Speaking truth to power

Being There is a bizarre little curate’s egg of a film. Directed in 1979 by Hal Ashby, who by all accounts at this stage in his career was no stranger to substance abuse, it also happens to be Peter Sellers’ last film, and it maintains an elegiac quality throughout. The film is punctuated by illness and loss. Sellers plays a simple-minded gardener named Chance, unable either to read or write, who has spent his entire life tending the garden of a wealthy businessman. After the death of his patron, and after a sequence of improbable coincidences, Chance ends up as a strategic adviser to another wealthy businessman, and then to the US President himself. Devoid of artifice, and with no practical experience of the real world, Chance is an almost total cypher, a latter-day Candide, whose only engagement with the outside world is through gadfly consumption of TV, and who speaks only in the language of gardening. Asked about his recommended economic stimulus, he replies: “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.” Naturally, his near imbecilic horticultural argot is universally mistaken for genius. After his second patron dies, pallbearers at the funeral conclude that Chance has the best prospects for taking the next US Presidency.

Speaking truth to power