Being There

Peter Sellers, the English comedy actor is best remembered for his acting roles as Inspector Clouseau, an inept inspector in the French Sûreté, in the Pink Panther film series and as Hrundi V Bakshi, a bungling Indian actor who is accidentally invited to a lavish dinner party, in the film, The Party. Often overlooked, is his portrayal of Chance, the gardener in the 1979 American comedy-drama film, Being There.

Chance is a middle-aged man who lives and works at the townhouse of a wealthy old man in Washington, DC. He tends the garden and spends the rest of his time watching television. The latter activity serves as his only window to the outside world. Chance has had very limited contact with real people, and speaks in a flat monotone voice, enunciating every syllable distinctly, which resonates with his simple child-like functioning.

When the old man passes away, he makes no claims on the estate and is asked by the lawyer to leave the premises. For the first time in life, he ventures out into the real world. Chance, with his unusual gait, wanders aimlessly and is totally at a loss in several scenes. Confronted on one occasion by a group of youths, he presses the television remote in vain, whilst attempting to change the channel (scene).

An unfortunate vehicular accident leads to a meeting with a wealthy businessman who takes him to his home to recover.  Chance is dressed in his former employer’s expensively tailored suit, and in the first of a series of chance events is mistakenly taken for a well-educated businessman. Chance the gardener, then becomes, Chauncey Gardiner, advisor to the wealthy businessman, appears on a talk show on television and eventually meets the American president. His answers to most questions on finance and politics are framed around gardening terminology, and are interpreted philosophically.

The businessman’s doctor, Dr Allenby, is suspicious of Chauncey Gardiner, and sees him for what he really is, a simple minded gardener, completely out of his depth in the political world of Washington, DC.

Speaking of Washington, the topic of Trump and Russia, continues to be front and centre. On Monday, it was reported by The Washington Post that President Trump may have revealed highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergie Kislyak during an official visit to the White House last Wednesday. The President was alleged to have passed on details about the Islamic State plot to use laptop computers on aircraft. Last Thursday, the Russian state-owned news agency TASS had released photographs of the visit to which no American journalists had been allowed.

The Russian visit to the Oval Office came a day after Trump had fired FBI Director James B Comey, in the midst of an investigation into possible links between the Trump election campaign and Russia. Initially, it was stated that Comey’s firing was based upon recommendations by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein and was linked to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Some Democrat senators responded that the move was ‘Nixonian,’ bringing back memories of the former president’s firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.

“Today’s action by the President completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis,” Representative John Conyers, Senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee stated on the day of the dismissal.

Trump’s subsequent admission that Comey’s firing was driven by “this Russian thing,” and his declaration in one of his tweets yesterday that “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” opens the door to several disturbing questions.

Is President Trump fully aware of his responsibilities and duties to the American people as their elected leader? Does the President understand that protocols have be followed at even the highest levels and that he cannot wander off script as he has reportedly done on occasion? Can the Republicans or anyone for that matter, influence the President to accept the order of the day? Will the FBI be free of any intervention to continue to conduct their investigation into “this Russian thing”?

In 2015, the American Library of Congress chose Being There for preservation in the National Film Registry, according to the Hollywood Reporter, finding it “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”

Peter Sellers won several awards for his role as Chance, and was nominated for an Academy award for Best Actor. Being There, concludes with Chance, the gardener, completely unaware of talks to nominate him as the next candidate for the White House, walking on the surface of a lake on the (now deceased) businessman’s estate; he pauses, dips his umbrella into the lake, and satisfied with the depth check, he resumes walking on the water.

As President Trump continues to bungle along, one has to wonder if there is any chance that the Republicans in the Senate will decide to put country before party, and return the White House to being here, in the real world?

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