Based on Jerzy Kosinski's satirical novel about an illiterate gardener who has lived his entire life behind the walls of a Washington, D.C., house, his only knowledge of the world coming from the TV programs he watches. W... more »hen his employer and protector dies, he is catapulted into the fast lane of political power.« less
"This is my favorite movie of all time. And I don't particularly like Peter Sellers!It's a slow starter. First time I saw it, I remember being somewhat puzzled by the opening, where Chance is revealed as a very retarded middle-aged man, trained as a gardener, who apparantly has reached his full--and extremely limited--potential. He loses his livelihood and his sheltered place to live when "the old man"--his mysterious benefactor--dies, and the lawyers in charge of the estate evict him.My first chuckle came soon after, when he tried using his TV remote on a mugger, trying to change the experience into something more pleasant; it wasn't until this point in the film that things began to make sense to me.Throughout the rest of the movie, scene after scene shows 'Chauncy Gardener' as a complete misfit--and highlights how we human beings, in all our frailty, create ourselves and our world through what we decide to believe. When Chancy speaks, his words are mysterious because they are short and puzzling--when those around him try to make sense of them, they take what he says as metaphors, and read wildly profound meanings in his words.(This leads to Jerzy Kosinski's purpose for writing the novel, to highlight the foolish way people blindly swallow whatever tripe the media--and our politicians--serve up. IMO director Hal Ashby caught Jerzy's intention with this movie even better than the book did.)At the same time that people read wisdom into his simple words, Chauncy is fully present and honest in the moment, and the other characters--to whom this is foreign--treasure that, even while they completely miss that Chance is totally clueless as to what's really going on (with one notable exception).The irony is that those people closest to Chauncy are led by the meanings they insert to personal growth and transformation--even, in a performance that won Melvyn Douglas a well-deserved Oscar, acceptance of approaching death, as just another season in the eternal cycle of life.Other reviews I've read on Amazon villify the walking-on-water scene, at the end of the movie; I believe they completely miss the point. Chance has, by chance, walked out on a stone quay in the lake, and doesn't even know that he should be drowning. He slowly bends over, inserting his umbrella into the water, and looks at it with some puzzlement; he is once again demonstrating that his total innocence is protected--and he gives the audience the experience that the characters in the movie have, namely, to read into this enigma of a film whatever meaning they choose to see."
Peter Seller's Parting Shot At Greatness Fulfilled
Barron Laycock | Temple, New Hampshire United States | 05/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I recently read a review by a young movie critic who had the honesty to admit being baffled by the final scene in Peter Seller's celebrated last movie, "Being There". In this scene Sellers' character Chauncy Gardener strays away from the funeral party to walk in the woods of the estate he may inherit based on the wishes of his dying benefactor's and the prurient interest the benefactor's new widow has in Chauncy. He blithely strolls across the surface of a pond like a squire surveying his acreage, stopping to stab his umbrella into the depths. We're astonished, of course, when his `brolly' disappears up to its handle. This, of course, implies Chauncy is walking on water. Is this intended as a biblical reference? I think not. More likely, it's the director's way of visually depicting the same surreal theme he has been developing throughout the movie: All things are possible to one whose own perceptions and understanding is so retarded and child-like as to believe in both everything and nothing at once. The viewer understands from the movie Chauncy is no one spectacular, a bit retarded intellectually, totally naive, without any formidable experience or understanding in the outside world. It is precisely this lack of merit, his obtuseness, which makes him the perfect foil for everyone he comes into contact with. The others lay their own biased perceptions, understandings, and imaginings onto him, so he is seen as being everything they superficially suppose him to be based on his outward appearance; his suit, his visage, and his mannerisms. He who they see as everything is in actuality nothing. Nothing but the perfect fool.He succeeds not because of his native ability, but because he has none. He rises to prominence because our culture has become so artificial, so intellectually bankrupt, and so superficial that all anyone around him relates to is his image, his superficial appearance, his innocent charm and lack of self-consciousness. He's a chameleon, the "tabula rasa" they then write the script for. To the dying billionaire industrialist, he's a caring friend, to his wife an erotic tease, to the President, a witty raconteur. When the other characters in the movie overlay their own human foibles and shortcomings into the equation of interacting with him, superimposing their own corrupted values and ideas onto Chauncy's blithe but transparently idiotic behavior, his nonsensical utterances become transformed into clever witticisms, witty, thoughtful and politically adept observations. He is "everyman" precisely because he is no one. When people no longer ground their perceptions, actions or behaviors on reliable, objective and well-educated abilities to decipher and determine the truth, when they abandon the laws of gravity and chance, they enter into a cultural purgatory bounded chiefly by their own ignorance. They travel at their own peril through a strange and quite unpredictable world filled with artifice and illusion. Such a description also fits the way the world is depicted in the stylized fantasies and superficial plot lines of many mainstream movies, videos and TV. Unfortunately, the consequence of a steady diet of such palpable nonsense is nothing to laugh about. The use of such superficial and stylized models as guidelines for operating in the real world is becoming much more common. Indeed, we're living in a culture virtually transfixed by simple surface impressions of what things appear to be rather than with what they actually are. Like Chauncy, we walk blithely on the surface of our world, never bothering to look at the dangers in the depths below. Unlike our fearless celluloid hero, though, we cannot necessarily evade the dangers of an incredibly complex and increasingly disintegrating contemporary society by merely ignoring them. At the surface all shades of subtlety are muted and lost; the rich panoply of shades, colors and hues characteristic of a complex world are stylized into simple pastel monochromes, representing a gauze-filtered replica of a world that's unclear, indistinct, and out of focus. This loss of clarity about the nature of the world and its basic reality leads inevitably to dangerous over-simplifications of complicated realities. We would do well to remember that ours is a complex, multilayered world; forgetting this fact is a well-documented recipe for social, economic, and political disaster. As George Santayana warned us long ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". We must remember that sometimes things are profoundly different from the way they appear, that appearances may often deceive and mislead even the best trained and the most sophisticated eye. We must recognize these negative social forces for what they really are; arbitrary, indifferent, irrational, and profoundly anti-human. Mistaking them for anything less (or more) could be a truly fatal mistake. Perhaps Sellers was trying to tell us something......"
Being There In The Time
prisrob | New EnglandUSA | 02/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
Chauncey Gardner was the role of a lifetime for Peter Sellers. He first read the book, wrote the author and said "I'll meet you in the garden" and left his phone number. Years later after much effort the movie was made. Chauncey was Peter Sellers, there is no doubt.
Chauncey was what we would call a mentally disabled man. He grew up a sheltered man in Washington, DC, and his life revolved around his gardening and television. What Chauncey knew of life came from that televison, and wherever Chauncey went was a remote control. When the owner of the home he lived in died, Chauncey was left out in the cold and walking the streets of Washington. He tried to control his life with his remote control-pointing it at a mugger to rid himself of this scene. A chance auto accident and Chauncey is now in the mansion of one of the wealthiest men in Washington, Melvyn Douglas. Who by the way won an Oscar for this performance. He is brought to this mansion by this man's wife, Eve played by Shirley McLain. The mansion was the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina, and quite a place it is
Life changes for Chauncey. His innocence and simplicity is taken for extreme intelligence and foresight. The President comes to call. and he is so taken with Chauncey's remarks comparing life, finance and government to gardening that he mentions his name on a televisions address. The populace being what we are believed everything that Chauncey says is true because everyone in Washington believes it is true. Chauncey is wanted for interviews by all of the television stations and newspapers. Chauncey tells them he does not read newspapers or write he watches television. Everyone is struck by this man's ability to reveal his inner self. Even, Eve loves Chauncey, and when she wants to become romantic, he tells her he likes to watch. Eve performs for him and she certainly enjoys it, but Chauncey is enjoying his television. Chauncey becomes a household name, although he is quite oblivious to this as his life centers around what television show he will watch from day to day. The lesson to be learned is that nothing is as it seems. We all need to listen to our own voices and not become part of the gaggle that follows and believes everything said by our celebrities and politicians. Peter Sellers died soon after this role and never lived to reap the rewards of this stellar performance. However, we are left with this marvelous movie and a small piece of history. Highly recommended. prisrob "
Excellent Satire - Incredible Acting from Peter Sellers
Dan Sherman | Alexandria, VA USA | 02/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film came out in 1979 and seems to get better every year. It is the bizarre story of a blank slate of a gardner who literally has never been outside of the walls of a single house until he is in his 40s or 50s. The entire view of this man comes from watching television. The basic story is quite simple. As Chance the gardner is forced to leave the house he has lived in as a child, he is hit by a limosine transporting the wife of a dying plutocrat. Taken to the home of the plutocrat, he eventually meets the rich and powerful of the land (the president included)and is taken to be an oracle of wisdom with his simple statements about gardening and the television he has watched. It is a great satire that just keeps getting better as we rely more and more on soundbites for our information.The best part of the film is Peter Sellers who plays this absolutely blank, innocent, and slow-witted person with complete aplomb. I remember an interview with Sellers when the movie came out, and he said it was a real struggle to develop an accent that had no roots at all -- a perfect blend of voices heard on television. He plays the movie absolutely straight, the comedy being how people react so seriously to his child-like comments. For example, in a television interview about the economy, people take his comments that "there is always growth in the spring" to mean an end to a recession when he is simply talking about his garden. This is a unique film with lots and lots of subtle humor (no slapstick ala Clouseau). There are some very funny moments as people react to Peter Sellers, but the humor always comes back to how we choose to see the world. There is no deception of the part of the character of the gardner -- it is everybody else who plays the fool here. This is a definitely a movie to own and to watch over and over. I know some people who have found it a bit slow, in that very little really happens -- it is almost a comedy of manners. It is a great memorial to Peter Sellers from one of his very last movies."
James T. Wheeler | TUCSON, AZ United States | 11/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Being There" is one of my favorite movies of all time, starring Peter Sellers in his last major film role. How Sellers was cheated out of an Oscar is still a mystery to me, as this has to be one of the greatest performances by an actor in the last 40 years. Maybe voters for the Academy Award weren't in the mood for a black comedy, which this show is, or maybe they didn't like its political overtones? Or, maybe they just couldn't give such a serious award to someone who'd played Inspector Clouseau? In any case, this movie was way before its time in style and substance; Academy voters missed the boat. Among other things, they should have asked themselves if anyone else could have played this part so well? Could anyone else have done the blank, languid stares so convincingly? Could anyone else have delivered the dead-pan lines so flawlessly? The answers would have been a resounding, No.
The movie tells the story of a half-retarded gardener, Chance, whom one supposes is the illegitimate son of a prominent business man in Washington, D. C. This occurs in 1979, when the Carter Administration was in its last stages of faded glory. Chance, played by Peter Sellers, is left homeless when the old man dies. He then wanders the streets of the big city in search of his new life. Whatever he has learned has come from watching TV and he uses his remote control to change channels. While roaming the streets of Washington, Chance even tries his clicker in real life situations, which is very funny.
Chance then stumbles upon one of the main power brokers in D. C., a gravely-ill Ben Rand. He is played by Melvyn Douglas who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in this portrayal. Rand's wife Eve, played by Shirley MacLane, falls for Chance and a tawdry affair (on her side) ensues. Later on, Chance becomes a media sensation, of sorts, and appears on late-night TV to present his simplistic views. They're all couched in terms of keeping a garden prosperous which rings a responsive chord with all concerned. Almost everyone takes Chance for a modern day genius when he really is just the opposite. Various private and government security agencies do research on Chance's background and can find nothing. He wears expensive clothes and underwear, dating from the 1930's, that apparently are hand-me-downs from the old man. It's as if Chance suddenly dropped out of the sky, which he practically has.
At Mr. Rand's funeral, the surviving power brokers talk of making Chance the next U. S. President. The closing scene shows Chance stepping out onto a lake appearing to walk on water. Maybe this is to serve as final proof that he deserves the #1 job? As far as I know, no one has ever explained the significance of the scene which is as it should be. As with the best art, it's up to the viewer to decide its meaning.
To me the movie shows the power of television and other forms of mass media in shaping the public mind. Taken to the extreme, a total idiot might be foisted off on the public to hold the highest political office if only he has the right handlers and avoids any whiff of scandal. The biting sarcasm and irony of "Being There" would not appeal to everyone's taste but most thinking adults should be captivated by the story and by Sellers' amazing performance.
Before buying the DVD, I tried to find out either on websites or on the outside of the package, if the hilarious out-takes appear on this recording. These were superimposed over the closing credits in the original version shown in theaters but often do not appear when the film is shown on TV. To my relief, the out-takes are there are and just as hilarious as I remember them. "