Being There: Who doesn’t like to watch?

[Screenshot]Being There is a funny, funny film. That it does this in spite of having retardation (or at least a similar situation) as a major theme is pretty impressive. Think of “comedies about the mentally ill”, and you probably come up with Dumb and Dumber and its ilk, with a basically “look at the dumb freakshow” vibe (c.f. my comments on Rain Man). I might as well dispense right away with the shaky claim I just made that Chance is meant to be retarded. He’s definitely what a previous generation would call “simple”, and it’s explicitly said that his mental abilities and diction are below par (said diction being brilliantly delivered by a somewhat spacey Peter Sellers), but some of that is perhaps attributable to his isolated upbringing rather than actual mental inability. Whether Chance’s disability is innate or a product of his upbringing, however, is outside the scope of the film, and thus outside the scope of my analysis, really.

But, regardless of the source of his inability, how can a film about someone with a disability be so hilarious and remain classy? Simple: we’re not laughing at him, we’re laughing at everyone else’s responses to him. It’s social satire at its best, that someone whose entire repertoire is gardening maxims and regurgitated television is hailed as a visionary and a genius. It’s also a very DC story, with the political scheming undertones and the worship of canned “soundbite” wisdom. All in all, it was hilarious and reasonably sensitive, at least in the context of the times. There’s fairly flagrant racial stereotyping and a sexual stereotype, but, hey, we were still getting over the 70s. Actually, the part I found most offensive was not a lamentable relic of the Bad Old Days, but the unnecessarily messianic coda. I’m assuming it’s meant to be messianic, anyways. One could argue that it’s a testament to the film’s thesis that, not knowing your limitations, you aren’t bound by them, but, er, that’s a bit of a stretch.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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