Books and Movies Reviews

Harold & Maude

It is apparent from the beginning of the 1971 film Harold and Maude, that our main character Harold Chasen has a preoccupation with death and suicide.As it begins, Harold is shown walking through the study, lighting a candle and then hanging himself.When his mother walks in and is unmoved by her discovery, she asks him if he thinks it's funny, his slight smile indicates that yes, he think it's very funny.On the surface, Harold and Maude is a delightful black comedy, but if you delve deeper you will find a compelling story about life and death.
Harold is a very unhappy boy who attends funerals, drives a hearse and attempts to commit suicide in front of his emotionally distant mother, Mrs. Chasen.Even though the viewer is never shown Harold's childhood, it is obvious that he grew up in a sterile, unloving environment.His attempts to commit suicide are pleas and a need to receive love from his mother.He indulges her with various elaborate faked suicides including a hanging, slashed wrists and throat, gunshot to the head, even drowning in the pool as she swims right past him.Her reaction to every attempt is startlingly unemotional and flat and reminds the viewer why Harold so desperately wants the attention and love he may never receive.She is more annoyed and bothered than upset or worried about her son.
Mrs. Chasen does make the vain attempt to send him to a psychologist.However, the subsequent sessions with the psychologist are uneventful.Since Harold is sent against his will and under duress, he does not have the mindset of someone who wants to work through his problems.Although Harold is mostly silent during these meetings and uncooperative, At one point, the psychologist asks him how many times he has attempted suicide and if they were for the benefit of his mother, Harold responds, "No, I would not say benefit.”
Beyond his suicide attempts, death is a prominent theme in the film. …