Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Being There

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, April 13, 2001

I like to watch.

Special features

Awards Listing4
Cast Information3

Peter Sellers’ last and in my opinion best work, based on the story by Jerzy Kosinski (and with a screenplay written by him). This is a quietly funny, provocative, and touching film about “down to earth” philosophies.

DirectorHal Ashby
WritersJerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating6
  • Enhanced Widescreen
Being There (monolith): Being There scene (monolith)

Perhaps Peter Sellers most brilliant performance as a tabula rasa upon whom major political figures write their political desires. All he’s looking for is a garden to tend to and a black woman to bring him lunch. Sellers is known best for his comedies, and this is a very funny movie. It is, however, structured more as a drama than as a comedy. This is a “serious” funny movie, though it is not so much a movie with a message than simply a provocative movie in itself. That might not make sense, but it will when you see the movie. The movie does not pass judgement on Chance’s wisdom, nor on the acceptance of that wisdom by the political leaders. There is some recognition that none of this would be possible were it not a distinguished-looking white man in an expensive suit, but this is a fairy-tale; it isn’t possible no matter how you look at it. Sometimes Chance seems stupid, sometimes mistaken, and sometimes it almost looks like he knows what he’s talking about. He certainly knows gardens.

Sellers was brilliant, and this must have been a difficult part (especially judging from the outtake credits). He is just understated enough to be perfect and as believable as such a character can be. These are all difficult roles: I have not read the book, but this looks like the kind of book that would have lots of stuff about what the characters were thinking, and how the various things said became misinterpreted by Chance and by the people Chance talks with. There are no voiceovers or “thinking out loud” sequences in this movie. Everything must be conveyed through the acting, and for the most part, everything is. (As a writer, I’m very impressed with Kosinski’s ability to take his own book and convert it so well to a screenplay.)

Being There (buddha): Being There scene (buddha)

On leaving his palace, the buddha saw a fat old woman with a sack of groceries, a black gang member with a knife, and a rich white woman. The buddha conceived an instant desire to become a rich white woman.

This is my favorite Shirley MacLaine movie also. There was a lot going on in her character, the wife of the older rich tycoon and “king-maker” in American politics. She’s quite a bit younger than her husband, but no longer young. The movie wasn’t about her character, which must have made acting it all that much harder: the movie didn’t have the time to explain what she was doing, so everything we know about her character came more from MacLaine than from the story.

The basic story is that “Chance” (Peter Sellers), has been the ward of “the old man”, living in a Washington DC townhouse and never, ever, leaving it for probably at least fifty years, doing nothing but tend to the old man’s garden (walled away from the world) and watch television. He’s a nice guy, but he’s “developmentally challenged”: not very smart. (In gaming terms, he might have a good wisdom, but his intelligence is down in the gutters.) When the old man finally dies, Chance is thrust into the real world and “chances” into the world of power broker Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), and Ben’s wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). That’s where the movie takes off.

Being There (view): Being There scene (view)

This is a brilliant movie. I’m not going to say much further, because you have to see it, and there are some surprises in it. Despite that, this is also an eminently re-watchable movie. It will make a great addition to your collection alongside such other quiet comedies as “Groundhog Day” and “L.A. Story”.

While there are no deleted scenes on the DVD, there are outtakes from one deleted scene under the credits as part of the movie. I was a little disappointed with that. I feel that it conflicted with the tone of the rest of the movie, and especially with the ending. I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen them before. I’ve only seen “Being There” on television, and I’m fairly certain that the outtake credits were not part of the television broadcasts (if true, probably because of the language). But that’s the only real quibble I have with the movie itself.

Being There (sick): Being There scene (sick)

The DVD, on the other hand, is a bit sparse: it includes the trailer, some very limited cast information (just the three leads), and a listing of awards won. The box says “cast/filmmaker profiles”, but as near as I can tell, there is no information on any “filmmaker”, only Sellers, MacLaine, and Douglas. There is one weird bit on the DVD. If you want to see the copyright info, go to the “Languages” section, and press “continue” in the lower right. No idea why they were trying to hide that info. It would seem to make more sense to put it under “Special Features” or its own special icon.

If you are a fan of MacLaine or Sellers, or if you like movies that poke fun at the political establishment (you might call this an early variation of “Bulworth”, though much more understated), you will probably also like this movie. I recommend it.

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorHal Ashby
WritersJerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones
ActorsPeter Sellers, Shirley Maclaine
Spoken languagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Special FeaturesAwards Listing, Cast Information, Trailer
More links