Like many comedies,” Harold and Maude” doesn’t necessarily have a single, all powerful villain like Darth Vader in “Star Wars” or Hans the terrorist leader in “Die Hard.” Instead, comedies tend to have multiple villains who may or may not even know each other. In the case of “Harold and Maude,” the main villain is Harold’s mother but a secondary villain is his Uncle Victor who wants to put Harold into the Army.
Other minor villains include Harold’s three computer dates, who Harold’s mother got for him in an attempt to get him married. Harold’s biggest goal is simply to learn to deal with life, so much of the conflict comes from Harold’s gradual change from a timid and shy person who embraces death, to someone who finally embraces life instead. The villains in Harold’s way simply highlight the difficulties Harold has coming to terms with his own reluctance to deal with life.
“Harold and Maude” is a perfect example of a comedy that tackles a serious subject (suicide) and could have been a drama. The best comedies could either be funny or dramatic since the story structure remains basically the same; it’s just the execution that turns the story into a comedy rather than a drama.
As the hero, Harold begins the story embracing death. By the end of the story, he’s learned to embrace life. What makes the ending of “Harold and Maude” especially memorable is that Harold has a tough choice to make. Does he continue living without Maude? Or does he fall back on his old way of life and embrace death because he feels he no longer has anything worth living for?
Because Harold is torn between death and life, the choice he makes in the end shows his growth and change. Yet everything seems to be steering Harold towards death that we feel he can’t possibly change. Study the ending to “Harold and Maude” to see how the ending forces Harold to make a decision between his old way of life and his new way of life. That’s the type of ending you need to create in your own stories where the decision is so heavily slanted in favor of the old way of life that we can’t possibly see how the hero can change and make life better.