Being There

The Mrs. and I settled in to watch Being There a couple of weeks ago.  It had been probably 15 years since I last saw it, and my memory was a tad fuzzy.  The movie was dryer than I had remembered.  I’m not sure that Hal Ashby was fully effective in hypothesizing the effects of being raised on television, but that’s really a side issue to his major themes of communication and perception.  Television is probably just a suitable medium for providing a great form of baby-sitting, without conveying any actual real educational value.

It’s a thought provoking film, about the power of perception and assertion to effectively create a reality that has no basis in actual reality.  If the right person believes you to be erudite and deep, then you are.  If enough people decide that this person is correct in their assessment of you, then very little you say or do is likely to be seen for what it is.  Rather, it will be filtered through the lens of the person asserting that you are wise and intelligent.  Reality is not nearly as important as what certain people say about reality. 

All of which has interesting implications in how we live our lives.  We all experience this in different ways.  In childhood we’re labeled this, that, or the other, and regardless of what we do or say, to those people that’s who or what we are.  It can be very, very difficult to break free of those sorts of labels.  The same thing happens in family dynamics, work dynamics – all over.  We are constantly asserting a certain understanding of the reality around us that may or may not be accurate.  But our ability to objectively see the error of our assessment is severely limited.

The film’s closing visual scene takes all of this into a potentially theological plane as well.  I won’t divulge the details, but it’s a visual that is acutely related to certain Biblical accounts of an action Jesus is said to have performed.   While Being There is not what I would call a specifically theological film, I have to wonder what Ashby’s intentions were with closing on such a different note.  Was he simply demonstrating the power of assertions about reality, so that the impossible becomes not only plausible, but possible and actual?  Was he asserting that this is the explanation for Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ miracles?  The closing seemed so incongruous with the flow of the rest of the film, that I still am not sure what to make of it.

The one unusual fact about this film’s portrayal of the creation of reality is that the main character, Chance the Gardener (who becomes Chauncey Gardner) is completely uninvolved in the process.  Not only is he uninvolved, he is completely unaware.  He neither seeks to exploit or rectify the confusions about his identity and capabilities, because he is ultimately unaware of those around him and their needs and desires of him.  The world for him is very much a sort of interactive television – it’s not really real, and therefore he doesn’t really take it seriously.  There’s no need to – none of it is real.  Not the danger, or the confusion, or the sorrow, or the death or the passion or the joy.  It’s all just an elaborate television show.   He is reaffirmed in this, because whenever he attempts to divulge some realness of himself, it is ignored, just as though he were talking to the television.

It was interesting to note that Hal Ashby also directed Harold and Maude, another very strange movie that I recently watched again after viewing it about 17 years ago. 

One Response to “Being There”

  1. JP Says:

    I will have to watch this movie. Sounds interesting. You should check out a movie I just watched called “The Visitor.” Really great stuff, something you would like…or would at least be able to dissect. The primary story deals with life–checking out of it, pretending to live it, going though the motions of it, but in fact devoid of it. This primary story is wrapped in a plot that deals with issues such as post-9/11 America, immigration, and cross-cultural communication. Check it out.

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