Revisiting Harold and Maude

Senior year of high school, I was in AP English. It was an infamous course, taught by a very popular teacher. I had a blast taking it at the time, and still look back on the course fondly. It’s likely one of the main reasons I majored in English in college, and that’s accounted for a lot of other things in my life.

We studied all sorts of works, from Hamlet to Beowulf to modern works. And then there was Harold and Maude. It’s a film about a young man crying out for attention, and the eighty year old woman who teaches him how to deal with life. We watched it in class–I can no longer remember why. Was it part of a unit for a different book? Did we study it for a long period of time? All that is gone from my memory, but I still remembered the movie.

When Denisa and I were looking for something to watch last night, I decided to give it another shot. “Is it any good?” Denisa asked me before we started it.

I shrugged. “I remember disliking it and liking it at the same time.” Which sounds bizarre, but is true. I hadn’t seen the movie since I was 17, but it’s stuck with me since then. Now that I’m older and a bit wiser (theoretically), I wanted to give it another shot and see what I thought of it.

It’s still a bizarre movie. Much more artsy than mainstream, though still mainstream in many ways. The soundtrack is as good as I remembered it being (Cat Stevens all the way!), and it was much funnier–and disturbing–than I remembered it being.

Also, Harold still ends up sleeping with Maude. Mustn’t forget that, although how could I, when the last time I watched it was with a classroom full of 17 year olds?

It’s a movie that wants to mean something. It has to mean something, doesn’t it? Did I enjoy the rewatch? More or less. I was surprised both by how much I remembered and by the fact that I had watched this movie–this movie–senior year of public school. How would I feel if my kids watched it today? I’m not honestly sure. I have nothing against the subject or the way it’s handled, but I’ll admit the elaborate suicides were more than a little disturbing. Harold continually contrives death scenes to surprise his mother with, and they’re quite graphic, from sliced open arms to setting himself on fire.

The scene where he takes a gun, slowly loads it, then shoots himself in the head? That’s what made me most uncomfortable. But then again, this movie came out long before the surge in youth violence. Or is it that I saw the movie before I was fully aware of how much youth violence and suicide is out there? I’m not sure. I know that when I watched it as a teen, the scene didn’t freak me out at all. As a father, it was a much different response.

At any rate, it was interesting to revisit it. I’d give the movie  an 8 out of 10 today. Very well executed, and certainly memorable.

Now if I could only remember why we were watching it in English class to begin with. I can’t help but feel like it was part of an agenda my teacher at the time had. The movie expresses a lot of what she seemed to value highly, and I wonder if she wanted us to watch it in hopes that we would value it highly, too. Any of my classmates care to clue me in?

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