“I understand.” This is just one of the many classic lines of dialog in the 1979 movie called: “Being There”. There was an amazing cast in the movie starring Peter Sellers giving his most sublime performance ever. The supporting cast included Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas and Jack Warden.
The movie won numerous prestigious awards including: Oscar and Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor awards for Melvin Douglas, Golden Globe Best Actor award for Peter Sellers and others. Perhaps the most telling award was the 2015 winner of the National Film Preservation Board. The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.
The movie is based on the book “Being There” by Jerzy Kosinski. The premise of the satirical book and movie is that a completely sheltered gardener (Chance) has spent his entire life sequestered in an affluent family’s estate tending to their garden and watching TV. He has no formal education at all and his total life experience is gardening and TV. He can’t read or write. When the old man of the estate dies, Chance is forced into the outside world which he has never experienced.
By chance (pun intended), Chance meets some highly powerful people after they accidentally hit him with their car while backing up and insist on taking him home to recover. They mistakenly hear him say that his name is Chauncey Gardiner when he says that he is Chance the Gardener. He is referred to as Chauncey Gardiner thereafter. They take him for an affluent and successful man because his clothes are the expensive hand me downs from the rich old man he worked for and lived with his entire life.
The satire and humor is subliminal in that these rich, powerful folks start to consider Chauncey an amazingly brilliant man due to his simple expressions. He equates everything to a garden because that is all he knows. The rich family that has taken him in are friends with the President of the United States. They introduce Chauncey to the President and he asks Chauncey his opinion on the economy.
Chauncey’s response to the President is just one of the many priceless lines of dialog in the film: “It’s like a garden. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden. Growth has its seasons. There will be growth in the spring.” From Chauncey’s simple allegory, the President quoted him in a speech to the nation on the state of the US economy.
Then everyone starts wondering who this economic genius Chauncey Gardiner is. He is invited on talk shows. He is consulted by other powerful world leaders to offer economic advice to them. His favorite response to any question is: “I understand.” The humor stems from the fact that he has no understanding of these complex issues and his only frame of reference is tending to a garden his whole life and watching TV shows.
So, watch the movie as it is an all-time classic that still stands the test of time some 29 years later with brilliant acting performances and script writing. But remember my admonition to you is: be careful who you consider to be an expert. “I understand.” I engage in a ton of “so called” expert communities and there are far more Chauncey Gardiner’s out there posing than real experts.