Being There Film Details
Overview: A simpleminded, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.
Tagline: Getting there is half the fun; being there is all of it!
Review: It truly does shame me to admit that, coming into this film, I had only ever seen one movie with Peter Sellers and that was his extraordinary three-role performance in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.’ Having now also seen ‘Being There,’ Sellers’ second-to-last film, I am convinced that I’ll be seeing a lot more of his work in the near future. Though it is not, in fact, Sellers’ final film, ‘Being There’ is often described as the comedy star’s swan song, since the last film before his 1980 death, ‘The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu,’ was generally poorly-received ‘Being There’ traces the story of Chance (Sellers), a simple-minded gardener for a wealthy old man. For as far back as he can remember, Chance has made his home at the old man’s house, spending his time tending to the roses and the other flowers. The maid, Louise, looks after all his needs. He has never left the house, and he has never travelled in an automobile. Everything he knows about the outside world has come from television, and, whenever he is not gardening, he simply “likes to watch.” However, when the old man dies, Louise leaves the house, and Chance is left to fend for himself. Chance’s absent-minded wanderings about a city he doesn’t understand ultimately lead him to the home of wealthy but terminally-ill private citizen Benjamin Turnbull Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Chance’s spluttered self-introduction of “Chance the gardener” gives him the prestigious title of “Chauncey Gardiner,” and his quiet-spoken nature is mistaken for wisdom. During a visit by the President of the United States (Jack Warden), his simple gardening anecdotes are interpreted as discerning metaphors of the current state of the nation’s economy. “In the garden, growth has it seasons,” Chance explains. “First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.” When the President quotes Chance’s wise words in an address to the nation, he becomes something of a celebrity, even appearing on television himself, where he expresses the need for a capable “gardener” to tend to the country’s needs. Despite his high-profile, the FBI and the CIA are completely baffled as to how they could have absolutely no background information on “Mr. Gardiner,” and they bicker about how only a cleverly-trained secret agent could keep such a ghostly past. Only one man, Benjamin Rand’s doctor (Richard A. Dysart), begins to suspect the truth behind Chance’s simple-spoken demeanour, though he keeps his suspicions quiet when he realises what a profound positive effect Chance has on those around him. The dying Benjamin Rand is given the strength to pass peacefully into death, and his wife Eve is given somebody who would stay with her in her most painful hours. The very final shot of the film has evoked countless heated discussions since the film’s original release. What could possibly be the meaning of Chance walking on the surface of the lake? It is quite obviously a Biblical reference to Christ, but what does it mean? Is Chance the saviour that so many of the film’s troubled characters have been searching for? Does the man’s simple innocence, uncorrupted and unbiased, offer him a certain grace? Is Chance able to walk on water simply because nobody has told him that he cannot? Or, perhaps there is a more prosaic explanation. It is not inconceivable that there are stepping stones hidden just beneath the surface of the water, and, as it had served him well countless times before, could sheer chance simply have prevented his falling into the lake? ‘Being There’ is a thought-provoking film, and also a clever satire of American politics and the media. Sellers is brilliant as Chance the gardener; though his character remains pretty much the same throughout, with very little personal development at all, Sellers’ performance never loses steam. A strong supporting cast helps make an somewhat improbable premise almost believable, and I was particularly impressed with Melvyn Douglas as Benjamin Rand, and, indeed, he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. This is an enchanting film, and very much worth watching.
Country: West Germany, USA
Language: English, Russian, Italian
Duration: 130 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
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