In 1979, British comic actor Peter Sellers charmed the world with his portrayal of a childlike gardener, raised from early childhood on a wealthy man's estate, who experiences the "real world" for the first time at midlife, with surprising results. (Well, it has to be said that while a lot of people were charmed, observant Americans might have been unsettled by the not-so-veiled critique of the average American, TV-obsessed and clueless about life outside a small, privileged bubble).
"Chance," whose real last name is never known, blunders out into the world after the death of his employer and lifelong guardian. Instead of becoming homeless or ending up in an institution, he is mistaken for a reserved but wise businessman and then taken into the home of a fabulously wealthy couple. He then ascends to the heights of American society. "Being There" was one of the political satires that came out of the mid-1970s, a time of political turmoil and economic sluggishness. It was a modern "emperor's new clothes" story, indicting those in power of not being able to see what was right in front of them. And what did that *ending* mean? (We won't spoil it, if you can't remember the surprise at the very close).
Are you a true fan of this 1970s classic? Prove it now with our quiz!
Who owns the house where Chance lives when the movie begins?
The estate's owner is usually identified as "the Old Man," though his name is revealed to be "Jennings." Chance worked as the gardener for his estate, where he has apparently lived since his early childhood.
What is Chance the Gardener's defining characteristic?
Chance, having lived at the "Old Man's" estate his whole life, knows little of the outside world. The movie highly implies that he is developmentally disabled.
To whom does Ben become a friend and adviser?
The president visits the Rand home for advice. Ben, having newly befriended Chance, has "Chauncey" sit in on the meeting.
Chance tells the president that the "garden" will survive if what happens?
As happens throughout the movie, Chance's statements about gardening are taken as metaphors for the economy. The president expands on the metaphor in a televised speech.
Other than gardening, what is Chance's favorite activity?
It can be hard to follow the dialogue in some scenes in "Being There." Whenever there's a TV in the room, Chance turns it on, so that TV dialogue competes with the spoken dialogue of the scene.
What is the name of the Old Man's housekeeper?
It is Louise that breaks the news of the Old Man's death to Chance. Even though she knows he's simple-minded, she is still put off by his utter lack of emotional response to the news.
Who makes Chance leave the estate?
The lawyers apparently work for the heir to the estate, whom we never see. Their main concern is that Chance will not file a claim against the estate. Of course, he doesn't even understand the concept of a lawsuit.
In what state was the Old Man's house?
Early on, we hear a television ad refer to "Virginia," which is very close to D.C. But when Chance leaves the estate on foot, he is very shortly in a poor part of the District of Columbia.
What unusual item does Chance take from the house when he leaves?
Chance takes the TV remote with him and tries to use it on TVs in a store window. He also pulls it out when he's confronted by some young toughs on the street.
How does Chance meet Eve Rand?
It's a happy accident that Chance meets his benefactors, Eve and Ben Rand. Eve's driver is pulling away from the curb when he bumps Chance's leg. Chance has backed into the street because he's fascinated by the sight of himself on a store's video display and is moving forward and backward, watching his movements on the screen.
Why does Eve think "Chance the Gardener" is "Chauncey Gardiner"?
In the back seat of her car, Eve serves Chance his first alcoholic drink. He is coughing and sputtering when he introduces himself, which causes the miscommunication.
Why does Eve take Chance to her home for medical treatment?
Ben Rand is seriously ill. This -- and his great wealth -- means that there are a doctor, nurses, and medical equipment at the Rand home.
What disease does Ben Rand have?
Ben explains to Chance that he is suffering from a "young person's disease," which will soon kill him. He relies on fresh transfusions of blood in order to get up and around.
Who does Ben blame for Chance's "house" being closed down?
Ben assumes that the "house" that was shut down was a business. He puts the blame on "kid lawyers from the SEC," or Securities and Exchange Commission.
Whom did a gang leader tell Chance to give a message to?
Chance approaches a group of black teenagers, apparently a gang, on the streets of D.C. The leader, for some reason, thinks the white man in the business suit is carrying a message for "Raphael" and sends one back.
To whom does Chance eventually relay the message for "Raphael"?
The X-ray technician in the Rand home is black, and Chance assumes that all black people know each other. Fun fact: over the closing credits, you can see outtakes of Peter Sellers repeatedly breaking into laughter as he tries to repeat the message, laced with 70s slang like "honky," in Chance's deadpan voice.
When Chauncey refers to "the room upstairs," what does Ben think he means?
Chauncey says "the room upstairs" is all he has left. Ben thinks he means heaven, and scoffs at his pessimism.
Why is Chance invited to stay at the Rands' home for a few days?
Lawsuits are a recurring theme in the movie -- first the lawyers are afraid Chance might file a claim, then Dr. Allenby. But Chance says "I don't even know what one (a claim) looks like," which the doctor laughs off as a joke.
Which of these does NOT happen to Chance as a result of his "advising" the president?
Chance leads a charmed life. Nothing so bad as an assassination attempt happens as a result of his ascent to "presidential adviser."
What personal problem does the president suffer during the events of the movie?
The president is shown being unable to perform; it's suggested that this is linked to the current political and economic troubles he's dealing with. His wife says, "This never happened when you were governor."
Who gives the eulogy at Ben's funeral?
You know you've made it when the president of the United States speaks at your funeral. In "Being There," the president's speech consists of favorite quotes of Ben's.
When are is no background files on "Gardiner," the president's men believe ______.
The president's team makes an assumption that far outstrips the evidence: that "Gardiner" is so well-connected that he could have his files destroyed. Oddly, this doesn't cause them undue alarm; they don't insist the President cut him out of his social circle.
Chance escorts Eve to a reception for a diplomat from _______.
When Chance giggles at the sound of the diplomat speaking Russian, the man thinks Chance is entertained by the joke he made. This eventually grows into a rumor that "Chauncey Gardiner" speaks eight languages.
To whom does Chance say, "I like to watch"?
Chance is referring to TV, but both of them believe he is talking about sex. This leads the man at the party to say, "I'll go get Warren" and Eve to, uh, perform for Chance at her home.
A guest at the diplomatic reception suggests that Chance "holds degrees in both ______ and ____."
That's right, with absolutely no evidence, people begin to assume "Gardiner" holds two advanced degrees. In two of America's most lucrative fields, no less.
Who eventually realizes that Chance is simply a gardener?
This happens just after Ben's death. Allenby evidently decides not to tell anyone, even though Chance is now set to inherit in Ben's will, perhaps because Chance has just told him "I love Eve very much."
What do the pallbearers discuss as they carry Ben's casket to the tomb?
Cynically, the pallbearers discuss who should replace the president. Inevitably, they decide their only viable candidate is "Chauncey Gardiner."
What does Chance do at the very end of the movie?
Putting a suitably absurd end on things, Chance wanders away from Ben's memorial service, tends to a pine sapling, and then walks on the pond nearby. Okay, then!
Finish the quote: "Life is a ________."
Deep philosophy it ain't, but this quote from Ben Rand, spoken by the president, closes the film. We hear it as Chance walks on the pond. It suggests that the audience should take away from this metaphoric film whatever they find meaningful.
What kind of tomb is Ben buried in?
The Rand family tomb is shaped like a pyramid. The Masonic eye is carved into the top.
Which vintage PBS show is seen on TVs in "Being There"?
Years before America went yoga-crazy, there was Lilias Folan. Her thick, dark braid and kindly teaching style lured thousands of Americans into contorting themselves into difficult positions in their living rooms. Chance watches the show and tries out a position during the "sex scene" with Eve.
Who played Chance?
Sellers was better known for his "Pink Panther" movies at the time. He was English, and toured with an entertainment troupe during World War II.
Who played Eve?
Shirley MacLaine was a go-to actress of the 1960s and '70s. In the '80s, she was better known for her memoir, "Dancing in the Light," in which she espoused a number of New Age theories, including reincarnation.
Who won an Oscar for "Being There"?
Douglas had been a classic "leading man" type in his earlier Hollywood years. "Being There" was nearly his last role -- he made "Ghost Story," his actual last film, in 1981.
While Chance explores the inner city, we hear a synth-pop version of ________.
The late 1970s and early '80s were a time of "rocking the classics," and the arrangement of Strauss's classic was a great example of this. It plays as Chance wanders the slums of D.C., seeing the real world for the first time.
What sort of hat does Chance wear?
Chance got his good suit and his hat from the Old Man. Jennings allowed him to wear anything in his extensive wardrobe, much of which was quite old, yet timeless.
About HowStuffWorks Play
How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!