This is an excerpt of my article ”Top Ten Political Movies to Watch During the Trump Presidency”. This segment details why Being There is a relevant political film in the Trump era:
”Life is a state of mind.”
The story of a simple-minded gardener becoming a political icon had been Peter Seller’s pet project for years. The reason why Sellers had been so fascinated with the original source novel by Jerzy Kosinski was because he saw himself as the main character; an empty vessel, a person without a defining personality.
Seller’s interpretation of Chauncy might have been right, yet one must not forget the central point of the story: that we are easily led by our own hubris. One could therefore state that Sellers’ perception of the character might very well have been what Sellers wanted him to be. This is something we all do, especially with our leaders.
Chauncy’s diatribes about gardening are perceived to be profound statements about the state of the economy, even though Chauncy is simply talking about gardening. Compare this to Donald Trump; his comments about making America great again are interpreted by people’s own bias of the myth of America.
White supremacists harken back to the days of Jim Crow, Evangelicals dream about a Christian utopia, blue-collar workers want to live in an America where there were jobs aplenty, others want an America that wasn’t ruled by political correctness, and others saw Trump as a weapon against the elites. People saw Trump as a man of the people; someone who wasn’t like those Washington fat cats, who could really make a difference. Most of these groups are, just like Chauncy’s followers, victims of their own hubris.
Trump is part of the elite, born into wealth, yet many see him as the quintessential self-made man – notwithstanding that the businesses Trump managed, inadvertently like Chauncy or with Machiavellian wit, tapped into the myths of people. This is what politicians do, but Trump’s character had been perfect for this political climate where people want definitive change.
This is a common thing that happens throughout history. The facts are all there, but people want to see him as they want to see him; the same way people started viewing Clinton as a progressive candidate even though she was anything but. In the end of “Being There”, when Chauncy walks over water, many interpretations have been made, from Jesus allegories to the filmmaker just having fun with the audience. In the end, just as one could be befuddled by people’s interpretation of Trump, we can only sigh and say: life is a state of mind.