Being There and Truth: Real or Perceived?
Film Clip Discussion
Being There by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran
Topic for Conversation: Truth: Reality and Perception
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult. This film is a character development and deals mostly with the world of perception; It would be appropriate for college age young adults and adults for use in a Bible study discussion format.
Time Frame: Allow at least 60 minutes
Film: Being There; produced 1979; director: Hal Ashby; rated: PG (language, sexual references); DVD (130 Minutes)
Background for Teaching: It will be helpful to give a brief synopsis of the film before showing the clips since it is an older film that a lot of people may not be familiar with or have not seen in a long time.
Synopsis: This is the slowly unfolding story of Chance the Gardner. He is evicted from his home after his caretaker passes away, finding himself on his own for the first time. From the moment we meet Chance we know he is no ordinary person; from his well-groomed appearance to his measured speech he seems to be a gentleman from a by-gone era. However, what the key to his uniqueness is remains to be discovered and even debated. As he is walking away from his house to some unknown destination, he is accidentally pinned between two cars and subsequently taken in by Eve Rand, the wife of a wealthy, but critically ill, industrialist/financier named Ben Rand. Apparently fearing a lawsuit, Eve decides to take him to her home in order that their in-house medical staff can tend to his wound. In this exchange, Chance sees nothing more than an opportunity for a meal and place to sleep and accepts her offer. On their ride to Eve’s home he accepts a glass of scotch, which causes him to gag, thus making it sound as if he has said his name was “Chauncey Gardener.” Thus begins the relationship between Chance and Eve and then Ben, and the “misunderstandings” that are the basis of their friendships. The difference between what Chance says and what everyone else hears sets the tone for the rest of the film as the line between reality and perception continues to blur and clear and blur again. The following scenes are prime examples of how we perceive “truth” and what that may mean in a larger theological context.
Scenes to Use:
1. Chapters 13 “The Room Upstairs” — The evening of his accident, Chance joins Eve, Ben and the doctor for dinner in the great hall of the mansion. Over the course of dinner Chance becomes “re-born” in a sense through Ben who explains the plight of the businessman in terms of the garden, thus re-creating Chance as the unfortunate victim of corporate America rather than the real gardener that he is.
Watch the Clip
Theological Conversation After Viewing: Kierkegaard wrote: “If a person does not become what he understands, then he does not understand it either.” How does this apply to Chance? In the larger scheme of things, who do you think understood himself better – Chance or Ben? Is what we believe about ourselves a product of our own understanding or is it what we see reflected about ourselves in other people?
2. Chapter 28 “The Toast of Washington” — Chance escorts Eve to a political party where he is seated with a Russian diplomat and his wife. In the course of the conversation the diplomat believes that Chance understands Russian. He also likens his curious phrases to the famous Russian fable writer Krilov, believing that Chance is speaking in metaphors about the Cold War. While rumors and embellishments about Chance’s identity and accomplishments increase geometrically, Chance continues to state the plain facts to a book publisher offering him a six figure advance: He cannot read nor write he says, but no one hears him.
View the Clip
Theological Conversation After Viewing: “The expression, ‘Truth is naked,’ may also be interpreted in this way: truly relating to truth means that all the inner and the outer garments of illusion have to be discarded.” Does Chance have any illusions about who is he? What defines him? In John 18:38 Pilate asks the universal question: “What is truth?” Within the framework of this film, how would you define truth? What is the nature of truth – is it still truth if it is temporary or contextual? Can truth be limited?
3. Chapter 35 “Walking on Water” — Chance walks away from the funeral for Ben and heads into the nearby woods, tending to a sapling along the way until he comes to a pond between himself and the mansion. Chance proceeds to walk straight across the pond, stopping momentarily on the water’s surface to check the depth. The final words of the eulogy are heard in the background: “Life is just a state of mind.”
View the Clip
Theological Conversation After Viewing: Do you agree with the last statement of the film? Why or why not? Chance sees no reason to doubt that he can walk across the pond, so he does. Keeping that scene in mind, does expectation create reality? Earlier in the film, the estate attorneys request proof that Chance lives in the house, and he replies: “You have me. I’m here.” Does reality always require proof? Where could you find this type of statement in the Bible? By whom is it said and in what situation? Is Chance’s existence a question or a statement?
Closing the Session:
Possible ways to close this session:
1. Ask the participants to think about how they would define “truth.” This could be done as an exercise at the end of class, time permitting, or as something for them to consider during the week on their own.
2. Think about scriptural passages that talk about worldly wisdom or “truth” versus Biblical or theological truth. Two possible passages to consider: James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
3. Give participants copies of one of the creeds and/or confessions of the Reformed tradition to consider in class (time permitting) or to take home and think about the “truths” that are contained within them. Are they literal truths or larger theological truths? Is there a difference?