Filmsite Movie Review
Being There (1979)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Gary Burns Show Interview:

Mr. Morton Hull (Arthur Rosenberg), the producer of The Gary Burns Show, a popular talk show, called to request Chauncey's appearance on the show that evening. Chauncey, stated that he had regularly watched the show, and then agreed: "Yes, I've been on television." The show was to be taped at 7 pm and then aired at 10:00 o'clock.

The President (onboard his Presidential plane) was perturbed when the background report by his advisors on Chauncey was presented: "What do you mean, he's got no background? That's impossible." He ordered Kaufman to engage in an all-out cloak-and-dagger approach: "Use whatever agencies are necessary to put together a detailed history of Chauncey Gardiner. Have it in my office tomorrow at 7:00."

As Chauncey was guided through the corridors of the TV studio, the show's producer Hull explained why Chauncey had been selected to be the prime guest:

...your position in the financial community carries a lot of weight, but what caught Gary's interest was your down-to-earth philosophy...Do you realize more people will be watching you tonight than all those that have seen theater plays in the last 40 years?

At the Washington Post, financial editor Sidney Courtney was also confounded that no background information on Chauncey could be located, although he was a mover-and-shaker: "He's a strong candidate for a seat on the board of First American Financial." His research assistant Kinney (Katherine De Hetre) confirmed: "There is no information of any sort about Gardiner. We have no material on him. Zilch."

In a studio make-up chair, Chauncey watched the show in progress before his own appearance, when he heard himself announced as a "distinguished financier and presidential adviser." After the taping, Chauncey viewed his own 10 pm appearance on a TV inside a chauffeured Rand limousine, while both Rands watched from Benjamin's bedroom, and the President watched from the White House's living room with the affectionate First Lady (Alice Hirson).

The show's host asked Chauncey: "It's always, uh, somewhat surprising to find men like yourself working so intimately with the President, and yet somehow managing to remain relatively unknown." Chauncey mimicked the host's use of the word surprising: "Yes, it is surprising," was very un-forthcoming, and usually agreed with the questioner. When he was asked about the President's use of his 'gardening' metaphor for the nation's economy, Chauncey provided a very simplistic response about gardening and growth:

It is possible for everything to grow strong. And there is plenty of room for new trees and new flowers of all kinds (Applause)...A garden needs a lot of care and a lot of love. And if you give your garden a lot of love, things grow. But first, some things must wither. Some trees die. Fresh young saplings take their place.

In the privacy of their home, attorney Franklin who had evicted Chauncey watched his interview with his wife (or girlfriend) Johanna (Denise DuBarry) - who was thoroughly impressed: "I think he's brilliant." The interview continued with another insightful question, followed by Chauncey's simplistic answer:

Gary Burns: But what about the bad seasons? Doesn't a country need to have someone in charge who can see it through these periods of crisis? A leader, capable of guiding us through the bad seasons as well as the good?
Chauncey: ...Yes, oh yes. We need a very good gardener. And I do agree with the President. The garden needs a lot of care. It is a good garden. Its trees are healthy....
Gary Burns: I realize this might be an extremely difficult question for you to answer, Mr. Gardiner, but do you feel that we have, in your words, a very good gardener in office at this time?...
Chauncey: Yes. Some plants do well in the sun and others grow better in the shade.
Gary Burns: It sounds as if we need a lot of gardening.
Chauncey: We certainly do. (Laughter)

However, some were not taken in by Chauncey's exceptionalism. Black maid-cook Louise was contemptuous and resentful as she watched TV (in the lobby of an cheap apartment complex or hotel for blacks) and saw the adoration of the racist US society for the completely inept Chance-Chauncey Gardiner - a white man:

It's for sure a white man's world in America....Hell, I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I'll say it right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between the ears, shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jack-ass. Look at him now! Yes sir, all you gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. (Applause on TV) Gobbledy-gook!

Chauncey described the kind of gardener he would be: "I am a very serious gardener." Together watching with Eve on his bed, Rand was impressed by Chauncey's performance: "Remarkable. (To Eve) You're fond of him too, aren't you, Eve?" Chauncey arrived back at the Rand estate to wild applause, congratulations, and enthusiasm from the staff. Attorney Thomas Franklin had a different reaction after the 10 o'clock airing of the show - he hurriedly dressed to visit his associate Sally Hayes in 20 minutes at a downtown bar: "I've just gotta talk to her about this Gardiner."

Benjamin requested that Chauncey take his place and escort Eve the following night, to attend a reception for the Soviet ambassador held by Senator Rowley's widow. And then Benjamin praised Chauncey's TV appearance: "Oh, Chauncey. You have the gift of being natural. That's a great talent, my boy. Oh, I hope the entire country was listening." In the White House bedroom, the President claimed he couldn't have sex with his eager wife who wanted to snuggle up next to him. At the same time, Eve was warming up to Chauncey for their next night's date. As she stood close to him, she confided: "I don't have very many friends, you know. And Ben's friends are, uh, oh, quite a bit older than I am. Quite a bit." She approached closer and gave Chauncey a prolonged kiss on the lips.

Meanwhile, Thomas Franklin was disturbed by Gardiner's interview, as he spoke to his associate Sally in a late-night DC cocktail-lounge-bar:

Sally: Oh, oh, oh. He was very clever. Keeping it at a third-grade level. That's what they understand.
Thomas: Yeah? Well, I don't understand why he was in Jennings' house. What was up his sleeve when he pulled that stunt with us? What was he doing and why?
Sally: Who knows? Maybe the government had something to do with it.
Thomas: You know, Sally? He made a fool out of me. And you know what that means, don't you? Any political future I had is right down the toilet. Jesus, the thought of spending the rest of my life as an attorney!...That is really a downer. And, Christ, Sally, I almost forgot. Johanna is starting to think something's going on.

In the same bar, financial editor Sidney Courtney persisted in questioning his female assistant Kinney, although she hadn't found out anything further about Chauncey's past: "I have been everywhere. There's no place left to look....Sure, try again. Where? There's nothing. It's like Gardiner never existed." Exasperated with him, she vowed: "I quit!"

The next morning in the White House, the President's advisor Kaufman was also stymied about Chauncey's past: "Sir, we were unable to...come up with any information before Mr. Gardiner appeared at the Rands." The FBI had discovered that Gardiner's suits were hand-made by a New York tailor in 1928, but the tailor went out of business in 1933 and later took his own life. Chauncey's fine underwear factory was destroyed by fire in 1948. Kaufman summarized the situation:

This man carries no identification. No driver's license. No wallet. No credit cards...Computers have analyzed his...vocal characteristics...but they cannot determine his ethnic background.

While Chauncey was eating from a breakfast-in-bed tray and watching Mr. Roger's Neighborhood on TV, Eve entered (with a robe over her nightgown). She congratulated him on his new-found popularity, the laudatory comments in the newspaper about his contributions to the President's speech (as "a principal architect"), and his TV show appearance. She sat on the side of his bed, but he was more interested in the TV show when Mr. McFeely demonstrated a Stereopticon, an old-time slide viewer. The singing of "You Are My Friend, You're Special" coincided with the feelings of unsatisfied, love-starved Eve, who had been sexually neglected for a long time by her dying financier husband suffering from impotence, as she tried to get simple-minded Chauncey's attention.

In the first part of a protracted 'seduction' sequence, Eve pushed Chauncey's breakfast tray away, touched his face and vigorously rubbed his head to try to signal her desires. She desperately tried to arouse the unresponsive Chauncey by showering his face with kisses, and by caressing and hugging him, as he struggled to continue robotically watching the show. She told him how grateful she was for his love:

I would've just opened up at the slightest touch. I would've just opened up, you know? You know that. But you're so strong that I can trust myself with you.

The Reception For the Soviet Ambassador:

As Chauncey escorted Eve to the black-tie reception for the Soviet Ambassador Mr. and Mrs. Vladimir (Richard Basehart) and Natasha Skrapinov (Hanna Hertelendy), hosted by Senator Rowley's widow Sophie (Melendy Britt), reporters shouted questions at him about his reaction to the Post and NY Times reports that he had a "peculiar brand of optimism." He was unable to respond except to flatly, cooly and detachedly express his sole life's interest:

I do not read papers. I watch TV....I like to watch TV.

One of the reporters was taken aback by Chauncey's bluntness, and turned to the TV camera with this candid assessment:

Well, few men in public life have the courage not to read the newspapers. None that this reporter has met have the guts to admit it.

Eve also complimented Chauncey: "I've never seen anyone handle the press the way you do. You're so cool and detatched."

During his conversation with the Ambassador, the literal-minded Chauncey charmed the man, who mistook Chauncey's simple sentences as "Krylovian" and began talking to him in Russian. Chauncey also thought that the Ambassador's statement about political policy positions: "We are not so far from each other" referred to their close physical proximity ("We are not so far from each other. Our chairs are almost touching").

At the same time in the Washington DC cocktail bar lounge, Courtney was continuing to discuss the investigation into Chauncey's background with the Washington Post's editor in chief Lyman Stuart (William Larsen), who pondered: "What is it about his background that they're trying to cover up? A criminal record? A membership in a subversive organization? Homosexual, perhaps." Meanwhile in the same bar, the Rand's family doctor Dr. Allenby was also perceptively doubting Chance's authenticity and profound truths, and speaking to attorney Franklin. He was filled in on the attorney's first encounter:

He told me that he had been living there since he was a child, working as a gardener. He showed us a room in the garage where he said he stayed. And I, well, I didn't really believe him, of course, but why the act?...He must have been involved on some major financial level with the deceased...Mr. Jennings, but our firm has no record of any such transactions.

Chauncey was approached by Ron Stiegler (Richard McKenzie) with a lucrative book-deal offer, to write "something about your political philosophy" for a six-figure advance. Chauncey declined: "I can't write." Ronald blithely responded: "Who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my children....I'll provide you with the very best ghostwriter, proofreaders." Chauncey went further: "I can't read." Again, Ron made excuses for him: "Of course you can't. No one has the time. We glance at things. We watch television." Chauncey perked up and replied with a mouthful of hors d'oeuvres: "I like to watch TV." Chauncey was later approached by a homosexual named Dennis Watson (Mitch Kreindel) who came on strong: "Where have you been all my life? Tell me, Mr. Gardiner. Have you ever had sex with a man?... We could go upstairs right now." Chauncey asked: "Is there a TV upstairs? I like to watch" - a sexually-loaded response, that brought a smile to Dennis' face: "You wait right here. I'll go get Warren."

During Allenby's conversation with Franklin, he learned about Chauncey's house tour at the Jennings residence. Allenby stressed that the two attorneys must keep their encounter with Chauncey a secret: "No telling what he could have been involved in."

In the President's bedroom, the First Lady and her husband lay on their backs in bed silent and separated - again, the President was sexually (and politically?) impotent - unable to engage in sex due to his suspicions and preoccupation with the background search for Chauncey's past. She blamed his job: "This never happened when you were a Senator." A phone call alerted the President to further developments: "The CIA or the FBI destroyed Gardiner's files before anyone could get to them...Neither agency will admit to a thing." Shortly later, in a conference with his top men, the President learned more:

  • CIA Chief Baldwin (Stanley Grover): "Gardiner is not a foreign agent...There are now 16 countries investigating the man."
  • FBI Director Honeycutt (Ned Wilson) - (On Chauncey's erased history): "The only one capable of pulling this off would be an ex-FBI man."

On the limousine drive home from the reception, Eve put her hand on Chauncey's thigh and expressed her unsubtle sexual desire for him - and mentioned her husband's tacit approval: "I feel so close to you, Chauncey. I feel safe. Ben understands my feelings for you, by the way, and he accepts them." When they arrived and were riding up in the elevator, Eve further hinted her desire to sleep with him: "It's very hard for me to leave you." In his bedroom, Rand was selling off some of his stock shares, as Dr. Allenby watched from the shadows. Ben claimed he was cleaning up "some loose ends" and "getting rid of the dead wood," because the end was inevitably near. Allenby was about to divulge the "Chauncey" charade, but kept silent when the dying Ben expressed comfort in him:

He makes me feel good. Since he's been around, the thought of dying has been much easier for me.

The Seduction Sequence:

The second major seduction scene played out that evening. Chauncey sat in his PJs on the end of his bed, watching the famed kissing scene from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) between Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen that blurred into a kaleidoscope of color as they spun around. Sex-hungry Eve in her nightgown entered with an open invitation: "Chauncey. I couldn't stand it." She hungrily took him in her arms and kissed him. As he kept one eye on the TV screen, he tried to mimic the kiss from the movie - the reason for their orbital spinning-kiss. But when the movie kiss ended, so did Chauncey's ardor, and Eve asked nervously and hesitatingly about his sexual preferences: "What's wrong? What's the matter, Chauncey? I don't know what you like. I'm sorry." He responded to the question about his sexual proclivities with a shocking but understandable line - "I like to watch" - an expression of his passivity, stunted blankness, disconnectedness, emptiness, and lack of maturity:

Chauncey: I like to watch, Eve...I like to watch.
Eve: Oh, you mean me? You mean you'd like to watch me do, do it?
Chauncey: It's very good, Eve.

His most famous line about his joy of watching TV was misinterpreted or misunderstood by the amorous Eve as an invitation to kinky voyeurism. She viewed his statement as an excuse to sexually arouse and stimulate herself. He sat on the end of the bed (oblivious to her) to continue watching TV, changing the channel to an early Edgar G. Robinson gangster film Little Caesar (1931), as she complied with his request by first removing her outer robe. She admitted her shyness, then reclined onto the floor.

She laid on a full-sized bear-skin rug while grabbing onto the massive bedpost. Meanwhile, he had changed the channel and was now watching a yoga exercise program from the nearby bed - with the spoken words of the instructor: "How strong is my abdominal muscle? This next exercise is trying to sort of explore, and with any explorer, go slowly" - as Eve was beginning to explore and feel her own sexual pleasure as she masturbated herself nearby to a satisfying orgasm. Chauncey mimicked the yoga exercises - and even tried to perform a hand-stand in the middle of the bed, oblivious to Eve nearby.

Rand's Death and Memorial Service:

The next morning, a medical emergency was declared in Rand's bedroom, as Dr. Allenby prepared a CVP line, while Ben weakly requested: "No more shots. Uh. No more." The doctor provided a negative prognosis: "It's not good, Ben" - something Ben had anticipated: "I know." The curtains were drawn in his bedroom.

Nearby on the outer mansion patio, fur-coated Eve extolled Chauncey's virility and sex appeal that had unleashed her own desires:

You uncoil my wants. Desire flows within me. And when you watch me, my passion, it dissolves the desire. You set me free, Chauncey. And I reveal myself to myself, and I am drenched and purged.

Chauncey was called to Rand's death-bedside, where the industrialist realized the end was near, and he entrusted Eve to Chauncey's care - his final words:

I think I'm going to surrender the horn of plenty for the horn of Gabriel. Give me your hand. Let me feel your strength. Chauncey. I hope that you'll stay here with Eve. Take care of her. She cares for you. Watch over her. She's a delicate flower....There's so, so much left to do. I've spoken to my ̶ my associates. They're eager, very eager to meet you. Tell Eve that...

Chauncey reacted to Ben's death with an obvious truism: "I've seen this before. It happens to old people." The doctor confirmed that he would be leaving the Rand residence in a few days, and Chauncey noted that Eve was not going to close up the house. Allenby recognized Chauncey's ("Chance's") close friendship with Eve, and then asked the film's central and obvious secret:

Allenby: And you really are a gardener, aren't you?
Chauncey: I-I am a gardener...
Allenby: I understand. I understand?

At the memorial funeral for Rand held on the grounds of the estate, the President read quotes from the late businessman, as six pallbearers carried Rand's coffin to its last resting place in a stone mausoleum fifty yards up a series of steps.

[Note: The place of entombment was in the shape of a pyramid with the image of a great eye at its apex - the same symbol found on the back of the $1 dollar bill, therefore connecting Rand's financial interests with his spiritual resting place. Inscribed beneath the RAND name on the tomb was the faintly-readable quote: "LIFE IS A STATE OF MIND."]

These quotes were heard (on and off-screen) during the film's final minutes:

  • "I have no use for those on welfare. No patience whatsoever. But if I am to be honest with myself, I must admit that they have no use for me either."
  • "I do not regret having political differences with men that I respect. I do regret, however, that our philosophies kept us apart."
  • "I have heard the word 'Sir' more often than I have heard the word 'friend', but I suppose there are other rewards for wealth."
  • "I have met with kings. During these conferences, I have suppressed bizarre thoughts that I beat him in a foot race, that I throw a ball further than he. No matter what our facades, we are all children."
  • "I was born into a position of extreme wealth. And I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about extreme poverty. I've lived a lot, trembled a lot, was surrounded by little men who forgot that we enter naked and exit naked and that no accountant can audit life in our favor."

During the readings, the confirmed, totally innocent idiot Chauncey had wandered away from the ceremony with his umbrella into a wooded area with snow on the ground close by to Rand's estate. While on his jaunt, Chauncey stooped down and protectively lifted a dead fallen branch off a new green sapling, and he straightened and strengthened the plant's thin but growing trunk - winter was merging into the promising new plants of springtime. He also noticed a partially-submerged fallen dead tree (or branch) in the middle of a pond, and began to walk toward it.

The group of pallbearers, all Washington power-brokers, whispered to each other (on- and off-camera) during their trek to the mausoleum about the current bid for the Presidency. They felt that most candidates were boring, that the current President needed to be ousted because he was a complete failure and served only as a losing figurehead ("It would be absolute lunacy to support the President for another term"), and that the country needed to be "awakened" with some new candidate: "Gentlemen, time is running out. We must come to a decision."

In the film's mystical, incongruous conclusion, one of the six pallbearers declared that Chauncey Gardiner would be an excellent choice - because with such a mysterious background and past with no identifying papers, he would be free of the taint of scandal or objection: ("We don't have an inkling of his past....That could be an asset. A man's past cripples him. His background turns into a swamp and invites scrutiny. Up until this time, he hasn't said anything that can be held against him"):

I do believe, Gentlemen, if we want to hold on to the Presidency, our one and only chance is Chauncey Gardiner.

The last line of dialogue in the film was the final quote from the late Mr. Rand, read at the memorial funeral by the President:

When I was a boy, I was told that the Lord fashioned us from his own image. That's when I decided to manufacture mirrors. Security, tranquility, a well-deserved rest. All the aims I have pursued will soon be realized. Life is a state of mind.

By that time, totally innocent idiot Chance-Chauncey Gardiner had blithely stepped onto the pond and literally walked on the water - not understanding or even realizing his human limitations. He tested the depth of the water with the length of his umbrella - and then continued walking away from the camera. This final scene - with a Gainax ending - gave the film a fanciful element, and left the viewer debating, wondering about, and struggling to interpret the fable-like story. Had the film's Fool actually become the film's Christ-like Saint? [Note: One of the film's major posters - see above - presented Chance as walking in mid-air.]

The final six words of the film, delivered by the President at the funeral, were heard from a distance: "Life is a state of mind" - reinforcing the idea that Chance's blank tabula rasa mind and essential differences from others enabled him to perform the supernatural or impossible (as he had already been doing throughout the entire film!). The screen turned to black.

The credits followed with various outtakes or retakes, in some versions) that seemed incongruous to the concluding mood of the film.

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