by YB Roth
(Los Angeles, CA, USA)
BEING THERE, A Film by Hal Ashby:
"…It cannot help growing, and its growth has no meaning, since a plant cannot reason or dream. …"
~Jerzy Kosinski, "Being There"
"Being There," the feature film by Hal Ashby was released as Peter Seller's final film in 1979, and the original screenplay was written by the novel's author Jerzy Kosinski.
This review's opening quote by Jerzy Kosinski, arrives from the deft hand of an author and screenwriter who lived as a hidden child Jew buried under the extreme hardship of Hitler's bid for Europe, and who later married wealth and sailed the world with unabashed joy.
"Being There" Hal Ashby's film, retained all of the sensitivity and off-the-wall subtext of the original novel. While most films fail to live up to their books, this film script, the direction, and Peter Seller's sensitive portrayal of the protagonist, Chauncey Gardner, came together creating a film that exceeded the book's promise.
"Being There" is a major inquiry on the value to be accorded a soul – any soul. Further, "Being There" begs to know if synchronicity in life is karmic in nature; can one earn positive synchronicity points through an intellectual understanding of one's particular cultural moral and ethical benchmarks and responsibilities while traveling a self-aware journey? Perhaps, the secret to existence is watching television – like a vegetable sucking up garden fertilizer.
Our protagonist is miscalled by the name of Mr. Chance. Chance is the live-in gardener for an estate that must be disbursed due to death and taxes. Chance the gardener has always been there – being there is his only material, and arguably spiritual history of note. Chance likes to garden. He enjoys watching television. This
is all we know about Chance; it is all he knows about himself. Chance must leave the estate and strike out in the world. He has never purchased his own clothing; early in the film, opening the closet door, somebody has provided clothing for Chance. He has never cooked, but he does eat, and the food is always there. Chance on the streets is an unsettling thought; a little frightening, and incomplete. Thank God this is America, and as we all know, politics, entertainment, and television are interchangeable terms and everybody's chance.
Chance's prospects are thin, but, there is always a chance. As the film takes us deep into a slice of beingness we all depend on for survival but rarely notice – synchronicity. Mr. Chance becomes a guide to the wealthy and the politically elite with whom synchronicity has paired him. He speaks to his hosts about the garden, which they take to be a wise metaphor for the garden of life – their lives on their terms.
In the end 'Being There' leaves us simultaneously with hope in the nobility of a soul and its god, and the knowledge that all we can do is witness in every current moment with profound mystery the eventuality of our being here.
I am a deeply committed yogi and a Zen practitioner. "Being There" never mentioned either practice, yet, I walked out of the theater with a fresh and extremely profound outlook on my life and practice. As a statement of his art, playing Chauncy Gardner was truly an homage to the career of Peter Seller's. Purchase the DVD; do not rent it, because you will watch it many times as you journey through your life.