Thursday 16 March 2023

Being There (1979)


Velkommen Mr. Chance

“Being There” is something as rare as an intelligent comedy. It is quiet, slow, insightful and incredibly funny. How often does that happen?

In a very slow-paced opening, we see Chance (Peter Sellers) wake up. He watches television, gets (immaculately) dressed and tends to the garden. When the maid of the house, Louise (Ruth Attaway) tells him the “old man” has died and that she is leaving, his only concern is the television and getting something to eat and we slowly realize that Chance is not mean or rude, but vacant, almost retarded. It turns out that Chance has lived his entire life in this house, belonging to the “old man”, never left the premises and only knows the outside world from what he watches on television. Having now to leave the house, he is entirely unfit to survive on his own.

Luckily, Chance is hit by the car of wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine). She takes him home to care for his injury and something incredible happens. Although Chance does nothing but being his own quiet self, smile and listen, everybody around him are massively impressed with him. Eve’s husband, the influential and very ill Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) believes he is a talented business man, Eve think he is the hottest guy in town. The President of the US takes his words on gardening as sage advice on running the country and the Russian ambassador is convinced he reads poetry in Russian. Chance has no idea what is going on but just flows with it and reduces everything to very simple answers.

Chance is like a mirror, everybody sees in him what they want to see. A wise man, a shrewd man, a loving man because what they are really seeing is themselves. A reporter who asks him what papers he reads get the answer that he does not read papers but likes to watch TV. True and simple, but her read on it is that here is finally a man who admits that he gets his information from her media and she feels vindicated.

I kept waiting for the moment where the bubble would bursts, where people would finally realize that he is nothing what they think he is but just a dimwit, but it never happens (sorry, if that is a spoiler). A doctor who suspects that it is the case, keeps it to himself, seeing how Chance makes people around him happy. When Chance in the final scene even walks on water, it seems his purpose is high indeed.

There is biting satire here of course, having all these high and mighty people think that this idiot is a fountain of wisdom. They get to look pretty ridiculous. Sellers is also in his own right a source of a lot of fun. He is completely deadpan in his portrayal of Chance and gets himself into the most weird situations. The lovemaking scene with him and Eve was a hoot. Her lying on the floor masturbating and him doing yoga exercises on the bed. Priceless.

I am a big fan of Peter Sellers and the List has generally been too thin on his movies, but then again, it is thin on comedies in general. I do not know if this is his best movie, he was pretty amazing in “Dr. Strangelove”, but there is something incredibly fitting about this role for Sellers. He claimed that without a role to play, he was nothing and something similar can be said about Chance. On his own his is nothing, but he wears the roles people dress him in.

Sellers was nominated for Best Actor and Douglas won for Best Supporting Actor. It also won a place in my heart. Highly recommended.


  1. Not a thing to say that you did not say better in your review.

  2. This is one we'll disagee on. I found this difficult to watch. I get the point it's making, but ultimately, I found it depressing. Sellers is great--probably never better--but it's not a movie I enjoy on any level.

    1. I will have to read your review. There is a melancholy and a satire on modern life and politics, but I am not certain I would call it depressive. Maybe on the back of a series of gloomy movies, this one was even uplifting.