Friday, April 22, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #86 WGA Script of All Time - Harold & Maude (1971)

[Quick Summary: When an extremely death obsessed young man meets an even more extreme 79 yr. old woman, he is transformed by her zest for life.]
A writer had asked for examples of a good midpoint turn & I was all out of 'em.

So I lucked out that "Harold & Maude" was this week's script-o-the-week. It's got a great midpoint!

Midpoint can be defined as:  "a setback, reversal or turning point which sends the character in a new direction, pushes the plot into a higher gear or raises the character's commitment to another level." (New School Screenwriting Curriculum Glossary)

Here, the script shows at the midpoint how much Harold has changed because of Maude.

This is the moment we finally see Harold has reversed his downward spiral. 

1st - The writer sets the tone in an amusing narrative.

ex. "Partly because of the pot, but mostly because he has found a friend, Harold opens up for the first time in his life."

2nd - The writer gives Harold a long, bang up speech that actors would kill to deliver.

ex. "I decided then I enjoyed being dead."

3rd - Maude does the unexpected - she reacts with acceptance & then gives him a swift kick in the pants.

ex. "I understand. A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not really dead. They're just backing away from life....(leading a cheer) Give me a "L"..."I".."V"..."E" LIVE!!!"

4th - Because Harold trusts Maude is looking out for his happiness, he reacts with good cheer. This is a markedly different response than what he gave his controlling Mother.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Harold is a different man at the midpoint. He's gone from morose to happy because of the antagonist, Maude.

The stakes are higher now. Can he sustain this happiness?

Harold & Maude (1971)
by Colin Higgins

1 comment:

Marcus P. Smithers said...

Maude as antagonist... I suppose to some extent, as she diametrically opposes Harold's values, BUT Harold doesn't necessarily have a goal of offing himself. That's where I'm a little iffy. What would you consider to be Harold's goal?

I do love this film - it's one of my favorites, but it's somewhat "unresolved" when I think about what Harold's goal is suppose to be. Oooops... I think I just had the answer pop in my head. He doesn't have an outward goal to accomplish something, rather, it's one of avoidance: to avoid "living" because, much like Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting, it leads to painful experiences.

That being said, it still feels somewhat unresolved because this issue rests with his mother. Although Maude is able to have this impact on him, fostering change for the better, it still leaves the relationship with his mother somewhat unresolved.

There are deeper themes here - existentialism elements, particularly freedom - that play into the major theme of living as one could metaphorically see Harold suffocating under his mother's presence - but in a sense, it's really his mother who's dead when Harold is... Harold. The only way he seemed to be able to get an emotional response out of her during the course of his life is when he was mistaken for dead.

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