The main character in ‘Being There’ (1979) is a simple-minded gardener named Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellars, who has spent all his life as a servant in the Washington D.C. house of an old man. When the old man dies, Chance is put out on the streets of Washington with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television and the small garden he maintained for his employer.
As he is forced to leave his tiny habitat behind and enter the utterly estranging urban surroundings – like an alien from outer space – he seems doomed at first. Luckily it turns out his elementary gardening expertise and television knowledge provides him with enough baggage to cope with the complexity of modern life.
Although Chaunce has the mind of a small child and only knows of gardening, he dresses in nice suits, has impeccable manners and is not shy, so he is accepted into social circles. Through an accidental encounter with a rich couple that is close to the president, he becomes acquainted with the higher circles in Washington. When he speaks of gardening, his words are mistaken for metaphors and he is instantly considered an economic genius.
‘Being There’ is a wonderful film. It profoundly deals with a simple premise: despite the sheer complexity of our living environment and the harsh speed with which it changes, staying true to ones own values and intuitions remains a good strategy.
P.s. The phrase “I like to watch” has become so famous from this movie – it refers to Chances love for TV and the fact that it is the primary reference point for his existence – up to the level that he tries to click a remote to thwart off muggers.
Passed: Playtime (1967)