“I’m Chance, the Gardener,” says Peter Sellers inside his final noteworthy role. “Since I was a child, I worked in this garden.” He really was a gardener. “I like to watch TV.” What I said there to myself, “You know what, Chance, so do I.” In this final role, Peter Sellers is playing a man within a shelter, one that rings so perfectly with myself – maybe a reflection of myself in the mirror. Inside of a role as an innocent, simple-minded gardener oblivious to the many happenings around him only learning more from the glance at a screen, it is not only Peter Sellers to credit, but Hal Ashby as well, for creating one of the most resonant works of art ever made in Being There. One’s thoughtfulness inside of such a film only calls for a sense of self-reflection, but said process is already frustrating enough on my end.
My whole life, I’ve grown up a kid on the autistic spectrum. And at the same time, I was always a hermit, just learning so much about what else went on around the world through looking at a screen. When I left a safe space, I was oblivious to my own surroundings, and it doesn’t matter where I go. The moment Chance steps out to see the world for himself, it reminds me of myself on a walk – I don’t know where I’m going, yet I just keep going. And while I walk, I think only of what is calming, by blasting music from my phone into my ears, thus silencing everything that is around me. A mentality only myself understands, for I’m at a point I still have a lot to learn about what goes on from the outside. I write more words than I actually say them, but maybe when I’m actually speaking to others up close, I’d only imagine they impact others.
Being There has captured this experience so perfectly and it only becomes more entrancing for myself. Ashby has created a very dry, yet humorous film but maybe amidst the satire there was a sense of truth that comes by which makes for a product all the more thoughtful. Inside of Chance, it is clear from his name that from his presence, we still have a chance at finding out ourselves for the better. They can come out of anything, and they can come out at anytime, but maybe we haven’t looked hard enough. They’re just so simple answers we refuse to come around to, and within Peter Sellers’s performance as a clueless man something strikes us that soon makes clear why everything resonates. Our many misunderstandings of a simple Chance’s utterances (set up brilliantly from a misinterpretation of “Chance the gardener” as “Chauncey Gardiner”) only highlight the brilliance of Being Therebecause it is not overtly funny but dry, maybe to the point it leaves something to think about.
Being There hits me more so within Sellers’s character as Chance the gardener for even though I’m not so much a simple person, I’ve left my words out to many groups of people to hear and then as a result of building up a following, I’m still just paranoid on the inside. I’m paranoid how one group feels about me for leaning towards another. I’m paranoid about how others whom I respect actually think of what I do. But why is this what I see out of Peter Sellers playing Chance the gardener? Inside of the role which he wanted to play more than anything else, he was a man whose simple sayings just come out there for anyone to interpret. Some said he was a brilliant man. Others don’t like him. I don’t know what I talk about half the time. I just learned everything off a screen because I’m an introvert, just as Chance did when he takes his own pleasure in watching television.
Maybe there was something more that Hal Ashby was aiming at with the course of events coming along Chance’s way. He was only experiencing the world for once after years of confinement inside of a single space, watching television and gardening. All of us are deep down aspiring to go “there,” but we needed more help than we would have thought at first. I watch Being There, and amidst its own funnier moments there comes a moment that hints at what it is like, “being there.” Perhaps it could be that we are “there” within our lives, and maybe we are afraid as a whole to accept that fact. Yet as Chance leaves his simple utterances on television for the whole world to hear, but maybe his simple speeches about the garden mean more. Our world is a garden, each of us is a growing plant, and all is well if we don’t sever our own roots.
Or perhaps it could be that in our presence we know we have left our mark on others in some way or another. We are still searching for a way of making ourselves significant, but maybe we have reached a point of confinement that it strikes back to Chance. But maybe in a literal figure who goes by the name “Chance,” Hal Ashby is hinting at how maybe we need to give our own lives one if we ever want to “go there.” It soon became clear to me why Being There was truly as clever a film as it was. In our “being there,” we have our own marks upon other people, positive and negative – but we take comfort in our own oblivion to what goes on outside by sticking only within our own thought. Hal Ashby and Peter Sellers’s final notable film is a satire of perspective, a film that is as funny as it is ever thoughtful. Because of Being There, I think to myself about how deep down, we have become an aura to another, a presence of value. It was clear to me from the ending, because chance is not a person, it is something life deserves. Maybe I haven’t given my own enough, for I’m still leaving too much about my own self on the inside.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by Hal Ashby
Screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski, from his novel
Produced by Andrew Braunsberg
Starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas
Release Year: 1979
Running Time: 130 minutes