“I like to watch” - Chance, the gardener.
Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)
An illiterate gardener, who has never left the house where he was born, and who has learned everything he knows from watching television, is evicted and mistakenly held for a profound man by influential people - only because he speaks in platitudes, or maybe because he’s a white man wearing the right clothes. ‘Chance, the gardener,’ or 'Chauncey Gardiner', was Peter Sellers’ last role before his death, and although more introverted and awkward than the parts he is best known for, it is hard to think of a more perfect final exclamation mark to the extraordinary talent of a man who claimed to have ‘no personality’ of his own, “as far as I’m aware.”
Sellers’ wonderfully strange chameleon character blends perfectly into Hal Ashby’s equally odd sense of what comedy is (or rather, what it can be – think of Harold & Maude for instance). There are dark undertones here, a cynical political and societal verdict, but it’s all wrapped in a quietly hilarious, even heart-warming sincerity and strangeness. It makes Being There an exceptionally intriguing comedy: are we watching an idiot exposing the idiocy of those well-respected people around him? Does he show us the hollowness of social convention? Or the instability of preconceptions? That meaning is wherever we want it to be? Or is he really an oracle, albeit in his own peculiar way? The film’s great final shot only reinforces the ambiguity further.
- Thanks to a dear friend for the recommendation -