Perhaps Seller’s greatest role in my mind, Being There tells a story oddly reminiscent of Forrest Gump that followed some time later.
Apparently simple-minded Chance (Peter Sellers) has lived his entire life cut off from the outside world, tending the guardian of the “old man” who has recently passed on. Evicted from his former home, a run-in with Eve Rand’s (Shirley MacLaine) car leads grants him access not only to Eve’s billionaire husband Ben (Melvyn Douglas) but the President himself (Jack Warden), becoming a media sensation in the process.
Although both films employ a sense of humour and comic timing that’s refreshing, the use of the sometimes subtle background sounds or even the more overt televisual referenced lend themselves more to interest rather than the often crass historical references used in Gump.
Whether or not he is an idiot savant or merely an idiot is never at issue as the above inclusions also heighten the dramatic and emotional intensity of scenes when combined with the most minuscule of looks provided by Sellers, illustrating that although Chance might be sheltered or even childlike in many ways, he is not a character to be pitied but empathised with. Chance may not know everything but he is far from stupid and often offers incites that are wiser than anything else available. Yes there is an irony in the importance placed on him and his utterances and how they spiral further into fancy but it is done by characters supposedly smarter than him. Never should we raise an idea to dogma but neither should we forget the wisdom that comes from fresh eyes or those limited by cynicism.
Comparatively “Being There” easily lays waste to its competition but on its own merits it stands firm against most other pictures. From the playful and skilfully employed absurdism adding depth to otherwise unrelatable characters (at least to some), the glimpses of humanity offered in each are more universal than most stereotypes because they never stray too far into chaos.
MacLaine and Douglas simply ooze affability despite their apparent social standing. Just like with Sellers it is in the nuance of their performances that we truly see beyond what is in front of us.
In truth, here lies a simple story, well told without any ounce of pretensions and enough discernible difference to give it a real vitality, making it an instant classic in my mind.