The Line and The Reel

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    To Love Life, Love Home: Harold and Maude

    Gor Gevorkyan
    Apr 12, '21 12:11 PM EST

    Harold’s Mansion, Maude’s Rail Car

    In the film, Harold and Maude, film director Hal Ashby depicts the psychological effects of one’s connection to their home. Harold: an old money directionless twenty-year-old that is begging to be heard by staging theatrical suicide attempts; lives in a mansion that screams formality. Maude: an eighty-year-old holocaust survivor that finds beauty in the unseen; lives in an abandoned rail car that has been personalized to her liking. Two people with juxtaposing backgrounds, find inseparability with one another due to vicarious learning. A home can explain a lot about a person, but what Ashby is trying to showcase is the importance of the size and personality of a home.


    In this movie, we see the world from Harold’s point of view. With Harold living in a household that does not encourage personalization, he takes it into his own hands to find ways to make his mark, without making a mark. Harold uses his palatial home that resembles a museum filled with artifacts of his lineage as a theater to showcase his grandiose suicide attempts. The whole goal is to get a reaction from his mother, and what stands out is his underlying respect and disrespect of his family values. Harold will screw supports into walls, splash fake blood, and move the furniture to create these events but realistically he is not actually harming the home. He is not painting, or remodeling, he is only moving things around. To showcase the sheer size of the mansion and how creative Harold gets, Hal Ashby chooses to film every scene in a different room.

    Maude’s rail car is the exact opposite of Harold’s mansion. Personalized instruments, paintings, sculptures, and quirky collections of various objects eat up Maude’s living space. The beauty of her home is a history of herself instead of her family. The circulation of the rail car resembles the Buddhist philosophy of everything has a beginning and an ending, and how one must make peace with this. She makes peace by being open with her history, which is directly connected to her open floor plan that is visible all in one view. Leaded glass partitions are used as places of privacy and are narratively used to show how Maude is letting Harold into her life of appreciating individuality. Maude provides a quote that exemplifies her personality, “I like to watch things grow. They grow and bloom, fade and die, and change into something else. Ahhh life”. A rail car that was once abandoned is painted a new life thanks to Maude. She does not care about family values because she has no family. The only thing that matters to her is to give a new life to the unseen.

    Take Away

    Harold and Maude needed each other, and thanks to their homes they were able to see one another’s imperfections. Harold needed Maude to free him from the restraints set by his cathedral Esque mansion. Harold who personified death in the beginning has now become the field of flowers, and Maude who gave all the life she had left, accepted who she is and became the gravestone.

    At the end of the day, architecture should be a tool that allows growth for the user. If it does not provide that opportunity, then the essence of a home has withered away. Harold’s home is a museum, while Maude’s rail car is home. Architecture has that power, and it is in our court to ensure homes do not become glorified galleries but personalized spaces. It is crazy how architecture can mold personalities.

    From Flower to Gravestone

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About this Blog

The archirects line and film directors film reel. Two very different ways of experessing ideas yet when working together can lead to magic. Students can use movies to inspire a project. By understanding how architecture is used from a film directors’ point of view, the student can learn to use architecture and cinema to sculpt a narrative with tone, presenation,and usage.

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