The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Harold and Maude are unexpected, eccentric and endearing

“Harold and Maude” is a film about a boy who drives a hearse and a woman who befuddles cops. You could pee your pants laughing or have to press pause so that you don’t cry. Hal Ashby, the director, and Colin Higgins, screenwriter, produce a slightly off-kilter story of love that exposes both life’s absurdities and its genuine moments, all to the tune of Cat Stevens.

The movie opens with Harold, the protagonist played by Bud Cort, moving through the study of his home. He puts on some music and lights a candle—setting the mood—and then hangs himself. His mother enters, makes a phone call, and then asks if he thinks it’s funny. He answers with a slight smile—yes, he does think it’s funny. This morbid humor underlies the film as it follows the remarkably strange, yet truly genuine, relationship that develops between 20-year-old Harold, and Maude, played by Ruth Gordon, an eccentric woman just shy of her 80th birthday.

Harold and Maude meet at a funeral, and soon find ways to share their unique outlooks on life. Maude gives Harold an escape, liberating Haroldhim from his privileged, yet tiresome, life and his elitist mother. In Harold, Maude finds an accomplice willing to aide her in her quest to save the world, one small piece at a time. She steals cars, saves dying trees, and no one would want to share the road with her. Her charm lies in the contrast between her sweetly open and happy disposition and her toe-the-line and sometimes cross it manner.

What is stunning about Colin Higgins’ script is the progression from a dark satire to a romantic comedy. This subtle change in the movie’s tone parallels Harold’s shift from his death-obsessed perspective to his newly adventurous attitude. This change occurs when Maude’s carefree nature is introduced to his dull life.

Higgins’ script is brought to life through Cort and Gordon. Cort has the ability to deliver his lines with a sincerity that works with the edgy humor of the film, as he walks the line between the absurd and the disturbing. Gordon deftly juxtaposes her character’s energy and general spunk againstwith Cort’s morbid character. Together, they produce a striking chemistry that still evokes all the awkwardness of a new relationship.

Ashby compliments the chemistry between the leading roles with sometimes ludicrous, but always beautiful shots. He has a tendency to use a traveling technique that limits the audience’s view of a scene, but as the shot continues more and more information is given. His creativity with angles is quite apparent in the scenes that take place in Maude’s house. The space is extremely limited but the close quarters encourage Ashby to use excitingly different angles that mirror the movie’s quirky tone.

Of course, when the film is over the message about human nature in all its ups and downs is the most striking quality of the film.In the end, “Harold and Maude” is the story of love and adventure, and death and depression—all in equal parts. It is the movie you can watch with mom or brother or significant other, a jack-of-all-trades, but most importantly, it’ll make you feel good.

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