The 1971 novel by acclaimed Polish emigre Jerzy Kosinski, best known for The Painted Bird (1965), was already a cult book when Peter Sellers read it. Sellers personally shepherded the film into production, bringing on board Jerzy Kosinski to adapt his own book. Chosen as director was the eccentric Hal Ashby, who was behind essential 1970s hits like Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1974) and Coming Home (1980). Ashby had begun as an editor in the 1960s and it is worth remembering that at the time he made Being There, his last worthwhile film, he had developed a substantial drug addiction problem.
Jerzy Kosinski clearly construed the role of Chauncy Gardener as a perfectly blank existential question mark the running gag throughout the film is that Chance reacts to everything with complete innocence and it is what people project onto what he is saying that makes him seem a genius. Peter Sellers steps into the part with the vacant emotionality of a newborn child and gives an hysterically deadpan performance. (Some have argued it is the best of all of Sellerss performances and he received an Academy Award nomination for the part).
Hal Ashby directs at a clinically restrained distance with many scenes taking place in wide angles there is some wonderfully glacial photography. Some of the deadpan tableaux like Shirley MacLaines attempt to seduce Sellers go on and on until an audience lies collectively battered in hysterics on the floor. The matter-of-factly tossed aside ending with Chance casually walking across the water out onto a lake, wherein comes the fantasy element, is always guaranteed to have an audience leaving the theatre debating its meaning.
The making of Being There was later depicted in the Peter Sellers biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).