What is the difference between dying but not yet being dead, and living?
It is, really, a matter of perspective.
Harold is trying to live by dying.
And Maude is trying to die by living.
Harold and Maude (1971): Harold finds how to live, Maude to die.
Maude is a holocaust survivor. She has seen death; she has lived death, but has not died. And so she lost herself in life, but could never leave leaving death behind, she watches as the dead are buried, and relishes life because it is not death.
Harold is a lonely young man; he has never lived, so he tries to die. It is, intentionally, funny—the gruesome setups, the totally absent mother; it is macabre, but to the point of hyperbole. He is lost in fake deaths, because he cannot live because he does not know what it means to live. At every enactment of death he hopes for the possibility of rebirth.
It is only when Harold actually sees death, when he goes to the graveyard, that something happens. Harold meets Maude; or rather, Maude takes Harold under her wing.
Maude is as free a free spirit as anyone could be. There is no room for why. Only, it is there, in its soft sadness, as both a depth of experience that only comes with age, but also as an equally deep exhaustion. Harold does not see the darker side, he only sees the light, and that is all she wants him to see. She is his illumination. Love is illumination.
Harold sees, he sees the world, and the world opens.
His disappearing act is the consummation of independence. Threatened by the army, he simply vanishes. The need to be present dissipates, and with it the possibility for coming into selfhood appears.
Identity is not reflexive, it is reflected. Harold sees in Maude everything that can be, and she sees…what does she see? I am not there, yet, I cannot see it, I would not, but it is perhaps something of innocence, of the wonder of seeing the light that opens in someone’s eyes for the first time—to be someone’s first love.
What is Maude’s death? It is both the key to the door and the Orphic trap. It threatens to consume Harold, so he drives it off a cliff. ‘It’ is both Maude’s death but also his own. He drives a hearse because he is always preparing to die. Only, once Maude is truly dead, he can either die too, or live as much for himself as for her.
A.M., illuminated you are at once zero, one, and two.