“I like to watch.”
Being There is a drama-comedy about Chance The Gardener (Peter Sellers), who is now forced to leave his the house that he has lived in for his entire life (without every leaving it once). Everything that he knows comes from what he watches on television.
I watched this movie for the first time about a couple of months ago. I bought it on Blu-ray, after reading a bit about it. What attracted me to this film at first was Peter Sellers, who I feel is was an amazing actor, and one of the best comedians in the history of cinema. Also, the basic concept of the film was too good to pass up.
First off, Being There is a film that has a three act structure story. The beginning of the film sets up the character of Chance, then quickly establishes the conflict of the film. As Chance wakes up one day, he is told by the maid of the house that the “old man” is dead. This is the first plot point. The old man was the home owner of the house where Chance has lived for all of his life. Now Chance is forced to go into the outside world (with TV remote in hand) and find a new place to live. Chance eventually does find a place to stay, after getting hit by a car. The car he gets hit by was owned by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine). Eve takes Chance to her home to see their doctor. There he meets the sick old billionaire Ben Rand (Melvin Douglas). They become good friends. Chance also gets to meet the President of the United States (Jack Warden) at Ben’s house, and becomes a celebrity after giving the President some great advise. Chance also develops a close personal relationship with Eve, who is struggling with the fact that her husband is going to die soon. The second plot point isn’t as clear but I feel that it is when Ben dies. After Ben dies, Chance is now a part of Eve’s life. He has a home, and a large garden to take care of. Also, by the pallbearers at Ben’s funeral, Chance is accepted and agreed upon to become the next President of the United States.
The character of Chance is absolutely original and immensely engaging. This is a man that only knows two thing in life, gardening and television. At the beginning of the film, he has never ridden in a car, has never used a phone, and has never even walked outside the house that he lives in. He only knows what he sees on TV. This background information is established in many ways, with the most prevalent being his own dialogue. A great example of this is when after he is hit by the car, he is driven to the Rand mansion. Just as he is about to go in to have a seat, he mentions to the driver that he has never ridden in a car before.The dialogue that Chance uses is very direct and honest, just like his personality. He says what is on his mind, with no real deep thinking behind what he is saying. Dialogue is the main way that Chance is able to express himself. However, there strange thing about Chance is that he seems to have no real body language. His actions and behavior show how little he knows about everything. When he is given a phone, he doesn’t know how to use it, he just puts it down. Chance seems like he is a cold and stiff person, who is lacking in every emotion. His circumstances would indicate that to be true. The only time Chance every really emotionally behaves is when Ben dies. He looks sad, and is holding back some tears as his good friend passes away in front of him. We can see that he is able to feel at least something, and most importantly, that he has emotionally grown through out this story.
Being There is a narrative driven film. While the film is focused on telling the story of Chance, it is told objectively. The fact is, Chance is a character whose story couldn’t really be told too subjectively because emotionally, he isn’t affected by what happens to him. He simply just exists. A key scene in this film for me is when Chance is wandering around Washington DC, looking for food.There he encounters a group of young hoodlums, who threaten to cut him with a knife. Feeling uncomfortable, Chance takes out his TV remote, points it at the hoodlums, and tries to “change” the channel. While this is a great example of “show don’t tell”, it particularly reminded me about something else. One thing that I heard when I saw Academy Award Winner Canadian writer-director Paul Haggis ( at the Lightbox eariler this year) was the question “What is the worst thing that can happen to your character?” He said that this is a question that he keeps in mind when writing, and I feel that in this scene of Being There is a great example of that. Chance has had no life experiences, literally, so seeing him react this way is a great way to reveal and develop his character. He trusts and believes in TV so much, that he thinks he can make reality go away with his remote control. But the fact is, he can’t.
The film ends during Ben’s funeral. The President recites some of Ben’s quotes, while his coffin is being taken away. The pallbearers decide that Chance is the best choice for the new president of America. Meanwhile, Chance walks away from the funeral. He goes through a forest and towards a lake. Then he looks over, and begins to literally walk on the water of that lake. At first, (especially for the people who have yet to see this film) this is an odd ending. What is this supposed to mean? What is it trying to say?
Personally, I love this ending. While it makes a simple conclusion become very open-ended, it adds a whole knew meaning to Chance. He is not a man of miracles like Jesus Christ, but in my opinion, he does bring powerful emotional healing into some people’s lives. Ben was able to finally take comfort with his situation and die in peace. Eve is able to find joy in her life and get past her personal struggles. Even the President was inspired by his words. Chance’s honesty, and lack of judgment are the reasons for this, I believe. As the last line of the film states “Life is a state of mind.” Life is only good if you feel good. Life is bad if you feel bad. Chance makes the people around him feel well. Most people in our world today don’t.
Whether you agree with my opinion on the ending or not it is okay. This is truly an ending that forces people to fill in the blank and think, “Who really is Chance?”
(PS. So far, this is the best film that I have watched this year, such an amazing film that I feel that everybody needs to watch at school!)