Being There  

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"German philosopher Martin Heidegger's term "dasein", which translates as "being-there", may itself be an influence on the film's title. For Heidegger, "dasein" was a sort of self-reflexive, high state of awareness. Chance, though, might be said to be the opposite of this; he is "anti reason", he turns his back to western philosophy, and is instead a figure of supreme irrationalism." [1]

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Being There is a political, satirical 1971 novel by Jerzy Kosiński and a 1979 film directed by Hal Ashby. The film stars Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine.

Being There was the last film featuring Sellers to be released in his lifetime. The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.



Chance (Peter Sellers) is a middle-aged man who lives in the townhouse of an old, wealthy man in Washington, D.C. He is simple-minded and has lived there his whole life, tending the garden. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance naively says he has no claim against the estate, and is ordered to move out. Thus he discovers the outside world for the first time.

Chance wanders aimlessly. He passes by a TV shop and sees himself captured by a camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a chauffeured car owned by Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas), an elderly business mogul. In the back seat of the car sits Rand's wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine).

Eve brings Chance to their home to recover. Drinking alcohol for the first time in the car ride home, Chance coughs as he tells Eve his name. Eve mishears "Chance, the gardener" as "Chauncey Gardiner". Chance is wearing expensive tailored clothes from the 1920s and '30s, which his benefactor had allowed him to take from the attic, and his manners are old-fashioned and courtly. When Ben Rand meets him, he assumes from these signs that Chance is an upper-class, highly educated businessman. Chance's simple words, often due to confusion or stating the obvious, are repeatedly misunderstood as profound; Ben Rand finds him direct and insightful, qualities which he admires. Chance's simplistic utterances about gardens and the weather are interpreted as allegorical statements about business and the state of the economy.

Rand is also a confidant and adviser of the U.S. President (Jack Warden), whom he introduces to "Chauncey". The president likewise interprets Chance's remarks about the garden as economic and political advice. Chance, as Chauncey Gardiner, quickly rises to national public prominence. He becomes a media celebrity with an appearance on a television talk show and soon rises to the top of Washington society. He remains very mysterious, as the Secret Service is unable to find any background information about him. Public opinion polls start to reflect just how much his "simple brand of wisdom" resonates with the jaded American public.

Rand, dying of aplastic anemia, encourages Eve to become close to Chance. She is already attracted to him and makes a sexual advance. Chance is asexual, but mimics a kissing scene that happens to be on the TV just then. When it ends, he stops suddenly and Eve is confused. She asks what he likes, meaning sexually; he replies "I like to watch", meaning television. She is momentarily taken aback, but decides she is willing to masturbate for his voyeuristic pleasure. As she becomes involved in the act, she does not notice that he has turned back to the TV and is watching it, not her.

Chance is present at Rand's passing, after which he talks briefly with Rand's physician, Dr. Allenby. Allenby confirms for himself what he had come to suspect, that the man in their midst is not the genius Chauncey Gardiner everyone believes him to be, but the simpleton Chance the gardener; however Allenby seems unperturbed by this revelation, repeating to himself Chance's comment, "I understand," the only character who realizes the true situation. At Rand's funeral, while the president delivers a speech, members of the Congress hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next term of office. As Rand's coffin is about to be interred in the family mausoleum, they unanimously agree on "Chauncey Gardiner".

Oblivious to all this, Chance wanders through Rand's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling and then walks off across the surface of a small lake. He pauses, dips his umbrella into the deep water under his feet as if testing its depth, turns, and then continues to walk on the water as the president quotes Rand: "Life is a state of mind."



Principal filming occurred at the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America, located in Asheville, North Carolina.


Incidental music is used very sparingly. What little original music is used was composed by Johnny Mandel, and primarily features two recurrent piano themes based on "Gnossiennes" No. 4 and No. 5 by Erik Satie. The other major piece of music used is the Eumir Deodato jazz/funk arrangement of the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.

Mandel was also assisted by his late cousin and fellow composer Miles Goodman with the orchestration of the film.


The film opened to positive reviews and helped revitalize Sellers' comic career after he landed many movie flops, except for the Pink Panther movies. Film critic Roger Ebert mentions the final scene in his 2005 book The Great Movies II (p. 52), stating that his film students once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. Ebert writes, "The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image, it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier — a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more."

Sellers won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his performance in Being There. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well at the 52nd Academy Awards, but he lost to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. Hoffman, upon receiving the award, remarked that he refused to believe that he had beaten Sellers, or any of the other nominees.

Melvyn Douglas won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance.

The credits at the film's end roll over a humorous outtake, known as the "Rafael outtake." Sellers was later displeased that the outtake ran because he believed it took away from Chauncey's mystique. The outtake is also believed to have been the reason why Sellers did not win the Academy Award in 1980.

The film is ranked number 26 on the AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs list, a list released by the American Film Institute in 2000 of the top 100 funniest films in American cinema.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Being There" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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