This rather brilliant dark comedy had so few interesting reviews online I thought I would help it out a bit with my own observations, especially since few reviewers seems to mention the last scene which, to me, is key and shifts the whole movie and its meaning to another level. One can, and should, watch this movie for a variety of good reasons: Peter Sellers' subtle performance, Hal Ashby's quirky direction, or the fine supporting performances by Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, and Richard Dysart.
First, I LOVE Hal Ashby's classic cult film "Harold and Maude," another dark comedy, so I think I can understand his intent in this movie as well. It's clearly a satire on our modern television saturated culture, so sharp and inclusive that you can see a little Trumpism in Chase's blank canvas appeal to the American political and social elite. I would argue that it is actually more than that and can be seen as a critique of the kind of mysticism where when we go in search of God only to find ourselves.
Spoiler alert: I'm about to summarize the last scene and if you haven't seen the movie yet, read this review before watching and mine afterward if you're still interested.
A summary of the last scene: Chance (Peter Sellers) is at the funeral for his friend and benefactor, Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), and he wanders off across the fields in his natty suit as the pall bearers discuss their plans to use him to hang on to power by getting him elected president (like Trump was, some might say). As Chase wanders over hills and next to a pond, fondling a small pine tree and looking around at the garden-a cemetery, don't forget-he turns away from the camera and begins to walk across the water. You know, like Jesus in the Bible? It has become metaphor for doing the impossible. So is Chase a stand-in for Christ or God?
To back up a bit, we can look at what other characters are saying about Chase. They project on his rambling non-sequiturs a kind of earthy wisdom. The other characters think his answers on every thing from questions on the American economy to deeply personal existential questions are profound and metaphorical. To them, like Jesus, he speaks in what most people in the film think are gardening metaphors, as in the Garden of Eden kind of garden. The dramatic irony here: we know he's not being profound. He actually is talking about gardening, the only thing he knows. But, much like the human search for meaning where there is none, they project meaning into his garden talk, the long pauses and empty spaces of his utterances.
Other events that bring to mind the mistaken God-consciousness are when Ben Rand tells the doctor that he feels OK to die as long as "Chauncey" is around. His wife, Eve (another Garden of Eden reference?), has a life-changing orgasm without Chase even touching her when he tells her he "likes to watch" and then doesn't, which becomes one of the funniest sex scenes in cinematic history. Notice that each of the other main characters (except the doctor) uses Chase, and his God-like inaction and blank, innocent and strangely inviting stare as a canvas upon which they write their dreams, desires and ambitions. He only reflects, he's not really there. Thus the title's irony.
One the few clear-eyed characters in the film is Dr. Allenby, played by Richard Dysart. As a man of science he doesn't quite fall for Chance's empty "metaphors" and blank stares as some sort of wisdom. He recognizes Chance for what he is: just a not-too-bright gardener. But at the point where he's just about to spill the beans on Chance, he realizes the old man's fondness for him and backs off of telling him the truth after Rand tells Allenby that he feels OK to die with Chance around. He allows a dying man his comfort, much as any humanitarian would.
I highly recommend this film. Its sly humor and ironic tone are delightful and each of the cast members is brilliant in his or her own way. The film is quietly witty and humorous in a way that only a Hal Ashby film can be.
A simple-minded gardener named Chance has spent all his life in the Washington D.C. house of an old man. When the man dies, Chance is put out on the street with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television. After a run in with a limousine, he ends up a guest of a woman (Eve) and her husband Ben, an influential but sickly businessman. Now called Chauncey Gardner, Chance becomes friend and confidante to Ben, and an unlikely political insider.
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November 27, 2014 at 01:17 AM