", a fantastic little romantic comedy that...
Wait? Did I say romantic comedy? That's a little shaky. Romance? Yeah. Comedy? Sure. Black comedy sounds a little more accurate. All together, romantic black comedy.
This black comedy begins with Harold (Bud Cort), a teen-something in a fancy room hanging himself. His mother (Vivian Pickles) walks in, notices her son gasping for life and goes back talking on the phone. Somehow, Harold survives. So what does he do after that? He kills himself again. And again. And again. Until mommy sends him to a psychologist who can't do much for Harold.
Harold is actually a rebellious child, a smart boy capable of individuality. However he doesn't really know this, so like "Fight Club"'s narrator and Benjamin Bradock he floats through life and lets it pass by way too quickly. The only thing that makes him feel alive is the many random funerals he attends, and even there he doesn't feel much. This is of course, until he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon).
Maude is close to her 80th birthday, but she's not your typical buby. Sure, she drives like one, but she acts like a 16 year old. She really is Mama Cass's "Make Your Own Kind of Music"; she'll steal a tree to replant it in the wild and outrun cops just to say she's beating it to her own drum. Her and Harold form an incredible connection, change each other's lives, and fall in love, breaking down the age barrier.
There have been so many love stories about two random people meeting each other through coincidence, going through a turbulent relationship, and eventually falling in love, but there have been few to none quite like "Harold and Maude." "Harold and Maude" shows that love can exist in any form, as long as the two people involved love each other. Race, gender, age, who cares? In a year where a man running for president is African American, this test of society's tolerance remains ever the more relevant.
The film is directed in a style that most likely influenced Judd Apatow (I don't think I can go one review without dropping his name) and "The Office"; it feels like the director grabbed a camera and followed around two random people for a few days and got an honest and candid shot of their lives. We see them first in the middle of an event, and we leave them in the middle of an event. We don't need to see anymore, but we've taken out a lifelong lesson over just a few days in Harold and Maude's life.
It's easy to understand why "Harold and Maude" has grown such a huge cult following. Beyond the extremely quotable dialogue (Harold: You sure have a way with people. Maude: Well, they're my species!) lies a subtext on the passing from life to death and feeling alive for the very first time. Harold keeps trying to commit suicide in order to kill himself from the dead like state he's been living in (Harold looks awfully white throughout the film. Is he dead already? Debate this Lost like theory amongst yourselves as I try not to give much more away).
The anti-hero protagonist of Harold is no doubt inspired by "The Graduate"'s Ben Bradock and has no doubt inspired that theme of re-awakening seen in "Fight Club" and "The Visitor" amongst others.
In these re-awakenings the main character goes from lazy and uncaring to becoming their own person. This is usually triggered by some event or person. Harold's trigger is Maude. If an 80-year-old can live life to the fullest, so can he.
Besides Mama Cass, "Harold and Maude" evokes many other songs, mainly those of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. That could be because the movie is like a song and poetry put together. This effect is emphasized by its beautiful score by Cat Stevens (aka Yusif Islam) whose songs perfectly compliment the movie's message of individuality and rebellion.
In a time when government and media corrupts our country and tries to tell us how to act, a sense of individuality should never be forgotten.
In "There's Something About Mary", Mary states that Harold and Maude is "the greatest love story of our time". And it is, of the time of 1971, and the time of 2008. It feels real because the relationship isn't focused on two way too perfect Hollywood celebrities, the best jokes aren't one liners but people lighting themselves on fire, and the message goes far beyond just true love being more important than anything. It is that love can be found anywhere, if we take risks, try new things, and never conform. Always make your own kind of music, even when no one's around.
I've been so carried away by the movie's powerful message that I really forgot to analyze the movie itself. The way Hal Ashby shows the differences between life and death through imagery (blooming flowers fade to tombstones) is beautiful. Ruth Gordon, who brought humor to her incredibly creepy role in "Rosemary's Baby" brings that same wacky hilariousness to this role but with less creepy and more humanity. Why she wasn't nominated for an Oscar is beyond me.
Recommended for Fans of: "The Graduate", "Fight Club", "The Visitor", "There's Something About Mary", "Knocked Up", "The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Superbad", "This is Spinal Tap"