Be more Maude

Harold and Maude isn’t just a film, it’s a philosophy to live by. Lucy Coleman Talbot, author of the Little Book of Maudism, tells us why.

Artwork by Lucy Coleman Talbot and Adam Pegg. All images taken from Little Book of Maudism.

Box-office flop turned cult classic Harold and Maude is not to everyone’s taste. The gleefully dark comedy charts the romance between 79 year-old Maude and death-obsessed 19 year-old Harold.

For me, this film was life-changing, and I don’t say this lightly. The vision of writer Colin Higgins and director Hal Ashby became the roots for my Little Book of Maudism, a non-for-profit project from which all proceeds go to Mind.

I first came across the term ‘Maudism‘ on Urban Dictionary, where it’s defined as: “The new age philosophy of living each day to the fullest. Popularised by the 1971 cult film in which the character Maude completely alters the way Harold views the world, when she can show him the value of life and the beauty in living.”

Little Book of Maudism contains 10 lessons that Maude teaches Harold in their week together. It’s not always easy to ‘be more Maude’, so here is some inspiration from my book to get you started.

Illustration by Béatrice-Tillier, taken from Little Book of Maudism.

Illustration by Béatrice Tillier.

Watch things grow

Maude takes Harold away from the manmade and materialistic into the natural world. They drive to a vegetable field and kneel down between rows of cabbages.

“Cast your eyes on these little rascals, Harold. The last time I was here they were just cracking soil and pushing up their tiny green heads. Now look at them. Look at the leaves inside.” Harold observes that they are “curled up and fragile – like a baby’s hand.”

Later, Maude explains to Harold why she loves flowers so much. “They grow and bloom, and fade and die, and change into something else.” Maude sees human life as part of the natural order, embracing the circle of life and the changing seasons.

Death is a part of life and, although it can be the most debilitating and difficult of times, it is also life’s only real certainty. Putting this truth at the centre of our lives allows us a richer existence.

Maude takes Harold to the beach to run along the sand. They go out by the rocks and cliffs to examine the smooth stones and tide pools. They watch spectacular sunsets and roll down hillsides. If you are feeling disconnected or isolated, going outside and getting to know the world around you is a good place to start reconnecting.

The breath of fire

Maude has buckets of body confidence. When Harold goes to find her at the art studio belonging to Glaucus (Cyril Cusack), she peeks out from behind the great block of ice with a knowing smile. “Poor Glaucus occasionally needs to have his memory refreshed as to the contours of the female form.”

Regardless of how good Maude looks for her age, her body would never match up to the airbrushed smooth skin of a supermodel. Her ability to enjoy posing nude shows us all you don’t need to fit with the conventional standards of beauty to be beautiful. When Harold asks Maude what the secret to staying young is, she replies: “That’s the influence of the right food, the right exercise, and the right breathing.”

Maude encourages you to look after your body and mind through good food and staying active. Too often we go for quick beauty fixes and focus on changing the things that make us uniquely beautiful.

When Harold shows his mother Maude’s picture, her immediate reaction is, “What will people say?” Her concerns are always driven by a need to conform and appease other people’s expectations of acceptability.

Maude, however, likes to “greet the dawn with the breath of fire”.

Artwork by Alyssa Glass.

Artwork by Alyssa Glass.

Build more bridges

Maude is an immigrant; America became her home after too much devastation meant she couldn’t remain in Europe. The tears Maude sheds on finding her first visa shock Harold who expresses that he thought she would always be happy. Sighing, Maude explains, “One laughs. One cries. Two uniquely human traits. The main thing in life, my dear Harold, is not to be afraid to be human.”

It’s 2016, the year the UK voted to exit the European Union. The US has elected a man who openly discriminates against minorities and the marginalised. The political message we are being fed so readily is to build more walls, a message that has left many of us fearful and ashamed.

Maude teaches us how to embrace: how to fight for the big issues in our own small ways. In the face of adversity and so much uncertainty, we must not lose heart. We must act together, and we must build more bridges.

If you’d like to read more about Maudism you can buy Lucy’s Little Book of Maudism here.


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Written by Lucy Coleman Talbot

Lucy Coleman Talbot is a writer, researcher, compulsive coffee drinker and graveyard explorer. She has a master’s in Death, Religion and Culture and is co-founder of Death and the Maiden, an online project exploring the relationship between women and death throughout history and across cultures.