Chappaquiddick: A Review

From a distance, Kennedy has long seemed like a man playing a role: the role his staff expected him to play, the role his public expected him to play, the role his brothers and their retainers expected him to play, the role his father expected him to play. “Ted Kennedy, Liberal Icon” was performance art which dragged on for decades. One of his more vigorous opponents over the years, Raymond Shamie, pointed out that his signature issue was ‘national health insurance’, but that his proposal had never got out of subcommittee, and he was chairman of the subcommittee. Maybe all along what he really cared about was making waitress sandwiches.

Art Deco, commenter, The American Catholic, April 7, 2018



My son and I saw the movie Chappaquiddick on the  Saturday before last.  It is a superb evocation of time and place and a damning indictment of the cowardice of Ted Kennedy that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.  My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force.

Australian actor Jason Clark is stunning as Ted Kennedy.  He captures the Boston accent perfectly, and believing that you are looking at Ted Kennedy in the film requires no suspension of disbelief.  Kennedy is portrayed as a child in a man’s body.  At one point as his advisors are discussing what to do about the accident and Kennedy not reporting it, he is shown flying a kite over the ocean.  Ed Helms is superb as Joe Gargan, who is the voice of conscience for Kennedy, a voice he does not heed.  Joe Gargan died in December of last year, shortly before the release of the film.  A cousin of Ted Kennedy, he was an attorney and Kennedy fixer.  In 1988 he broke his silence about Chappaquiddick and told the behind the scenes story to the author of Senatorial Privilege.

Kennedy is shown as a completely empty man, a vehicle for the ambitions of his father, and perpetually in the shadow of his three dead brothers.  The film juxtaposes scenes of Mary Jo Kopechne gasping for air in an air pocket in the car as Kennedy fails to summon the help that could so easily have saved her.  The diver who got her body out the next day states that he could have gotten her out of the automobile in 25 minutes if help had been summoned.

Kennedy’s focus is continually on avoiding the consequences of his action with almost no concern for the fact that his failure to summon help almost certainly killed Mary Jo Kopechne.  The actress Andria Blackman as Joan Kennedy, the wife of Ted, only has one line in the film, but it is a killer, a pungent three word instruction for Kennedy after he thanks her for accompanying him to the Kopechne funeral.

Bruce Dern portrays Joe Kennedy, incapacitated due to a stroke, face contorted and barely able to speak.  When Ted calls him seeking advice, he responds with one word: “Alibi”.

Chappaquiddick of course occurred during the Apollo 11 manned landing on the moon, and the film juxtaposes this fulfillment of the pledge made by JFK with his brother’s scandal.

Eventually Kennedy decides to resign, asking Gargan to write up a resignation speech.  Gargan does so, and is shocked when Kennedy decides to give the Ted Sorensen speech, Sorensen of course being the ghost writer for Profiles in Courage, JFK’s Pulitzer prize winning look at Senatorial courage, instead, a masterpiece in how to pretend to take responsibility while avoiding any and all consequences:


In later years Kennedy was known to make jokes about Chappaquiddick.  I trust in the next world he does not find the jokes quite so humorous.  In this world I hope that this film is a coda to his career that will cause him to be remembered as a chestless man whose cowardice led to the death of a young woman, and who cared far more for a political career, that he probably did not really want, than he did for making even a minimal effort to attempt to save her.  The people of Massachusetts reelected him seven times to the Senate after Chappaquiddick, but no amount of political success can relieve Kennedy from an iota of the infamy that he richly earned that night almost 49 years ago.

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Chappaquiddick: A Review  
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