Warning: this article may contain spoilers for “Harold and Maude”. If you’re not down with that, come back when you’re ready. 😉 The film itself features several fake suicides – only two of which are graphic, IMHO – so, if that’s something that will trigger you, it might be best to skip those scenes.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the 1971 film “Harold and Maude”. It’s absolutely my favourite film, although it’s a far cry from the fantasy films holding up my DVD shelf. It’s utterly hysterical – in a dark and subtle way – and totally heartbreaking. It isn’t necessarily a film for everyone; it requires an open mind and heart, I think. You have to be willing to push everything you’ve ever assumed about love stories aside.
For those who haven’t come across it, it’s the story of a young man called Harold, who has some rather unusual hobbies. He drives a hearse, attends strangers’ funerals and stages elaborate fake suicides to try and get his mother’s attention. His family are wealthy and, without his consent, his mother arranges several dates for him. Needless to say, they don’t exactly go to plan – mostly because Harold finds love in an unexpected place. He meets 79-year-old Dame Marjorie Chardin, known as Maude to her friends, at a funeral. Her quirky outlook on life is entirely different to his – she looks for the beauty in everything and is carefree. Together, they save a tree, break the law and challenge the expectations of society.
I decided to write this in honour of Ruth Gordon, the actress who portrayed Maude in the film. She passed away from a stroke on 28th August 1985. So here it is – why Maude should be your role-model!
She questions the established system with every action she takes.
Her relationship with Harold is just one way in which she challenges society’s need to put her into a neat little box. She gives the phrase “public property” a new meaning when she rescues a tree that is growing next to a busy street and re-plants it in a forest, determined to show it the kindness she feels all living things deserve. As a young woman, Maude lived in pre-war Vienna and took part in all sorts of campaigns and protests. She retains the umbrella that she used to fight off “thugs”, continuing to battle for justice in her own small ways.
Maude has a tattoo on her arm which indicates that she was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. This makes her attitudes even more poignant and powerful, having dealt with cruelty and oppression in the worst of ways.
She sees everyone as an individual.
This is one of my favourite scenes in the film. It’s so beautifully shot, and the cut from the flower field to the war cemetery is perfectly placed.
Maude understands how difficult it can be to remain unique, faced with a society that treats us as numbers and statistics (or, worse, as a resource). She encourages Harold to shape his own identity. By showing him all the subtle differences between the daisies in the field, she teaches him that everybody is special. I think that’s a beautiful message.
She’s super-duper body positive!
I can’t find the clip that I want, but there’s a great scene where Harold is looking for Maude. He enters the warehouse near her house to find her doing a spot of nude modelling for Glaucus, an ice-sculptor. She isn’t at all embarrassed when Harold sees her (Ruth Gordon’s coy giggle is just fantastic!). She doesn’t do it often, she says, as she doesn’t have the time. Maude also has a self-portrait in her house, depicting herself as Leda (as in Leda and the Swan).
Maude proves that beauty isn’t lost with age; it comes through confidence and through self-love. I feel that feminism encourages self-love among women. We should teach women to find beauty within themselves – it’s in their talent, their determination, their strength. Equally, it’s important to embrace your flaws too.
She expresses her emotions in every way she can. She doesn’t fear sensitivity.
Again, I can’t find this clip, but the first time Harold enters Maude’s house is brilliant. It’s full of all the things she’s collected over the years, as well as her art, her sculptures and her inventions. These objects are all deeply personal to her, yet she shares them willingly with Harold.
She sings, she dances and she teaches Harold to play the banjo. Everybody should be able to make some music, she insists. She also teaches us as an audience that emotion is not synonymous with weakness. Self-expression is a human right.
She knows that we’ve all got to be a little silly sometimes.
“Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves; you can’t let the world judge you too much.”
I hope you enjoyed this article! Now make like Maude – spread some joy and love in the world! (You can start by liking this article and sharing it on Facebook/Twitter/Google+! xxx)