AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Being There
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
Release Date:   1979
Duration (in mins):  120
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Cast: Peter Sellers  (Chance/[Chauncey Gardiner])
  Shirley MacLaine  (Eve Rand)
  Jack Warden  (President "Bobby")

Summary: At the Washington, D.C., residence where he has lived since childhood, Chance, an illiterate, middle-aged gardener, begins the morning with his favorite activity, watching television. As Chance flips through channels in the kitchen, the maid, Louise, appears shaken after discovering that Mr. Jennings, the elderly owner of the house and Chance’s lifelong benefactor, has passed away upstairs. Chance appears unmoved and continues to watch TV. Aware that Chance is extremely simple-minded, having known life only through television, Louise tries to accept his reaction and makes breakfast for him, as usual. After Louise says goodbye, Chance remains at the house and continues to care for the garden, as if nothing will change. Later, attorneys Thomas Franklin and Sally Hayes, arrive to settle the estate and are surprised to find Chance living there, since there is no record of his employment by Mr. Jennings. Although Chance shows them his bedroom, Franklin informs him that without any proof of address or identification, he must vacate the premises. The following day, Chance leaves the house for the first time in his life. Walking through the run-down neighborhood dressed in formal attire and carrying a suitcase, Chance stops a woman to ask for food, but she dismisses him. He also approaches a street gang, wondering if they know of a garden where he can work, but they threaten him with a knife. In response, Chance pulls out his remote control to change the channel, believing that the images around him are like television. That night, while watching himself on the monitor of a storefront display, Chance steps off the curb and is hit on the leg by a limousine. The passenger, Eve Rand, is apologetic and offers help to avoid any unnecessary repercussions. Instead of taking Chance to the hospital, she brings him to her home, which is equipped with a private medical clinic for her ailing, elderly husband, Benjamin “Ben” Rand, one of the country’s most powerful and wealthy financiers. During the drive, Chance chokes on his first alcoholic drink while introducing himself as “Chance, the gardener,” and Eve misunderstands and thinks his name is Chauncey Gardiner. At the Rand estate, the servants are waiting with a wheelchair for Chance, now known as Chauncey, as soon as the limousine arrives. In the guest suite, Dr. Robert Allenby, the private physician on staff, examines Chauncey’s leg and asks if he will be filing a claim against the Rands. When Chauncey says he does not know what a claim looks like, Allenby is amused and suggests that Chauncey stay for a few days while the leg heals. Downstairs at the medical clinic, Chauncey is wheeled in for X-rays and meets Ben, who is dying of a bone marrow disease. During dinner, Chauncey’s peaceful demeanor impresses Ben and Eve. They assume from his tailored appearance that he is cultured and interpret his plain remarks about wanting to work in their garden as a figure of speech from a man who loves nature. At the end of the evening, Eve tells Chauncey that his visit has lifted Ben’s mood. Later at the estate, the President of the United States arrives to seek Ben’s advice about an upcoming speech on the economy. Ben, a “kingmaker” who has considerable influence over the President, whom he calls by his first name, Bobby, brings Chauncey to the private meeting and introduces him as a dear friend. Meanwhile, Allenby searches through Chauncey’s belongings to learn more about him. When the President asks Chauncey his opinion on stimulating financial growth, Chauncey talks simply about the changing seasons of a garden. Applauding, Ben reads the comments as wisdom about the fluctuating economy. As the President leaves, he asks his staff to compile a profile on Chauncey Gardiner and later, in a nationally televised address, the President calls Chauncey an “intuitive man” and uses the garden analogy to introduce an economic strategy. As Ben’s condition worsens, Eve tells Chauncey that his presence is a comfort, but Allenby appears more perplexed than enthralled with the new visitor. Immediately after the speech, The Washington Post telephones Chauncey for comments, and the producers from The Gary Burns Show want him to appear that evening as a replacement guest for the Vice-President. Meanwhile, both the White House staff and the researcher at The Washington Post are baffled that there is no background information on Chauncey. On the talk show, host Gary Burns introduces Chauncey as a Presidential advisor and questions him about current politics and economic policy. As Chauncey answers in simple sentences and speaks about the health of a garden, the audience applauds what they perceive as a compelling metaphor. From the limousine, Chauncey watches the telecast of his appearance, which attracts a record number of viewers, including the President. After recognizing Chauncey as the so-called gardener from the Jennings’s house, attorneys Franklin and Hayes ponder whether he is part of a government conspiracy, while Louise the maid is shocked to see the illiterate Chance “with no brains at all” on national television. After Ben tells Eve that he approves of her romantic interest in Chauncey, he asks Chauncey to escort his wife to a formal dinner for the Soviet ambassador. When they arrive, Chauncey tells the press gathered outside that he does not read newspapers, but likes to watch television. The reporters are impressed by his honesty. During the party, Chauncey sits next to Vladimir Skrapinov, the Soviet ambassador, who speaks to him in Russian, convinced that he understands the language. Chauncey is also approached about a book contract. When he says that he cannot write or read, the publisher assumes Chauncey is being facetious and not sincere about his illiteracy. Meanwhile, Allenby meets with Franklin, whose business card he found in Chauncey’s belongings, and learns that Chauncey introduced himself to the attorneys as a gardener named Chance. Still unable to create a profile on Chauncey, the President summons representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a late-night meeting at The White House to assess whether his files were destroyed. At the estate, Ben confides to Allenby that Chauncey has put his mind at ease, making the process of dying easier. Therefore, Allenby decides not to share his information about Chauncey. The next morning, Ben refuses any more injections, and on his deathbed, he asks Chauncey to look after Eve. After Ben passes away, Allenby realizes that Chauncey loves Eve and that he is a real gardener, as he always claimed, and not part of some conspiracy. At the funeral, Chauncey wanders off during the President’s eulogy and walks through the woods of the estate. As Ben’s associates act as pallbearers and carry the coffin toward the crypt, they whisper about whom they will support in the upcoming Presidential election and conclude that Chauncey, not burdened by a past history or controversy, would make an ideal choice. 

Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.
Production Company: Lorimar Film- und Fernsehproduktion GmbH
Northstar International
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
  Charles B. Mulvehill (Prod mgr)
  David S. Hamburger (1st asst dir)
  Toby Lovallo (2nd asst dir)
  Don Mischer ("Gary Burns Show" video segment dir)
Producer: Andrew Braunsberg (Prod)
  Charles B. Mulvehill (Assoc prod)
  Jack Schwartzman (Exec prod)
Writer: Jerzy Kosinski (Scr)

Subject Major: Friendship
  Mentally handicapped persons
  Mistaken identity
Subject Minor: Aged men
  Capitalists and financiers
  High society
  Incurable diseases
  Media frenzy
  Medical clinics
  Television programs
  United States. Presidents
  Washington (D.C.)

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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