When nineteen year old Harold Chase (Bud Cort) meets seventy-nine year old Maude (Ruth Gordon) at a stranger's funeral, he has little idea of what she has in store for him. The eccentric lady shows him how to live, not in the corny sense we've come to see recently in movies about dying people, but in a more active way.
She gets him out of his rich kid world (which he already loathes) by reminding him that "It ain't about morality"
With that in mind they steal cars to go plant stolen trees to the forest, attend funerals of people they never met before and they smoke, seemingly illegal, herbs before plunging into deep conversation.
It's during one of these smoke-and-talks where Harold confesses,
I haven't livedAnd Maude listens surprised while Harold reveals how he became so obsessed with death...
I've died a few times
Well, the first time was when I was at boarding school in the chemistry lab. I was in there cleaning it up, so I decided I'd do a little experiment...The scene is moving because of the sincerity with which Cort delivers the lines. It explains, if anything ever could, why he'd tried to set himself on fire before in the film. With this scene we stop holding on to the idea that he's a spoiled brat and begin to empathize with him.
so I throw this stuff out, begin mixing it up-very scientific.
There was this massive explosion! It knocked me down, blew out a huge hole on the floor.
There was boards and bricks and flames leaping up!
I figured, you know, time to leave. My career in school was over...
So I went home, my mother was giving a party, so I just ran up the backstairs, went to my room, turned on the light and got this funny feeling. The doorbell rang, I went out to the banister and two policemen came in. They found my mother and told her that I was killed in the fire.
I decided right there that I enjoyed being dead
But this moment truly belongs to Gordon. Some people believe that an actor shows his mastery of the craft by his ability to listen.
If that's the case, then Gordon sits and listens like a pro, before she goes and gives Harold a sweet pep talk about taking risks in life and being bold enough as to get hurt in the process. "Otherwise you got nothing to talk about in the locker room" she says.
And we can only imagine all the things someone like her had to talk about...