Filmsite Movie Review
Being There (1979)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Evicted: Onto the Streets of Washington, DC:

With only an umbrella, homburg on his head, and a suitcase, Chance stood in the garden for one last look, and then left the brick brownstone townhouse estate to venture into the decaying streets (a fallen world) of Washington, DC (the city was eventually recognizable by its familiar landmarks). At the estate's outer entrance, the encroaching inner-city ghetto area was very evident (litter and trash, a looted undriveable car parked in front, a homeless person in a vacant side lot, discarded appliances and furniture, a scavenger picking through items, etc.). As he emerged after being cast out into the decaying outside world, looking a bit aimless and helpless searching for another garden, a version of Also Sprach Zarathustra was heard on the soundtrack.

He walked by an urban group of destitute blacks huddled around a warm fire burning in a round trash-can. Graffiti scrawled on a wall read:


He stopped at a chain link fence to watch a group of young teenaged blacks playing basketball. And as he walked along the busy sidewalk, he stopped a black woman (Alfie Brown) and asked: "Could you give me some lunch?" causing her some fright and disbelief. Because his only knowledge of African-American behavior was from Louise, he assumed that the lady would act like she did to him. Near a TV World Discount Store window as he wandered about, he stopped to ask a young gang of ghetto blacks: "Could you please tell me where I can find a garden to work in?...There is much to be done during the winter. I should start the seeds for the spring and work the soil." The hostile gang leader Abbaz (Ravenell Keller III) interpreted Chance's words as a challenge from a rival group led by Raphael, and pulled out a switchblade. Chance removed the TV remote control channel-changer from his own pocket and threatened to "turn them off" and change reality by clicking it at them.

After being harrassed further, Chance walked away and glanced up at a statue of Benito Juarez pointing with his stretched forearm. He decided to proceed in the direction that the statue was pointing. He turned to walk toward the domed Natural History Museum behind him, and the Washington Monument further down. After noticing a sickly tree in front of the White House gates, he notified a police officer (Brian Corrigan): "That tree is very sick. It needs care." Chance was seen unsafely walking down the median divider on a busy 4-lane highway crossing the Potomac Bridge as he entered the Capitol Building area. By nightfall, he strolled by a TV shop window, where a video camera on a tripod captured his image.

Entranced and transfixed, he stepped backwards off the sidewalk curb between two parked cars, and in a freak accident, he was struck by a chauffeured limousine that was backing up. In pain, Chance claimed to the driver David (Don Jacob) and the liveryman Jeffrey (Ernest McClure) that one of his legs was very sore and bruised from being pinned between the two cars. The limousine's rich occupant, Mrs. Elizabeth 'Eve' Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the young wife of a presidential advisor and wealthy industrialist, apologized and insisted on an examination in a hospital. [Note: Her Bicentennial-decorated license plate was personalized - simply emblazoned with the initials ER.

She took him into the car and during the start of the trip in the back seat - Chance's first car ride ever, he noted: "This is just like television, only you can see much further." Mrs. Rand suggested taking him to her home first instead of the hospital to save him from "unnecessary fuss" by having him examined by the physician treating her sick husband - ("My husband's been very ill. The doctor and the nurses are staying with us. Hospitals can be so impersonal"), and Chance agreed. He then requested: "May I watch television, please?" and the limo's TV was switched on. [Note: The announcer spoke: "And now the piece of resistance. John Travolta is not worried...Thank you, Bowzer. Now let's say hello to our two players....I'm a New York Yankees fan, but, Bart, I gotta respect the Dodgers. They played one heck of a game."]. When asked his name, Chance identified himself as "Chance...the gardener," which was incorrectly re-interpreted by Eve to be his full name - Mr. Chauncey Gardiner - when he coughed from the stiff drink he was imbibing. He did not bother to correct her misinterpretation of his name. And then he realized that he had lost his remote control. He changed the channel manually, to a few different channels:

  • a Fuzz Buster commercial ("Your car comes equipped with a number of warning devices. Your brake lights warn traffic behind slow down when you do. You wouldn't think of driving without your rearview mirror. And yet some people still drive without a Fuzzbuster")
  • a news report ("When they unwrapped the chopsticks to be used by the Chinese guests, the packages were clearly stamped 'Made in Taiwan'...They placed the chopsticks around the table. If the Chinese were upset...")
  • a music video animated cartoon titled Basketball Jones ("I even put that basketball underneath my pillow. Maybe that's why I can't sleep at night. I need help, ladies and gentlemens! I need someone to stand beside me. I need, I need someone to set a pick for me at the free-throw line of life. Someone I can pass to. Someone to hit the open man on the give-and-go. So, cheerleaders, help me out! ♪ Basketball jones ♪ ♪ I got a basketball jones ♪♪ I got a basketball jones ♪♪ Baby, ooh-ooh-ooh ♪I want everybody in the whole stadium to stand up and sing with me! ♪ Basketball jones ♪ - ♪ I got a basketball jones ♪ I got more moves than Ex-lax! I'm bad! I can dribble with my tongue. Here I come down court! Try to stop me!") - the song featured Tyrone Shoelaces, and was written and performed by Cheech Marin (as Cheech) & Tommy Chong (as Chong)

At the Rands' Gated Estate in DC:

They were driven to her dying, patriarchal, industrialist wealthy financier-husband Benjamin's (Melvyn Douglas) palatial and opulent gated home for treatment and recuperation provided by the family's personal physician Dr. Robert Allenby (Richard Dysart). In retrospect, Chance was now transferred from one dying, old man's home to another, where he would again be taken care of. Placed into a wheelchair, Chauncey was transported inside the mansion to an elevator for a ride up to the Rands' third-floor guest suite, with a personal escort by a valet named Wilson (Richard Venture). Chauncey asked Wilson about the elevator: "I've never been in one of these before....Does it have a television?" Wilson laughed when he mistook Chauncey's reference to the elevator and answered about the wheelchair: "No. But Mr. Rand does have one with an electric motor. That way he can get around by himself."

During an examination in the guest suite, Dr. Allenby promised Chauncey that he wouldn't feel a shot for pain in his backside: "This won't hurt at all," but Chauncey disagreed: "It did hurt." There was worry that Chauncey might be an opportunist who could sue the Rands: "Are you planning on making any sort of claim against the Rands?" It was the second instance of interrogation about 'filing a claim," and Chauncey's response at first disturbed Allenby, but then he was reassured when Chauncey added: "There is no need for a claim. I don't even know what they look like." Chauncey required a follow-up X-ray for the contusion he had suffered, and was encouraged to stay for a few days for observation. He was very pleased to know that the home had many gardens. Chauncey's attention turned to the bedroom's TV, and he clicked on the remote to watch:

  • a Gatorade commercial: ("Ever watch a game on TV and see the players chuggin' down this stuff? Ever wonder why?")

Eve visited with her husband in his converted bedroom where he was being treated with steroid therapy and transfusions to prolong his life. He was situated in a special, glass-walled wing of the estate equipped with medical equipment, personnel, and extra oxygen - nicknamed "Rand Memorial Hospital." He could still joke about the accident that Eve had just endured: "I may be a shut-in, but..." When she called Chauncey a "reasonable man," he was skeptical and responded: "I'd like to meet a reasonable man for a change." Rand ordered that the "reasonable" Chauncey join them for dinner: "I want new blood." Later, Eve agreed to Dr. Allenby's suggestion that Chauncey stay for a few more days to rest his leg ("He might be a breath of fresh air"). She described Chauncey's character: "He is different, isn't he? You know, he's very, um, intense." A few moments later, Chauncey was wheeled into the same treatment center for an X-ray of his leg, where he learned of Rand's severe terminal illness - aplastic anemia or blood disease ("The bone marrow doesn't supply enough red blood cells").

Invited to an elegant dinner in an immense dining room with both of the Rands and Dr. Allenby, Chauncey told them obliquely of his dire situation: "The old man died and Louise left....My house was shut down....Shut down and closed by the attorneys." As an influential political Washington DC insider and chairman of the board of the First American Financial Corporation, Rand took Chauncey's reserved answer as an excuse to berate the circumstances: "The businessman today is at the mercy of kid lawyers from the SEC. It's happening to everyone, I'm afraid. The way things are going, they'll probably legislate the medical profession as we know it right out of existence." Chauncey described his future plans: "I would like to work in your garden." Eve was ecstatic: "Isn't it wonderful to be with the trees and the flowers like that?...It's such a pleasant way to forget one's troubles." Rand, who was impressed by the 'garden philosophy', further postulated that all businessmen were essentially gardeners:

Rand: Yeah, well, isn't that what any businessman is? A gardener. He works on flinty soil to make it productive with the labor of his own hands. He waters it with the sweat of his own brow. He makes a thing of value for his family and for the community. Yes, indeed, Chauncey, a productive businessman is a laborer in the vineyard.
Chauncey: I know exactly what you mean, Ben. The garden that I left was such a place. But I don't have that anymore. All I have left is the room upstairs.

Rand encouraged Chauncey to be grateful for his health and to not let "those bastards get you down." The 'room upstairs' was interpreted by Rand as his own next stop after death -- heaven: "That's where I'm going. And too damn soon."

After dinner in the estate's pool room-library, Dr. Allenby shot pool while Chauncey and Rand smoked Cuban cigars (Chauncey struggled as he mimicked Rand's clipping of his cigar and use of a cigar lighter, and eventually gave up). The elder businessman went on with his comparative analysis:

You know, Chauncey, there are thousands of businessmen, large and small, in your situation. I've given the matter a good deal of consideration for some time. They've been harassed long enough by inflation, increased taxation, all sorts of indecencies. After all, they're our strongest defense against the pollutants of our basic freedoms, as well as the well-being of our middle-class. I've been thinking about starting a financial assistance fund. Tell me, Chauncey, would you have any ideas on that subject?

Chauncey's blunt reply that he didn't have any ideas brought Rand to the conclusion that "after a man's lost everything, anger tends to block out rationality for a while. But you work on the idea. Water it. Fertilize it....I'm sure you'll sprout some thoughts in a few days." Later in the evening, Eve told Chauncey how he had elevated her husband's mood and health: "You lifted Ben's spirits tonight to such an extent...He liked you so much, Chauncey. He really did."

Meeting with the US President:

The next morning, a phalanx of security vehicles drove up to the front doors of the estate, led at first by Secret Service Agent Riff (Hoyt Clark Harris Jr.), who was notified that there would be an additional guest at the estate for the meeting - Chauncey Gardiner. The US President had promised to "sit in" for the very-ill Rand at the Financial Institute's annual convention and was there to confer with Rand beforehand. The President's advance entourage arrived promptly in a police-protected motorcade at 10:00 am. Meanwhile, Chauncey was in his bedroom mistaking the adjustable bed remote for the TV remote.

Rand was coming to the conclusion (with others) that the very-poised Chauncey, who always wore an old-fashioned tailored suit, was spouting deep and brilliant political insights. His empty-headed pronouncements and generalizations, delivered dead-pan, were taken to be profoundly intelligent, metaphorically deep, and wisely insightful. Knowing he had only a short time until his death, Rand felt peaceful and calm about his terminal prognosis with Chauncey:

Nobody likes a dying man, Chauncey, because nobody knows what death is. You seem to be an exception, Chauncey. That's one of the things I admire about you - your admirable balance. You seem to be a truly peaceful man.

Rand also testified about his past to Chauncey, as they walked along to attend the private meeting in the estate's library with the President:

When I was younger, I had thoughts of public office. But I found, Chauncey, that I was able to contribute more as a private citizen. Of course my wealth provided me with considerable influence. But I've tried, Chauncey, believe me, I've tried, uh, not to misuse that power. It's extremely important, Chauncey, that we don't allow ourselves to become blinded to the needs of our government, no matter how strong the temptation. Oh, I've been labeled a kingmaker, but I've tried to keep myself open to the voice of the people and I've remained honest to myself. That's the main thing.

In the library, Rand greeted the slightly-befuddled President before Chauncey was introduced as "my very dear friend." Chauncey reacted: "On television, Mr. President, you look much smaller." Rand explained: "I must warn you that Chauncey's not a man to bandy words." The President was given Rand's negative reaction to his up-coming financial speech: " is very dangerous to play around with temporary measures at a time like this" - he was cautioned point-blank to not deliver the speech. When Chauncey was asked for his opinion, he made some amusing and infantile remarks, almost Yogi Berra-isms or hints, that actually turned out to be insightful solely on how they were interpreted:

US President: Mr. Gardiner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
Chauncey: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well in the garden....In a garden, growth has its season. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again....
Rand: (interrupting) ...I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chauncey: Yes. There will be growth in the spring.

Even the President was pleased and impressed by Chauncey's descriptions of seasonal change in the garden as allegorical statements of deep wisdom about the nation's economic growth:

Well, Mr. Gardiner, I must admit, that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time. (Rand clapped his approval) I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill. Well, I must be going. This visit has been most enlightening.

As the President exited with his entourage through the Rand mansion's hallway, he asked for information on Chauncey's background from Mr. Kaufman (James Noble), one of his advisors. With his arm around Chauncey as they walked along, Rand complimented Chauncey's interaction with the President: "You know, Chauncey, you don't play games with words to protect yourself. No, you you're direct." And Rand also reiterated his wish for Chauncey to head up his Financial Institute plan for financial assistance to businessmen, and he would patiently await Chauncey's decision.

Chauncey was given a personal tour by Eve of the expansive main garden area around the estate, with 60,000 tulip bulbs and 20,000 rose bushes. There was also a gardener's house and a huge potting greenhouse. Chauncey responded simply after they entered the greenhouse: "I like to watch the young plants grow....Young plants do much better if a person helps them." Curious about Chauncey's romantic life, Eve asked about Louise, and was surprised (and relieved) to learn that she was the 'Old Man's' maid who also brought him his meals - not someone he was "romantically involved with, or maybe a sister."

During a televised news conference of the President's address at the Financial Institute, watched by both Chauncey and Dr. Allenby in Ben's room, President 'Bobby' reported on his morning meeting - making Chauncey an instantly popular media celebrity and political advisor for the rich and powerful:

Chauncey Gardiner, Mr. Rand's close friend and adviser, was at the meeting this morning. I found Mr. Gardiner to have a feeling for this country that we need more of. To quote Mr. Gardiner, a most intuitive man, 'As long as the roots of industry remain firmly planted in the national soil, the economic prospects are undoubtedly sunny.'

Benjamin went into medical distress, forcing Eve and Chauncey to hurriedly leave the room as nurses and doctors attended to him. Meanwhile, the President announced further economic measures - using metaphors of growth, the seasons of weather, and gardening:

But I have decided there are no temporary stopgaps. So I'm gonna rethink my position and find another solution. And you'll be very pleased to know that your founder and chairman of the board, Mr. Benjamin Turnbull Rand, agrees with me on this. For once. (Applause) Gentlemen, let us not fear the inevitable chill and storms of autumn and winter. Instead, let us anticipate the rapid growth of springtime. Let us await the rewards of summer. As in a garden of the earth, let us learn to accept and appreciate the times when the trees are bare as well as the times when we pick the fruit.

Eve expressed her gratitude for Chauncey's presence during the difficult times she faced, and then watched the perplexed Chauncey receive news of a phone call from Sidney Courtney, the financial editor of The Washington Post that he agreed to answer. Eve told Dr. Allenby of her affection for Chauncey: "He's such a kind and sensitive man. Don't you think?" - although down the hall, Chauncey was seen avoiding stepping on the lines between tiles. The call came in on two lines, confusing Chauncey and prompting him to ask: "Where is he, there or here?" - a slight reference to the film's title. The editor asked Chauncey: "Are you there?" and Chauncey replied: "Yes, I'm here." Chauncey deflected questions about the meeting with the President, and his relationship to Rand, by stating: "I think you should ask Mr. Rand that." He became completely distracted by a nearby television broadcasting a yoga exercise class - and as he mimicked the exercises, he accidentally hung up the phone.

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