Legendary British actor Peter Sellers is still best remembered as one of the best and most beloved film comedians of all time. His sloppy Inspector Clouseau in “Pink Panther” has been making people laugh for generations, and he showed all the brilliance of his talent in Kubrick’s famous “Dr. Strangelove” where he played three roles. Unfortunately, it turned out that the role of the simple-minded gardener mr. Chance in Hal Ashby’s absurdist satire, humorous drama was Sellers’ last role, since he died suddenly in July 1980 after a severe heart attack at the age of 55.
And although he lost the Oscar for the best leading role to Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs. Kramer”, Sellers confirmed here that the fantastic actor is capable of presenting the most diverse roles, and “Welcome, Mr. Chance” or “Being There” in the original, is the best proof of that. It is a film that delights and a film that is almost impossible to compare with any other film. At first glance, “Being There” is a silly comedy of confusion, but in fact it is a perfect social study, a brilliantly conceived social satire and a film that perfectly captures the spirit of the times.
So Sellers is a middle-aged mentally retarded guy who has worked all his life as a gardener for rich people from Washington. He does not remember ever going beyond the yard of the house, and apart from gardening, his only hobby was watching television. But when the old owner of the house dies, Chance is forced to leave the place where he has always lived, and it will soon become clear to us that this is a man completely incapable of living independently. For the first time this simple-minded man will actually see what the “outside” world looks like and nothing is clear to him, and by chance such a guy will soon become not only an adviser to the rich old and sick tycoon Ben Rand (when Sellers did not already win the Oscar for the lead, he took veteran Melvyn Douglas for a secondary role), but also the President of America (Jack Warden).
A man who not only can’t read and write, but also an apparently limited guy who talks nonsense and repeats what he heard on television, will become the creator of America’s economic policy. It will all begin when Rand’s wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine) mishears Chance and realizes that his name is Chauncey Gardiner, while Rand will think that he is a highly educated, high-class businessman who has gotten into trouble. He will recognize his simple answers as something extremely wise and ingenious and will start making business decisions based on that, and soon this “kingmaker”, that is, the guy who pulls all the strings in politics, will introduce him to the president.
And as time goes by, everything is more and more absurd, crazier and crazier, more genius and genius, and “Being There” was a brilliant satire on American politics and economy. At the same time, it is a film with such a soothing rhythm, a definitive confirmation that Hal Ashby was indeed one of the best American directors of the seventies, and it is a real shame that he actually failed completely later. It is not at all a subtle allegory that openly mocks the American ruling business-political class and portrays them as self-absorbed people fighting feverishly to preserve what they think is exclusively theirs. They don’t listen to anyone and think that they are the smartest and that they know everything, and they will be exposed completely and completely unintentionally by a simple guy who knows absolutely nothing about anything.
The elite will not actually listen to him either, but will extract from his nonsense what they themselves want to hear, wondering how it is possible that there is someone so natural and who speaks so directly, in a way that practically no one dares to talk to them, but everyone is obviously just pandering to them. One has to wonder if they are really all that artificial and fake, completely unnatural when both Rand and the President saw that Chance was a genius expert. It is a film that is both subversive and brutal at the same time, obvious in its mockery of the elite, but also subtle, tender and touching, and for that we should definitely thank Sellers, who is fantastic in this completely muted version, completely different from his most famous roles.