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Harold & Maude: Life Lessons

I was in college when I first watched Harold & Maude. My professor had us watch the film and write a paper on what we’d learned. It’s now one of my all-time favorites. Not because of the film on the surface (because it’s quite quirky), but because of the messages that it conveyed to its viewers.

Much of the dialogue tugged at my heartstrings, and the ending was such an emotional one.

The Backstory

Meet 20-year-old Harold. He’s obsessed with death, performs suicide acts at home (his mother used to get scared, but now she’s gotten used to his shenanigans), attends funerals of strangers, and drives a Hearse.

At a funeral one day, he meets an unlikely companion. A 79-year-old woman. She’s full of life, she’s eccentric and doles out life advice like candy. Did I mention she stole a car? Yes — she’s a total badass!

Live For Yourself, Embrace Who You Are

This is my favorite dialogue between the two.

Maude: Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.

Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?

Harold: I don’t know. One of these, maybe.

Maude: Why do you say that?

Harold: Because they’re all alike.

Maude: Ooh, but they’re not. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, {she points to a daisy}. Yet allow themselves to be treated as that. {She gestures to a field of daisies}. {Cuts to a shot of a field of gravestones in a military cemetery}.

Maude: Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I’m merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don’t get attached to things now. With that in mind, I’m not against collecting stuff. A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an “L”. Give me an “I”. Give me a “V”. Give me an “E”. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

Although Maude is a collector of many things, she seems to follow the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. At one point, she says: “It’s all memorabilia, but incidental and not integral, if you know what I mean.”

"You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage."  —  Maude

The Breakdown

  • You must take a chance on loving something or someone. Yes, you open yourself up to pain and loss, but the lessons you learn are priceless. You only have one life to live.
  • Attach yourself to nothing.
  • Find meaning in everything.

There were many times during the movie where I’d get lost in thought just because most of what she says is just so profound.

I can go on and on, but this post is incohesive; my braindump of thoughts. I strongly urge you to watch the movie and take in the lessons yourself. It’s like art, open to interpretation.

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