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Maude's continued run-ins with the same lawman are endlessly funny, made all the more inspired by Gordon's cheerful old-lady obliviousness. She's constantly rebelling and shattering societal codes—like, say, sleeping with a 19-year-old as part of an 80th-birthday celebration—but without a trace of self-consciousness. She's more than a non-conformist; she blissfully believes that the world will conform to her. In that sense, she's far more radical than Harold, whose elaborate suicide stunts seem as common as an ordinary teenager acting out in comparison. Harold falls in love with her, but mostly, she leaves him awestruck and questioning his own stubborn nihilism. Take this beautiful scene, where they share their perspectives on a sunflower field:

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"I think much of the world's sorrow is from people who think they're this, but allow themselves to be treated as that," says Maude, in a rare but crucial bit of philosophizing. Her sunflower metaphor sounds obvious and precious, to be sure, but it's also simple and immensely moving once the sunflower field transforms into a graveyard, reminding viewers of Vietnam and the individuals who have died needlessly. Given what's happening in Iraq, that shot hit me like a sledgehammer, and I'm guessing that audiences were similarly flattened by it at the time.

But more than just political metaphor, the scene really works to transform Harold's glum, adolescent ideas about the world. He seems to believe that one day, his mother will have her way and he'll become just like everyone else, conforming mindlessly to what's expected of him. As a 79-year-old who hasn't lost her rebellious streak, Maude is a testament to the potential longevity of eccentricity, which is good news for Harold. But equally good news is the fact that he can learn from her example and embrace life on his own terms; Harold obsesses about death because he doesn't see another way out of his suffocating life. Maude opens the door.

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In the end, Harold And Maude metes out these life lessons directly and without much ambiguity, yet that does little to diminish its power. That's the thing about quirkfests of the sort Harold And Maude inspired: They have a childlike innocence at their core that's very delicate, and if handled poorly, it easily veers into preciousness. I'm not entirely thrilled that this film inspired so many bad ones, but Halloween sparked a decade of dopey slasher movies, and that's still considered a great film, too.

And yes, I've seen Halloween.