We Love… St Valentine: ‘Harold and Maude’

We Love...St Valentine

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Get a bottle of Blue Nun, splash yourself with them cheap Christmas smellies your Auntie got you for Christmas, slip on your Penny’s underwear and turn up the stereo with the sweet, sweet sound of Barry White. And hey, if you have a partner that’s an added bonus. Yes, it’s that time of year, when St. Valentine comes to town. So in his honour the film lovers here at Film Ireland present their favourite lurve-themed films.

We’ll be adding to the list in the run-up to the 14th – check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now let’s get it on…

Harold and Maude

Steven Galvin

Love – that many-splendoured thing rears its head in different shapes and forms. In Harold and Maud it is the glue that bonds a relationship between a free-spirited 79-year-old woman and a suicide-obsessed, hearse-driving 21-year-old adolescent. That old chestnut…

Hal Ashby’s 1971 wonderfully eccentric rom-com introduces us to Harold (Bud Cort), a wealthy young nihilist who struggles in the shadow of his pompous overbearing mother and deals with what he perceives to be her (and the world’s) idiocy through a preoccupation with death and suicide, which is conveyed through staged suicide attempts and cemetery visits – as his psychiatrist discovers when he asks Harold what he does for fun: ‘I go to funerals’. It is at one of these funerals where he encounters Maude (Ruth Gordon), who, despite her age, is full of zeal, exhibiting a tremendous lust for life, which she conveys through her wisdom, her fondness for stealing cars, erratic driving and optimistic outlook on life.

Their lives become intertwined – picnicking on demolition sites, outrunning the law and the like – and Harold’s sense of alienation finds a cure in her buoyant enthusiasm for life. The love they share transcends love itself and has the ultimate effect of imparting life from Maude to Harold as he is transformed from his melancholic, bleak state (‘I decided then I enjoyed being dead’) into an energized, alive young man. Swept up by Maud’s joy in living (‘I like to watch things grow’), Harold learns how to make the most of life, and becomes infused through Maud’s sense of purpose as she teaches him that ‘A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead really. They’re just backing away from life’.

Ashby’s film deploys extravagant exaggeration throughout the film that are never to be taken literally and the film plays out its staged comic scenes with a quirky, deliciously black sense of humour – nowhere more so than in Harold’s staged deaths as he displays proficient pyromaniac tendencies, skilled self-mutilation abilities, learned limb-hacking skills, dextrous drowning techniques and savvy samurai-style disembowelment know-how.

The film chugs along to a soundtrack by Cat Stevens, whose meditative folky music provides an apt backdrop to Ashby’s existential treatise. So, if you’re looking for love this Valentine’s, you won’t do much better than this seductive gem of a film. A film about the power of love (cue ’80s power ballad). Yet ultimately, in Harold and Maude, it’s not about the people you love but rather it is about the loving of life itself.

Happy Valentine’s…


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