Suzie introduced me to a great many things. Mary Poppins, grape taffy, fried clams, the soundtrack to ‘The Mighty Quinn’, and a number of movies, including ‘Auntie Mame.’ I was raised on a rather sheltered diet of pop culture, at least until I could find my own way. That meant we didn’t have cable, or a VCR, until the late 80’s, so Suzie was responsible for bringing me up to speed on all the things an adolescent needs to conquer the world, or at least to have a fighting chance. Enter ‘Harold and Maude.’
In our cellar, I dimmed the lights and popped the video into the VCR. It was probably a weekend night – I didn’t go out much until later in high school. The soundtrack by Cat Stevens lulled me into its folk-like trance, and then the story captured my attention, and my heart.
At the start of the movie we see Harold staging numerous suicide scenes in his morbid fascination with death, trying in vain to shock or surprise or simply get a reaction from his disinterested (if passive-aggressively antagonistic) mother. He forms an unlikely friendship with an older – much older – woman, Maude, who shares his joy in attending funerals. I’m not sure what Suzie thought I would relate to or love the most about the movie – Harold’s empty and desperate dramatic theatrics, or Maude’s eccentric joie de vivre. Maybe she just appreciated unlikely friendships and knew I would too.
Back then I related mostly to Harold.
Today, I relate a little better to Maude.
That is, I think, the best trajectory for a proper journey on this earth.
The strange thing was, that even with its focus on death, this movie sings with life. It may have been a risky gift for someone with a suicidal fascination, but in the end it only left me feeling glad to be alive. A little sadder for having gotten to know these characters only to say good-bye when the movie was over, but sadder in the best way – in the way that the heart bleeds so beautifully for however long we are here.