In Hal Ashby’s film titled Harold and Maude, a very odd relationship is formed between a young man entering his early twenties and a 79-year-old woman who are both intrigued by attending funerals. Harold, who is portrayed by Bud Cort, is a young man with a very wealthy family that is strangely fascinated by death. He performs multiple suicide stunts in front of his mother and acts as if he killed himself. On the other hand, Maude who is played by Ruth Gordon is an old woman who does not live by following the rules and chooses to live life to the fullest by doing whatever she pleases. Throughout the film, there are many gems and symbols represented in the film that makes it very attentive and amusing.
To begin with, a very powerful symbol is introduced in the middle of the film when Harold and Maude decide to return a tree to the forest from the city. In my opinion, the tree resembles a new life for Harold that is filled with joy. Before meeting Maude he was a very quiet boy who felt being dead feels better than living and enjoying life. He’d symbolize this by wearing very dark attires, performing multiple pranks that lead people to believe he’s dead, and also attending funerals just for the fun of it.
Now when Maude takes the tree to the forest to give the tree life back in its natural habitat, it’s almost as if the tree represents Harold because ever since forming his bond with Maude he’s been taught to enjoy life to the fullest. Maude encouraged Harold to break out of his shell and become a much more lively person by teaching him to think freely, by helping him learn how to play the banjo, dance candidly without caring about what others think. The tree was originally in the city where it can be symbolized as Harold’s depressing home until it was transported to the forest where it represents his new life with Maude.
Another symbol that represents a very intimate and romantic moment between Harold and Maude is when they are watching the fireworks and suddenly cuts to a scene of them laying in bed together. The correlation between these scenes is they are meant to lead the audience to think they slept together, which they did. As they are watching the fireworks they get more intimate by hugging and getting closer to each other. I believe the fireworks symbolize them sleeping together because fireworks are an expression of romance as they represent a celebration, in this case, a celebration of love. In addition, the sudden cut to the following scene that shows them laying in bed together without being fully clothed leads the audience to believe they did sleep together.
In the closing sequence, Harold drives his Jaguar off a cliff after Maude’s death. The scene leads the audience to believe he killed himself but he is then shown at the top of the cliff with the banjo Maude gifted him. There are actually two symbols in this scene, the totaled car at the bottom of the cliff symbolizes another attempt to make people believe he is dead.
Also, as he dances off while playing the banjo, his relationship with Maude is once again being symbolized through the banjo and playful dance moves. Even though he is saddened by her tragic death he still acknowledges that Maude would’ve wanted him to continue living life to the fullest rather than dying along with her. Maude even told him, as they were on their way to the hospital in the ambulance after she took too many pills to kill herself, that he must go and love some more. Harold is even shown wearing more colorful clothes, rather than the dark suit he usually wears, which can also connect to Maude as he’s keeping her spirit alive by living life the way she did.
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