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Thursday, April 14, 2016
Hal Ashby | Being There
by Douglas Messerli
Jerzy Kosiński with Robert C. Jones [uncredited] (screenplay, based on the book by Kosiński), Hall Ashby (director) Being There / 1979
But Chance (Peter Sellers), the “old man’s” gardener, is not just any innocent young man, but a near-idiot who has experienced the world only through the media. He does not even know what death means, and the television shows he watches are just things of moving action with utterly no narrative or meaning to him. Accordingly he is a permanent child, with little possibility of finding his way in the world; indeed, he does not even comprehend that the old man’s death might mean that he must leave the safety of the “house.”
The fact that this fool’s life should be so blessed also transforms him into a kind of Christ, often described as the holy fool—foolish, in the sense, for Christ’s total commitment to belief and his inexplicable love for all mankind.
By work’s end, he is seen, as in one of Christ’s most significant miracles, seemingly standing on water, while those burying the dead Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) whisper about the possibility of helping to put Chance (renamed, by mistake, Chauncey Gardiner by Rand’s younger wife Eve [Shirley MacLaine]) into the White House.
Because the excellent cast, acting at top pitch, Being There, with these possible levels of significance, appears, accordingly to be a very entertaining myth: satire, fable, religious story, and even political commentary seem to come together effortlessly, particularly given the total convincingness of Seller’s character. As MacLaine has commented on Seller’s acting: "(Peter) believed he was Chauncey. He never had lunch with me... He was Chauncey Gardiner the whole shoot, but believing he was having a love affair with me."