Bottom Line: Should be used as the comparative standard to judge all modern black comedies.
“You sure have a way with people.” –Bud Cort as Harold
“Well, they’re my species!” –Ruth Gordon as Maude
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Starring: Bud Cort, Charles Tyner, Cyril Cusack, Ellen Geer, Eric Christmas, G. Wood, Judy Engles, Ruth Gordon, Shari Summers, Vivian Pickles
Harold (Bud Cort) is a young man, wealthy, antisocial, lonely, and–above all–obsessed with death. He visits the psychiatrist regularly visits a psychiatrist, and he simulates suicide frequently to draw in a blatantly uneasy reaction from the loved ones surrounding him. He claims his obsession with death, his gratification for suicide as if it is an art, and his uncanny state of depression all began with his regular attendance to funerals, but clearly there is a deeper reason for these qualities. We begin to wonder when he is going to actually take his own life, when all of a sudden he meets and instantly befriends a septuagenarian named Maude (Ruth Gordon) at a funeral. Maude is at body a seventy-nine, almost eighty, but due to her giddy, lighthearted personality, she holds the upbeat spirit of a child.
The unlikely bond between the two is one of the oddest I have ever seen. Most friendship-centric movies provide the stories mood via merely the two friends themselves, but as the characters’ personalities clash, so do the moods provided. It’s as if the film is two halves inseparably melded together, but the halves are polar opposites. One half is a downbeat, depressing, suicidal tale; the other an upbeat, cheerful, life-valuing tale. I’m a sucker for such an offbeat, dark comedy. I know those who have soft, sentimental hearts will definitely find justification for some dispute here, but films such as A FISH CALLED WANDA, BEETLEJUICE, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE GRADUATE, LIFE OF BRIAN, and THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, have managed to crack me up quite heavily. Out of all those films, HAROLD AND MAUDE is the czar. The film has a pretty dark premise: a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old male becoming best friends with a seventy-nine-year-old woman who could easily be his grandmother. It has enough heart to give us a certain prediction of the ending, but it comes so suddenly and shockingly, a bit of a seven-minute-long “you-are-there” moment. Definitely the classic I had expected, surely worth its worldwide cult following, HAROLD AND MAUDE should be used as the comparative standard for judging all modern black comedies.