Analysis of the Film, Harold and Maude

Analysis of the Film, Harold and Maude

Analysis of the Film, Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude is a cult movie. Its storyline is a peculiar reconstruction of life and time through the life of the main protagonists, Harold and Maude. The film drifts from mainstream cultural attitudes and expectations. Harold actions and beliefs can be considered anti-societal since he resists the life of love and instead he is obsessed by death. He is anti-military given his gimmicks to avoid recruitment in the army, and anti-authoritarian since he fails to obey his mother; this is the wave sweeping the society. The film profoundly depicts several elements of mythology and timelessness in society. Through the analysis the mythological elements evident in the movie, it is evident that the characters utilize their queer lifestyle to bring out the various aspects of cultural myths in the 1970s.

Mythology and Timeless Elements

A myth is a narrative that is specific to a culture, and it is not necessarily true; it defines the nature of interactions and behaviour in society. The most common myth in society is the mystery of life and death. Harold is integral in advancing the death myth in the film. Harold is a character who is obsessed with death, destruction and other unlikely things. He attends funerals and demolition sites, and he often stages fake suicides, which demonstrates his fascination with death. According to the film scenes, Harold has committed fake suicides almost fifteen times. The introduction of Maude in the film adds to Harold’s character, about the fascination of death. However, Maude is different because she has lived for 79 years and she states, “she likes to watch things grow, die, and turn into other things.” Despite sharing Harold’s perspective on death, Maude is a turning point for Harold. Harold and Maude attend funerals for different strangers due to their different perceptions of death and life. The film indicates that Harold obsession is more “jest-like” since he never wants to die. Harold defies the society’s myths of death and instead of finding gloom and sorrow in death; he derives a thrill and pleasure from deceiving death.

               On the other hand, Maude has tons of life experiences, and she seems to enjoy life more; she has derived means to enjoy life. Her philosophy about death is specific since she believes that 80 years marks a period to move on and life gratification. Maude commits suicide at her 80th anniversary, proving her beliefs that at 80 someone should move on. Thus, the myth of life and death is evident through the different experiences of Harold and Maude.

               Religious rituals such as sacrifice define myths, and the film portrays Harold as a character who performs different elements of self-sacrifice. He is unable to comply with his mother’s demands, and thus he scares his dates with different actions such as self-mutilation, self-immolation and seppuku. Self-immolation involves killing oneself as a form of sacrifice. Acts of self-immolation include setting oneself on fire or other suicide options. The film is filled with several acts of self-immolation by Harold; however, these actions are not real but rather his creations to achieve his ends. For example, he sets himself on fire to escape his mother’s dates. As part of anti-military protests, Harold stages fake killing of Maude, an expression of the martyrdom. Harold and Maude’s actions are manipulative and self-serving, and this brings contrast in the societal interpretation of time and myths.

               Culture is central in the construction of time and creating a sense of timeless past and present. The social development of time is created through human-like factors and relations and supernatural beliefs. The film demonstrates an aspect of timelessness based on the relationship between Harold and Maude. Harold, at 18 and Maude, at 79 find commonality in an ideology which is unlikely due to generational differences. Culture influences people’s perception, judgment, behavioural tendencies, and their communication dynamics. The construction of time is experienced through generational experiences and how they change over time. It is unlikely for Harold and Maude to share similar views and experiences yet they develop a close relationship. The generational differences are timeless, and are they attributed to the different perceptions of life between Maude and Harold. Maude shows Harold how to enjoy life, and she realizes that despite Harold’s obsession and recreation of death, he stills want to live. The generational differences and interpretations influence the societal views on Harold’s marriage, which is unconventional and unacceptable due to their age difference. The two are victims of culture and its construction of time and societal expectations.

Mythological Mindset

The film demonstrates the mythological mindset through the re-creation of death and the illustration of the delicate nature of life. It shows Harold pursuit of death, and each of his action symbolizes the end of life. The mindset is instilled upon the audience to mortality and isolation that comes with death. Deat through the eyes of Harold is shadowy, and it often casts the same darkness to those affected. It seeks to approve the mythological mindset that mourning is a part of death. Death is a regular part of Harold’s life and upbringing. Besides, the idea of death brings about reflection and feelings of nostalgia. For example, the chemistry explosion and Harold’s supposed death brings her mother a lot of emotion, and she faints from the shock. In essence, the myth of death is not terrifying to Harold; however, to the rest of the characters, it brings about the expected emotion and fear. 

               Harold possesses the mythological mindset, and often he utilizes it to achieve his ends. For example, his death brings him isolation which is a way of dealing with his traumatic experiences. Harold believes that death brings to an end certain aspects in life, and thus he grows up without friends; he drives a hearse, and often he attends funerals. Death is the only answer to the different paradoxes of his life. For instance, he stages Maude’s killing to escape his military recruitment. He inflicts death or suicidal intentions to avoid love, and this justifies the mythological narrative that death comes with burial and isolation. The film reversal of traditional roles and mindset is evident in the life of Maude and Harold. Maude has the zeal and will to live while Harold is unsure of his mortality. Thus, the film projects Harold’s character and obsession with death which in the traditional sense that threatens the living. On the other hand, Maude does not possess the mythological mindset. As an individual from the older generation, Maude is expected to possess different traits that reflect on various myths and beliefs in society. Maude is determined to outlive his age, and she is more enthusiastic than Harold who is young.  The generational gap is not a limitation to her falling in love and its pervasion of societal standards and expectations.

               The element of transformation is present in the film, and it is illustrated through the life of Harold who has a troubled childhood that leads to an obsession with death. There are many attempts to change his perception and mindset in life. For example, Harold’s mother enlists the help of a psychoanalyst who fails to understand Harold’s motivation. Also, Harold’s uncle helps in the recruitment, and instead, Harold uses his gimmicks to free himself from military commitment. His chosen path is understanding death, creating death, and associating with the dead. He converts his vehicle to a hearse and a turning point in his life is the encounter with Maude. Maude changes Harold’s perception of life and his resolve to live. Also, he introduces Harold to different objects and activities which change Harold’s mindset towards different objects. Despite her age, Maude is happy, and their life together develops into a love relationship. Harold grew up without love, and his experiences with Maude transform his perception of love. Harold’s transformation is evident in his ability to embrace love and life. His obsession with death and destruction is changed since at the final scene, he destroys his hearse. Harold’s transformation is in the ability to love and be loved, which is the reason for his obsession with death. In the end, he embraces newness in life, and pares his own life.

               The final scene in the film demonstrates the death of Maude and Harold’s response. In suspense filled outcome, Harold drives his hearse over a cliff and in the background, He stands to play his banjo. The scene is a symbol of the end of his fascination with death. After Maude’s death, Harold realizes that death is not a joke and it is not a source of fascination. Maude death is realistic and painful, and thus Harold decides to live. He destroys his hearse which is the end of his obsession. Also, sparing his life is an indication that Harold is ready to live and embrace life through the teachings of Maude. He plays the Banjo, and he watches his hearse go off the cliff.  Thus, the final scene is the end of the experiences for Harold and the audience.

               A reflection of the events of the film and Harold’s life demonstrate the uniqueness of life and the continuous cycle of life. Harold has obtained lessons on life and death, and two years from the final scene, Harold should be celebrating his life. The uniqueness of human experiences should define Harold’s life despite the age differences. Harold life is defined by bliss and adventure since the worst is over. She is reliving Maude’s life and lessons. From the final scene, Maude begs Harold to embrace life and love. Given the attachment and relationship they shared, Harold will be able to love and live life to the fullest. In any case, he no longer needs to hide in death, and instead, he should experience love and life. Harold’s proposal indicates he still values the ideology of marriage and this suggests that he was able to conform to the societal expectations. Maude’s relationship will prompt Harold to establish value in other relationships and thus the future of Harold is more conventional and acceptable to the society. Therefore, Harold’s life is better and real. From the experiences, Harold is afraid of death, and I think he wishes to live much more. 

The film, Harold and Maude, is filled with different incidences of death and destruction, and this plays a significant role in shaping the life of Harold; for example, the war that dismembered Harold’s uncle, the holocaust that Maude had to survive, and the lab experiment. Harold’s follows death, and his obsession prevents him from the elements of life such as love and meaningful relationships. His unique lifestyle lands him to unusual friend, Maude and relationship. In the end, he cannot overcome his obsessive tendencies.


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