Being There (1979) starring Peter Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Shirley MacLaine
In Being There, Chance, a simple gardener, has never left the estate until his employer dies. His simple gardening-related utterances are mistaken for profundity by media and politicians alike.
Review of Being There
Being There is the story of a gardener. A genial, mild-mannered, idiot named Chance. He’s illiterate, and knows only two things: gardening and television. He watches a lot of television …. And that’s the only thing he knows of the world. He’s lived in seclusion his entire life, working for an elderly, wealthy man in Washington, D.C. Until the old man dies.
Through a mishap, he’s taken in by another wealthy couple — who impose deep meanings on his mundane sayings. Soon, he becomes a media sensation and a political consultant, as everyone sees brilliance in his simple statements. For example:
Quote from Being There
President “Bobby”: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President “Bobby”: In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President “Bobby”: Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President “Bobby”: Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President “Bobby”: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President “Bobby”: I admire your good, solid sense. That’s precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
That’s pretty much the entire joke throughout the movie. And, after a while, it gets tired. It’s enjoyable, but would have benefited from tighter editing.
Cast of characters
- Chance (Peter Sellers, A Shot in the Dark). The genial, friendly, gardener, who people think is saying deep profundities. But, in truth, he’s literally an idiot. A likeable idiot, but still … He knows nothing of the “real world” except for what he’s seen on TV, which leads to some comedy moments.
- Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine, The Yellow Rolls-Royce). The wealthy wife of the man who takes Chance in. And, she’s not exactly faithful to her husband … Ironically, Chance has no idea what to do with a woman until he sees something on television.
- Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas, Mr. Blandings Build His Dream House). Eve’s husband, who mistakes Chance’s simple gardening statements as deep thoughts.
- President ‘Bobby’ (Jack Warden, Wake Me When It’s Over). The President of the United States. He also mistakes Chance’s simple statements as deep metaphors, and makes Chance a presidential advisor. Clearly, this is a commentary on politicians, as well as the mass media.
Editorial review of Being There courtesy of Amazon.com
In one of his most finely tuned performances, Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther) plays the pure-hearted Chance, a gardener forced out of moneyed seclusion and into the urban wilds of Washington, D.C., after the death of his employer. Shocked to discover that the real world doesn’t respond to the click of a remote, Chance stumbles haplessly into celebrity after being taken under the wing of a tycoon (Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas), who mistakes his new protégé’s mumbling about horticulture for sagacious pronouncements on life and politics, and whose wife (The Apartment’s Shirley MacLaine) targets Chance as the object of her desire.
Adapted from a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, this hilarious, deeply melancholy satire marks the culmination a remarkable string of films by Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) in the 1970s, and serves as a carefully modulated examination of the ideals, anxieties, and media-fueled delusions that shaped American culture during that decade.