Movies: Being There

Being There-0I recently had the pleasure of re-watching the 1979 Hal Ashby classic, Being There. It stars an aging Peter Sellers and was the last film of his released during his lifetime. If you enjoy thoughtful stories with deep currents under their surface, this is a must-see, a best-of-breed. The film was critically acclaimed, and Sellers and the screenplay rightfully won a number of awards.

A core motif of the film is mistaken identity with hints of The Emperor’s New Clothes contrasted with our reaction to authenticity. It’s also a political satire and a look at the ever-growing relationship we have with television.

That’s a lot to bite off, but it does it almost flawlessly!

Being There-1

Chance, the gardener.

You can read more detail on the Wiki page, but basically the plot involves a character named Chance (Peter Sellers). No real last name is ever provided, and we are left to wonder at how he got the name, Chance. A tag line of the film is, “A story of Chance.”

As the plot unfolds, his self-identification as “Chance, the gardener” is mistaken for “Chauncey Gardiner” — a name that, of course, turns up no back history for those who end up investigating him.

Two important things about Chance are that he has never, in his entire life, left the confines of the townhouse in which he was born and where he works as gardener for “the old man.” The only other human in his life is the maid, Louise, who has raised him (Louise is an older black woman, clearly not his mother).

The other key thing about Chance is that, other than gardening, everything he knows comes from television, which he watches during all his waking hours. Any television program seems to compel his complete attention. He is, in almost every way, a middle-aged child.

The death of “the old man” forces Chance to leave the townhouse and venture, utterly unprepared and ignorant, into the outer world of Washington, D.C. (where the film takes place).

Being There-2

Chance, the TV watcher, and Louise, the maid. Here she is explaining to him that “the old man” has died. The import of which completely escapes him, but which ends up forcing him into the outside world.

Everyone he encounters — with one notable exception — read into his innocence and ignorance their own ideas. Chance is an inkblot — there truly is nothing there but a smear of ink — but that lack of anything allows us to see our selves reflected back.

This seems to operate on two levels. Firstly, there is the idea from the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes. That ancient tale is about phonies and pretenders. No one — except an innocent young lad — is willing to say what they really see. Everyone plays the game of “going along” with what they’re supposed to believe.

I’ve long thought the fable plays out with some art critics, particularly some film critics. There is a complex language of film that experience and education teaches. One does learn to see the things behind the things. I’m not saying art or film criticism is always pretense.

But the danger of art analysis is reading yourself and your own ideas into what you see. Most art has some degree of ink blot property that enables this, some much more than others. Abstract and surreal art, for example.

[As an aside, I’ve never “gotten” the films of David Lynch. They seem like gibberish to me. And yet some critics rave over his films. I’ve never been sure if I’m just not astute enough to understand them, or if David Lynch is a naked emperor. I definitely lean towards the latter, but maybe they’re just above me.]

Being There-3

Chance, who likes to watch (TV). That phrase leads to the one thing that bothered me a bit watching the film this time (see first comment below).

There is a second way to look at what happens when people encounter Chance (a name that is, ironically, absolutely is not chance).

There is nothing inauthentic about Chance. He is as pure and genuine as a human can be.

Sometimes, when confronted with an apparently naked emperor, calmness and authenticity lead us to an abiding certainty that we simply can’t see the clothes, that we have somehow missed the point.

[Which is exactly my dilemma with David Lynch… minus the authenticity. Lynch famously refuses to discuss or explain his films, and I — a life-long believer in clarity and explanation — find that very suspicious and definitely not authentic. I can’t help but think Lynch creates deliberate ink blots in which others see things. I just see… ink.]

In seeking that missing point, in looking for understanding in the ink blot, we find only ourselves. And yet Chance’s purity seems to open a door into our better selves. Those who interact with Chance seem to benefit from that interaction. It may be that Chance’s innate goodness, rather than his perspicacity, is what drives this.

A central idea expressed by Chance (and mistaken for meaning far more than it means) has to do with nurturing a garden and the inevitable change of seasons. But perhaps it is no mistake at all to enlarge Chance’s meaning this way. A very wealthy dying man (Melvyn Douglas), and his widow-to-be (Shirley MacLaine), both find peace and beauty through knowing Chance.

Being There-6

Ben and Eve Rand. Their last name is surely no coincidence (and you can call her Shirley). I’m not so certain about the possible biblical hints of “Eve” although it is suggestive.

The one man who seems not to see his own reflection in Chance is a kindly medical doctor (played by Richard Dysart). The politicians (even the POTUS, Jack Warden) and the business-minded, in particular, fail to see the truth, and so does Eve Rand (MacLaine).

The doctor gradually comes to realize that what he sees is exactly what is there. Yet, due to Chance’s purity and innocence, this realization just explains a puzzle. It doesn’t discommode the doctor, but comforts him.

There are suggestions of a sort of divinity: We never meet Chance’s mother or hear about the circumstances of his birth. We never meet “the old man” he works for except after his death. Just to be clear, two old men die during the film: “the old man” — Chance’s employer (father?) — and Ben Rand, who adopts Chance (second father?).

We have no real sense of Chance’s past and upbringing. He is as much tabula rasa to us as he is to others. It’s the final scene makes it hard to ignore the idea that Chance is something special, perhaps even something divine.

Attending the funeral of Ben Rand (Eve’s husband, and isn’t “Rand” a suggestive name), Chance wanders away from the service (while the pall bearers quietly discuss the idea of making Chance the next President — something that, if you think it through, would probably lead to his “crucifixion” by the media, politicians, and public).

Being There-4

Chance, helping a small evergreen tree that was being crushed by a dead branch.

Alone in the woods, Chance removes a large dead branch from a small evergreen and straightens — nurtures — the little tree. He pauses, then, looking out over a small lake and then walks out over the water towards some tree branches growing from the lake.

At one point he pauses and sticks his umbrella down into the water all the way to the handle. Then he continues to walk out across the water, and that is the final image of the film.

Which all begs the question: Huh?!

Can Chance walk on water because he doesn’t know any better? That seems a stretch for a gardener. The bit can’t help but evoke the idea of the one other guy who famously walked on water.

The bit with the umbrella is what really intrigues me. What does it suggest about Chance’s understanding of walking on water? Is he surprised? (He’s too far away to see the expression on his face.) Is he merely testing the depth, or playing like a child?

We, like everyone who meets Chance, are left to see ourselves and our own ideas reflected back to us. And, also like everyone else in the film, we tend to be uplifted by that reflection. Perhaps Chance is a mirror for our better selves.

Being There-5

Chance, walking on water. This scene was very well done. You can’t see any hint of the platform that makes this work!

Being There touches us and makes us think and leaves us joyful. And perhaps there is a greater lesson to be had about our own approach to the world, our own (often lost) innocence, and our own child-like nature.

Incidentally, you might want to skip the credits at the end. They roll over a long outtake where Peter Sellers is delivering (or trying to) a funny bit of monologue in a dead-pan voice. He fails again and again. It’s very humorous, but it completely breaks the fourth wall of the film and steps on the mood established by the final scene. Maybe stop the film at that point and watch it later.

I’ll leave you with a bit from the film. Music is used sparingly. What little does appear is mostly classical, but the single notable exception is a really tasty jazz rendition of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra by Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato. The music is used under the scenes where Chance leaves the townhouse for the outer world. That is, when he is born. It’s a great piece of music and a great fit to that part of the film.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

27 responses to “Movies: Being There

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I mentioned in the above-fold punchline that the film was “almost flawless.” The flow of the article didn’t seem to allow for a riff on the “almost” part, so here it is:

    The mistaken identity motif is a challenging one to write (and this is a very tiny criticism in part due to the difficulty of getting that right). The dialog has to work on two levels. The mistaken character has to say things that make sense from two angles. Likewise, what others say also has to work two ways. Saying the wrong thing — usually saying the natural thing — exposes the mistaken identity.

    Chance asserts several times that he “likes to watch TV.” In two scenes — one of which is an important scene, one of which is a throwaway — he says only that he “likes to watch.” That failure to mention “TV” is key to the misunderstanding that occurs in those scenes. If he says “TV” the scene doesn’t work, so the elision is necessary. But that means the plot is driving the script rather than the characters.

    It all hinges on how much you feel Chance would have added “TV” in those scenes. It’s possible to believe he might not have, so it’s a very minor thing. (It did pop out at me, though.)

    As an aside, the best, most perfect and incredibly funny, mistaken identity film I know is the Bill Murray film, The Man Who Knew Too Little. Even after several viewings I have yet to spot a single flaw in the dialog. Plus, it’s incredibly funny. I rank it up there with Airplane and Holy Grail (slightly higher in that it takes place in a more realistic world with more realistic people).

  • Hariod Brawn

    It’s been many years since I watched Being There, and your excellent review reminds me to view it again at some point. I like the conceit that openness and literalness confounds, as if in failing to codify our speech in the cloaks of cultural norms, we are somehow subversive, threatening even. Perhaps the film is in some way a paean to the lost art of directness and literal purity, and invites us to question whether our best interests are served from within a complex of analogy, reinterpretation, subtext, argots and so on. I don’t know; I would like to watch the film again to really get a handle on it. As to Lynch, I think the mistake is in looking for narrative; his work is best viewed just as a meditation, one in which we look at our immediate response to what is present rather than always reaching forwards and backwards searching for threads of meaning that simply aren’t there.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      One thing that always concerns me about the remembered gems from younger days is whether the world — or I — have moved on enough to make them seem no longer as wonderful as I remember them. The more cherished or revered a memory, the stronger is that sense. Worse, in some cases you realize what charmed you then never really warranted it — that youth and time have fooled you. But Being There survives the test of time and clearly deserved its acclaim then and now. So I think you’d enjoy very much seeing it again, is my point. 🙂

      I’ve heard somewhat the same about Lynch from critics as well as friends who like his work. Perhaps I just don’t have the interest in surrealism that some do. A common statement is that Lynch works on the level of dreams, but film is already dream-like in how it distorts time and place. Too many people I know and respect hold him in regard for me to dismiss him casually, but I can never shake the feeling he’s got everyone fooled.

      Whatever. The only thing that’s completely clear there is that he and I are totally not on the same wavelength. Maybe it’s that I do require at least some thread of meaning to grab onto. [shrug]

      • Hariod Brawn

        On your point about ‘remembered gems’, I can’t think of any of my own that I’d now be embarrassed to call the same. This isn’t to say that my taste was ever particularly good, and is perhaps as much a reflection of my narrow exposure to the arts during my childhood. The first vinyl single I ever bought, then because I was awed by its musicality, was Stevie Wonder’s I was made to love her [July 1967], which I think stands the test of time very well. The first film that made any impression upon me was The Ipcress File [1965], mainly for its atmospheric soundtrack and what seemed to me then a curious mix of the mundane and the enigmatic – a contrast to what I had previously assumed to be the exotic world of espionage that people like Bond and Illya Kuryakin inhabited. Moving into the seventies, then music such as Little Feat and Steely Dan – two of my favourites – definitely stand the test of time, though by then I was a young adult. So, come on Wyrd – what were the first single and film that captured your childhood mind?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, sad to say, I was a musical dud in terms of popular and rock until around college. I was exposed to a lot of classical and church music through my dad and mom (the pastor and church organist-choir director), but never really instructed on how to appreciate it. That came later. Someone at church introduced my dad to Simon and Garfunkel, and I took to them like the proverbial duck to water. That’s probably my first exposure to modern music. I still have high regard for their work, and I’ve been a Paul Simon fan ever since (I rank Graceland among my favorite albums).

        A high school girlfriend introduced me to the Moody Blues. Again: duck to water. I still like them, but they’re far from being the brightest star in my musical heavens. (The Justin Hayward solo stuff: meh!) The first albums I bought were likely Moody Blues. Or Neal Diamond, another I got into in high school. I still like his early stuff, but around the Beautiful Noise album [1976] I kinda lost interest.

        I got into Fleetwood Mac in college — they played in our gymnasium [1974] — and around that time began seriously paying attention to music. Musically my tastes seem very eclectic, and I like just about everything. I can’t think of any musical artists that I remember as “gems” but now find lackluster. If anything, I just keep finding more gems.

        Little Feat is a favorite band for me, too, although I got into them post-George (my first Feat album was Let it Roll [1988]).

        The first movie that impressed me… Wow, no clue! I seem to remember what I take from fiction more than the fiction itself. (For example, I recall the strangeness and gritty reality of The Ipcress File, but couldn’t tell you the plot to save my life.) Part of the problem might be the severe hearing deficit I was born with. Dialog — and especially lyrics — were (are!) not accessible to me, and that has a major impact on how one absorbs music and movies.

        Fiction, in various forms but especially books, has played a far more significant role in my life than music. And I was definitely a television child. Many of the past loves that didn’t endure were television shows: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible were two favorite shows that fond memories led to DVD purchases. I can see what I loved in them, but they’re a little hard to watch now. On the other hand, there’s something about the original Star Trek that endures.

        Mostly it’s individual works — invariably fiction works — that trigger the sense of “will I still love this as much as I did” fear. And it’s usually founded less on love than reverence. As such, it traces more to stuff since college (when I began to learn reverence for great works) rather than earlier.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Ah, well now I got into classical and liturgical music much later in life, and I would say they are the forms of music that I would take in my seclusion to a desert island – do you have a version of that show Desert Island Discs in the States? Wells Cathedral is a 10-minute drive across the Somerset Levels (fenlands) and there I can hear a world class choir at evensong any day of the week – for free! And they even know I’m a Buddhist faking interest in all the rest of the show!

        I never really got into Simon and Garfunkel, though I do love close harmonies – Everly Brothers, Beatles etc. I was once having a mug of tea with George Harrison at his place (business connection) and he was a bit scathing of them much to my surprise (him normally being very gentle). He referred to them as ‘Marks & Spencer’ which is a famous High St. clothing retailer here in England, and quite a put down when you consider the famously ubiquitous blandness of M&S ‘fashion’ – it’s where grandparents by their clothing. There may have been more to it than him regarding them disdainfully on a musical basis – perhaps there were some ‘transgressions’ of another kind; he was a little prone to that sort of thing.

        We’re definitely together on Little Feat, which we knew anyway, though your other early preferences I can’t say I shared. And you seem to remember The Ipcress File in the same way I do too, with a fairly large question mark hovering above the plot line – not, I think, caused by any Lynchian directorship, but more down to my undeveloped 10 year-old powers of deduction I’m sure.

        So, closing question: you’re shipwrecked, but mysteriously you get to salvage by choice five vinyl discs (songs) and a record player – which songs do you choose?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Hmmmm… I guess that explains why I never liked the Beatles. :\ (Seriously! I didn’t dislike them, but they never held any interest for me. I really liked The Who (loved Tommy), and — to a much lesser extent — Rolling Stones. But when it came to the Beatles, I was always “meh.” For that matter, Paul McCartney also never did anything for me… Paul Simon, on the other hand, I like a lot!)

        That said, my early musical tastes were definitely very bland and vanilla. Neal Diamond, for example. And the Moody Blues were a fairly “safe” band compared to many of the day. I was fairly highly isolated until I started college.

        The Ipcress File is, as I recall (ha!), a little opaque. Not, as you say, in the Lynchian surrealist way, but more, perhaps, in the Nicholas Roeg way. Roeg has this idea that “you don’t know everything in life” and therefore you don’t know everything in his films, either. The Man Who Fell To Earth is a good example of Roeg’s philosophy that way. It’s possible the original Len Deighton novel was also a bit on the opaque side. It’s been a long while since I read any Deighton, but I seem to recall he was a bit like Graham Greene and John le Carré that way. (I may be conflating movies based on their works.)

        Five tunes? That’s… an impossible question. I can’t imagine five distinct tunes I like enough to include. We recently talked about some Bruce Cockburn tunes I really like, but I can’t imagine listening to any tune as much as the question implies. I reject the question!

        Now ask me about five books, and it’s a whole different story. Even five movies, maybe, but five tunes is like five poems. I can’t imagine such a thing. I might be able to name five albumsGraceland, Bat Out of Hell, City to City (Gerry Rafferty), the Grateful Dead’s “Skull and Roses” album, and… Rattle and Hum (U2). But, man, that leaves so many others that are just as good.

        Steve Miller (several), The Last Waltz (The Band, et alii), a lot of Pink Floyd, a lot of Peter Gabriel, some Genesis, a lot of Ian Hunter, several Eric Clapton albums, Let It Roll (and others by Feat), a couple Joni Mitchell albums, Son of Schmilsson, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a couple of Cat Stevens albums,… and that’s not only just rock, but older rock. Haven’t even scratched the surface of more recent stuff, let alone jazz, country, blues, etc.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Incidentally, I do have a “final answer” to the age-old version of that game: What three items would you want on a desert island.

        1. A computer with a big HD screen, a giant disk loaded with all my favorite books, movies and music, along with a solar charger.
        2. A Star Trek food replicator (complete with fusion power source — which could also power the laptop if necessary.
        3. A young nymphomaniac.
      • Hariod Brawn

        Mate, you’re in danger of drowning in indecision by the looks of it! That radio show has been running continuously over here since January 1942. You get to pick 8 pieces of music and a single luxury item, though in ‘reality’, you’d of course want 8 books to while away the years. I can’t think of a single pop or rock tune that I wouldn’t get bored with pretty quickly. I think I’d have to choose a bunch of Bach really. A few years ago, BBC Radio had a 5 day period at Christmas over which they played everything he ever wrote, and it was just incredible to become enveloped in his musicality so completely. I can’t imagine getting bored with Bach no matter after however many repetitions. I think the timeless nature of the music would help me in staying sane on the island too; there’s perhaps many fewer evocative reference points to one’s own life as there inevitably are with popular music, which tends to set itself in time and place more so. As to my luxury, I’d probably ask for a Border Collie. Or a brewery perhaps?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I agree about pop and rock music. Jazz or classical would definitely be better music to pick if you really had to pick a tiny, tiny, tiny subset of all possible music to listen to for whatever period of time is involved. More complexity makes music bear repeated hearings much better, indeed.

        To be honest, I get a bit quarrelsome about hypothetical questions like this (and usually can’t avoid smartass answers). I think my reaction is similar to your reaction to science fiction. I realize they’re designed to probe some specific aspect of ones feelings or opinion, but they seem so incredibly artificial and unreal to me that any answer seems meaningless. It makes it hard for me to take them very seriously. [shrug]

        I would definitely trade any number of tunes for a dog! A brewery would be pretty nice, too. Does it come with a full staff and refrigeration? (Do any women work in this hypothetical brewery? 😀 )

      • Hariod Brawn

        Aha, now they’re the choices of a thinking man! But wait a minute . . . what if the nymphomaniac turns out to be as mad as a box of frogs? Remember, you’re only 2 minutes away from total disinterest. Alright, say, 5.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, the third item is meant to be a punchline and not to be taken seriously. If I did mean it, I’d be a lot more specific and probably specify one of my old loves (with amnesia so she thinks we’re still a thing). Although, at this age, and after so many train wrecks… honestly,… I’d go with that Border Collie.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I will come back once I’ve seen it. Thanks for the spoiler alert!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      If one can really spoil a 35-year-old story. 😀

      There is a debate among some as to how old a work can be before one can be casual in discussing the plot and careful of spoilers. It seems a bit much, for example, to worry about spoilers when discussing Sherlock Holmes, but the newer a work is, the more the question occurs. I think the damage a spoiler can do to a story is also part of the equation… The Sixth Sense, for example, is a story one would hate to spoil for anyone.

      Spoilers here likely wouldn’t ruin the ending. The way the Martians destroy all life on Earth isn’t really key to the story; neither is the bit about Zeus appearing with thunderbolts. XD

      See ya back here once you’ve seen it! 🙂

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I think you’re spot on with the Jesus=Chance thing. Also, I wonder if “the old man” was referred to several times as “the man upstairs”? Did we ever see him? I don’t remember, but I get the feeling his death was supposed to be something like “God is dead.” Then “Chance” goes out into the real world=Christ coming to earth? Or am I reading too much into this?

    With that title I fully expected to get something Heideggarian out of it, but I really couldn’t. There’s also a book titled “Being There”…it’s about Heidegger. I stumbled across that title just today, by chance.

    I didn’t understand the TV stuff at all. What does that mean? Is it merely a criticism of TV? I can’t help but think that that moment when “Chance” sees himself on the TV screen in the shop window means something, but I have no idea what that would be.

    My criticism of the movie would be of Chauncey’s character. He seemed like he might be extremely autistic or mentally delayed or something. I didn’t see how that played into the whole. As you say, that bit of dialogue in which he omits “TV” from “I like to watch” felt forced. I thought there were a lot of instances of that and I couldn’t see how those around him couldn’t recognize that he was simple minded.

    Or maybe his simplicity means something too? I don’t know if his simplicity was “pure” in a Jesus sort of way. His fixation on TV destroys that for me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m not sure about “God is dead; Christ is born.” That might be reading too much, but the old man’s death (I believe we only see him after he’s dead) is hugely significant. Especially with the use of music there, the “Chance is born” connection seems unmistakeable.

      Yes, the film is, in large part, a criticism of TV. Observers of the day were concerned about TV taking over our lives and there were the first hints of concern about violence. At the same time was a recognition that TV didn’t do well at presenting the real world.

      Seeing himself on TV… Well, on one level obviously a situation that results in Eve Rand taking him home. I’m not sure I can name what the scene is about on a deeper level, but it is a fascinating scene. Chance has revered TV; it’s what he knows of reality outside the house. But he’s never seen himself on TV, never seen himself in the reality TV presents. Suddenly he’s part of that reality. This happens just as he becomes part of the larger physical reality, so it echos that change. Later he appears on (real) TV and takes it in stride.

      It’s possible that first scene helps set up the scene of being on real TV. His calmness (“Oh, yes,… I’ve been on TV before.”) feeds into their perception of the character as worldly and experienced.

      Yes, I agree, Chance seems simple-minded to the point of abnormality. It seems impossible savvy business people would be so taken in. The story is, I’m sure, allegorical, so a certain amount of behavior has to follow the script. The other characters have to react to him in a certain way. It’s an over-exaggeration of real-life behaviors to make a point.

      But it’s hard to read as a story that would “really” take place. People just don’t act like that (not even in the 1970s).

      I do think that his simplicity is a big part of the statement. I think the movie asks us whether we think Chance is merely a fool or is something special. Even the doctor, who figures him out, sees him in a positive light.

      There seems almost a reference to how followers of Jesus dropped everything to follow a new path. Something in a single meeting altered the course of their lives. Chance has that effect on people. (I don’t think he’s supposed to be Jesus so much as remind us of Jesus.)

      His fixation on TV (I agree, it seems to deny any divinity) could be a reference to TV’s drug-like aspects. His inability to ignore the TV and be present in the moment with real people does seem a negative trait for the character. In the sex scene with Eve it’s almost bothersome how he ignores her. (Although maybe the point is that he is hugely uncomfortable with Eve’s approaching him and escapes to the TV? It has been his refuge and solace.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        LOL—”not even in the 1970s.”

        You don’t think that “the man upstairs” represents God?

        I agree that he’s not supposed to be Jesus, but remind us of him. What do you think of the fact that he’s named “Chance”? And the nature/gardening aspects? Does this represent a Darwinian view of nature? Or am I taking things too far?

        The sex scene where he “watches” Eve was annoying for me because she doesn’t seem to notice that he’s not paying attention to her. It’s just so strange. I don’t know that he’s uncomfortable with her…he seems too out of it to be uncomfortable. The parts where he mimics what’s on TV to get through his sexual encounter are pretty funny though.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m trying to remember when “man upstairs” comes up. Isn’t it someone else misunderstanding what Chance says about “the old man”? Something along the lines of Ben Rand says, “You’re talking about the man upstairs?” Chance nods, “Yes. He lived upstairs.” (Or am I just making that up?)

        I guess what gets in the way of my seeing “the old man” as god is not seeing what sense “god dies; Chance/Jesus gets kicked out of heaven” makes as an interpretation. Plus, two old men die in the film, both men that took Chance into their homes, so if “the old man” is god, who is Ben Rand? He seems on par in some ways. Other than that, I’d agree, but then we both agree Chance really isn’t Jesus, so may be “the old man” = god is over-seeing?

        I don’t know that gardening is Darwinian. Quite the opposite since gardeners often subvert nature. I do think the gardening thing is an important symbol. Maybe just the idea of nurturing? There’s that bit when Chance is exploring D.C. and sees a sick tree. He mentions to a nearby cop that he (the cop) should report it. As Chance walks away we see the cop doing just that. It’s another exchange where Chance seems to be taken seriously by those he meets. And there is the sense that Chance was right about the tree. He himself nurtures a little tree in that last scene. Whoever he is, he seems to have some connection with nature.

        Yeah, the sex scene was awkward. I’m totally reading into it that he’s uncomfortable (internally). When she first kisses him, he seems taken aback. Then he (coincidentally — another black mark for the scene) sees someone kissing on TV and uses that to know how to kiss her back. (She, somehow, seems completely unaware of his lack of “being there” — yet another black mark.) It actually kind of brings the movie to a halt. His yoga pose there at the end just seems silly slapstick. Jarring.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Yes, good point about gardening being a subversion of nature. That it definitely is. I just wondered how “Chance” could tie into nature. I imagined it had something to do with “God is dead”…that all that’s left now is chance occurrences to be interpreted as you will?

        I also wonder about the old man at the end. What is his role? I can see “the man upstairs” in that symbolic way, but the other old man eludes me. What was his religious leaning? that might shed light on his role.

        I’m a little dopey right now. Just throwing things out there…I hope it makes some sort of sense, maybe if looked at sideways. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I don’t know who Ben Rand (plus Eve Rand) is supposed to be.

        I’ll have to think about the name, Chance, some more. I wonder if it means “random” in the sense that Chance is like an ink blot to people (or like a fire or clouds). People see themselves reflected by what is really random “chance” (such as forms an ink blot). One of the movie’s tag lines is, “A story of chance.” Maybe it’s about chance happenings that result in the outcomes we saw.

        I’m pretty sure Ben Rand worshiped at the church of (Ayn) Rand. I think the film pre-dates the recent popularity of Rand’s work in some circles, so the name “Rand” isn’t as bald a reference as it might seem. (So bald that one tends to reject it as a reference at all.) He seems to read to me as ‘benevolent self-interest.’

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I see how “Chance” could have two meanings, as you point out. It could mean random—the way I took it—or it could mean something as simple as coincidence, chance happenings that make up the narrative and (mis) interpretations that ensue.

        I hadn’t made the Ayn Rand connection. Was that made explicit in the movie? I wonder if there was a reference to her somewhere.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        And chance happenings are also random, so the random sense still applies.

        I’m assuming the Rand connection based on his wealth and attitude (plus that pyramid tomb!). I don’t recall her work being mentioned explicitly. I can easily see it being dots left to the viewer to connect. (Or I could be imagining the connection — as I’ve said before, art interpretation always risks us doing exactly what people did to Chance — reading our own reflection rather than what’s really there.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Well, I can see it too. There was a lot of emphasis on his wealth, not just an incidental thing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, good point, you’re right, there was!

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