March 11, 2014

NETFLIX PICKS | Harold and Maude

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Meet-cute: Funeral. Enter 20-something Harold obsessed with death, and 79-year-old Maude obsessed with life. Sounds innocuous enough.

When people ask me what my favorite movie is, I usually reply with, “Well, what genre?” But in all honesty, Harold and Maude has become my favorite film of all time regardless of genre. It’s quirky, off-color and has one of the best soundtracks of all time. Its titular characters are perfectly silly and poignant at the same time; Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon somehow just fit, and teach us — and themselves — so much about life and love.

Whether for attention or plain morbid amusement, Harold loves the idea of death and the different ways to stage it. The opening scene immediately thrusts you into his dark world, leaving you both shocked and slightly confused as to how his mother remains so unphased as he hangs from a noose. It is a cue for how we should proceed through the rest of the movie as he ups the ante with his stunts scaring off the dates that his mother sets up for him. That’s because he’s found someone that understands him while helping him see more outside of his immediate experience.

This person is the exuberant yet tough broad, Maude. She, too, has her own eccentric sensibilities that she shares with Harold. Her obsession with death, however, is not so pessimistic, rather it serves as inspiration to try new things, see the world and live on the edge. Her mantra, “If you want to sing out, sing out,” inspires Harold and the film’s audience. It also happens to be the title of a catchy Cat Stevens tune that was written specifically for the film.

Speaking of Cat Stevens, his songs are peppered through the film, meshing cohesively and harmoniously with its themes, much like Simon and Garfunkel’s in The Graduate. I cannot even imagine any other artist’s music for this film. In fact, I urge you to listen to the soundtrack here (no official soundtrack was ever released, but these are the songs in the film). It’s a great introduction to the rest of his work if you dig that 60s-70s folk sound.

I would be remiss if I did not warn you that there is a particular moment in the movie that may cause your gag reflexes to flare up. It’s not terribly explicit, but the responses from other side characters after the fact is hilarious and even parodied in Family Guy. But if you made it through some of Harold’s side gags up until that point, you should be fine.

So if you’re looking to expand your film palette, watch Harold and Maude. Tell your friends. Perpetuate this little film’s cult status. I can’t do it all on my own even if I like to watch it multiple times a year.