Harold and Maude gives me hope about dying
Do you like talking about death? Do you like being reminded about it? No? Sorry, but get over it and keep reading. As an agnostic/atheist/wanna-be-sceptic I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe once you go so does your consciousness. Enjoying yourself yet? Due to this I fear death, not just because of the losing myself and everything (that would be silly because I wouldn’t be around to feel bad) but because the moments leading up to death sound terrifying. I have to admit my thoughts on death and Harold and Maude are a little muddled and unfocused, essentially I will try to convey how death makes me feel and how Harold and Maude replaces those feelings with something better, but it’ll be clumsy and vague I’m afraid.
Being nothing is okay as you are nothing, but the high emotions of about to be rendered nothing is scary. Now I don’t take this fear to Woody Allen level obsession but on occasion I find myself remembering I may have to face such a moment. Fingers crossed for dying in my sleep!
But the film Harold and Maude gives me hope. It is a lovely cult classic with plenty of pain and joy as lovely films tend to have. Its narrative concerns the journey of a 19 year old boy named Harold (Bud Cort). He is a little upset with his life; he flirts with suicide by faking it for his cruel mother, he goes to stranger’s funerals for entertainment and gets a kick out of bringing both interests to bear in driving away potential love prospects his mother forces on him. At a funeral he meets 79 year old Maude (Ruth Gordon), who is there because she loves life. Now it may seem out of character to enjoy funerals if you love life, but death is a part of the process of life. (I know it isn’t technically but you know what I mean.) Together they bond over their quirks and become ‘Harold and Maude’. Over time Maude opens Harold up to her joyful perspective on life and generally makes him a more positive person. Admittedly it all sounds a little Magic Pixie Dream Girl, but she has her own story and enough character moments to show a depth of character absent from most MPDGs. (I may debate her qualification in a future piece.) They also probably have freaky sex…
Maude doesn’t fear death. She isn’t shown with any spiritual beliefs beyond a vague worn out hippie mentality. Yet, SPOILERS, she chooses to commit suicide on her 80th birthday believing she has got enough from her life and that she’s lived long enough.
As you can see above, it’s very sad. Not strictly a totally relevant scene to my point, but I’ll take any excuse to watch it.
As I was saying, it’s a very encouraging attitude towards facing that great abyss. It’s easy to comfort fears of death by saying that you’ll probably be okay with it when you’re elderly, but Maude sells that as the truth. (As well as espousing a life and people loving philosophy that would make my stomach churn if said by anyone even slightly less charming.) Just accepting death in this manner isn’t easy obviously, just as you can’t automatically ‘accept’ anything as an easy default emotional process. The stuff that scares me is still there. But Maude sells it that death and all its implications as a good thing. Life is to be appreciated, but also has to end. Maude isn’t shown as having any children and it is implied various times she has had a troubling time throughout her existence, she’s only leaving Harold behind. She’s had a life many would regret things about but it is clear she finds such regrets silly and probably finds worrying about death silly too. It should become clear by now that I am really unsure exactly what it is about her story that comforts me, it just gives me a general sense of okayness. Maude can cope with disappearing from the universe, so I can too. If anything the film and Maude’s message is that you are you, and do things you enjoy doing as you. If bad stuff happens that’s okay, it just means you are living. In the end you have nothing to regret on your deathbed. And watch this film, that’s the most important thing:
Ultimately this film is a black comedy that’s humanistic in its outlook, which is odd enough to make it worthwhile. And while I am not going to go into fields and observe how all flowers are all different and equally beautiful, I am not going to wake up in the night in a cold sweat. The ever unwise Woody Allen famously said in response to a question about his work being an attempt to achieve immortality; “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” I have a question for you Woody, have you considered to trying to accept death Obviously he has tried but I figured that question would end this well, I guess I’ve ruined that now.