The character Maude, in the movie Harold and Maude, lives a life congruent with the ideas Alan Watts expresses in The Book On The Taboo About Knowing Who You Are. In his book, Watts explores the relationships between life, death, ego, and environment. Watts's purpose is not to lecture but rather to let the book serve as a "point of departure" (11) for its readers. Maude also serves as the "point of departure" for the character Harold. Under Maude's guidance, Harold transforms from a depressed teenager obsessed with death into a new, positive person. Maude, however, dies shortly thereafter because she cannot guide Harold for the rest of his life. Indeed she, like The Book, is merely "a temporary medicine...not a perpetual point of reference [for Harold]" (11). Both Maude and The Book are only starting places from which Harold and Watts's readers must learn to achieve peace and understanding within themselves.
Watts first addresses the issue of religion. Although the goal of many religions is to lead followers to "enlightenment," Watts believes that "irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide, it is a positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world" (11). People become so obsessed with their religion and convinced that it is the only true religion that they become blind to new ideas and experiences. Instead of being incarcerating, religion should be enlightening. In the movie, Harold asks Maude if she prays to a god. Maude responds, "Pray? No. I communicate." Maude understands that it is restraining to blindly worship a god. By using the word "communicate," sh...
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...ime in his life, Harold loves another person, Maude. When Harold tells Maude he loves her, however, she tells him, "Good. Now love some more." Now that Harold has found that capacity to love, he is able extend his love beyond only Maude. He has also learned about his senses: he "smells" snow, feels the contours of wood, hears music, and sees the beauty of nature. Finally, Harold learns how to accept death. Instead of continually pretending to commit suicide to desensitize himself to death, Harold realizes that death is an inevitable part of the circle of life. At the end of the movie, Harold lives, while Maude dies, because he has not yet experienced life. Unlike Maude, Harold is just beginning to defy the taboos of society and find himself.
Watts, A. W. (1966). The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Vintage Books
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