The movie is about Chance, a gardener who has lived his whole life inside the house of his employer, "The Old Man." The only other person in the home is The Old Man's maid, who sadly tells Chance that he is always going to be a little boy. He has had no outside contact with the world - everything he learned, he has learned from watching TV. He can't read or write, and is very stoic. When The Old Man Dies, some attorneys come by and tell Chance he has to leave. He stumbles out into the world, dressed in The Old Man's suits, which makes him look wealthy. Walking along the street, he becomes distracted by a TV in a store window, and is hit by a car. Luckily for Chance, it contains Eve, who feels so bad for him she takes him to the home of her dying, millionaire husband, Ben Rand. They all assume he is wealthy, and are smitten with his simple but wise statements and attitudes. Ben loves him - he says that he is so peaceful and wise, that he is able to accept his own impending death, just from being around him. Eve falls in love with him. Chance even helps the President write his speech! He is asked about the economy, but replies in the only terms he knows - gardening. The President and Ben takes this as some sort of zen wisdom, and it's worked into the speech. I won't spoil the end for those who haven't seen it, but it's seriously a great movie.
I love how Peter Sellers plays this character. He manages to stay totally, convincingly in this character for the whole movie. It's hard to not like Chance, especially since he feels so real. For me, there were times that I felt sad for him, because the idea of being in a strange world you don't understand is scary to me. There were also times that I really was cheering for him, since I thought the idea of a bunch of politicians losing it over something a gardener said was funny. I guess in simpler terms, I liked watching him troll the government and media. It felt like a victory or something, I don't know. It was such an easy and fun film to watch, as all movies are when you love the characters.
Ebert writes about the film in his essay, saying it "is a rare and subtle bird that finds its tone and stays with it. It has the appeal of an ingenious intellectual game, in which the hero survives a series of challenges he doesn't understand, using words that are both universal and meaningless. But are Chance's sayings noticeably less useful than when the president tells us about a "bridge to the 21st century?''(Great Movies II, 50-52). I mentioned above that I love the tone that the whole film carries, and that it always has a bit of a melancholy feeling. I also think he hits on what makes this film so satisfying - that it's not just the strange adventures of Chance that we are drawn to. There is also the running commentary about how useless and stupid the things that we say (and the government and media say) really are.
I'm not sure what the capital M "meaning" is of the film. There are many, many interesting questions that it raises for me, but there wasn't one that stuck out for me as being "right". I won't list all of mine endlessly, but Ebert writes about a few, and he's a bit more eloquent than I am. He says, "The movie's implications are alarming. Is it possible that we are all just clever versions of Chance the gardener? That we are trained from an early age to respond automatically to given words and concepts? That we never really think out much of anything for ourselves, but are content to repeat what works for others in the same situation?" (Great Movies II, 53). I wondered about many of these questions myself. Do we understand what we say, really? Does what we say have any actual meaning? What Chance said to the President about the seasons did sort of sound like a wise analogy. Is is so different from the other bits of wisdom that we like to quote? I love this movie because not only does it have a great story and acting, it brings up so many interesting things to think about.
Let me know if you decide to check this out!
Have any of you seen Being There? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Being There