Harold and Maude is a dark comedy fused with an existentialist drama, but it cannot be limited to those terms. It is a truly unique film– not only in its plot, but also in the significance it had during the time it was released.
The story is about Harold (Bud Cort), a morbid young adult from a wealthy family who has a fascination with death. His sense of humor drives him to fake very realistic seeming suicides in order to get a reaction from his mother, who is so used to these theatrics that they no longer faze her. One of his favorite pastimes is to attend funerals of strangers; this is where he spots Maude (Ruth Gordon), an elderly woman who enjoys not only funerals, but also automobile theft, for the sake of amusement.
It is in the opposite nature of these two characters that the story lays. Harold is young, apathetic, and basically unhappy. Maude is old, passionate, excited, and optimistic. The director of the film uses the contrasts between these two characters to highlight important themes of the late 60s and early 70s. Maude had lived through World War Two, a significant war that she survived, and the experience brought meaning into her life. Harold is living through the Vietnam War, and a time of corrupt government during which the youth was disillusioned and trusted no one.
What happens as their friendship evolves is memorable, as well as valuable. There are innumerable themes that lie within this film, which allows any viewer to walk away with a message.
I won’t give anything else away. What I will say is: go rent this film.