Reflections on CHAPPAQUIDDICK

 

The film Chappaquiddick brought forth a number of memories and conflicting feelings for me. I wonder if it did for my readers as well, specially you who have been around the block a few times and can actually remember that distant event

It took me three or four times to write the review as compared to most other films. This was partly due to my dealing with a mild, though debilitating, case of pneumonia, but far more due to those conflicting feeling just mentioned. As an admirer of much of the service Ted Kennedy rendered the nation during his long Senate career, I went to see the film with a note of dread–that it might be a hatchet job a bankrolled by wealthy conservatives. As you can see in my review, this is not at all the case, even though parts of the script had to be based on conjecture. In a non-strident way the filmmakers tell the story of a man confronted with an agonizing choice, to confront the consequences of his act, or to procrastinate and flee, with a life hanging in the balance. Unfortunately for Mary Jo Kopochne, the passenger in the car that ran off the Chappaquiddick Bridge, Ted Kennedy made the wrong choice. He did not get in touch with the police until at least ten hours had passed! According to expert testimony at an inquest, she probably did not drown, but died of asphyxiation when she breathed in the last of the oxygen in the trapped bubble of air in the overturned car. The chief of the local fire rescue team said he could have had her out within twenty-five minutes of his arrival, had he been called.

Other events depicted in the film also show the Senator and his support team in a bad light as they use their connections to shield the politician from the full force of the punishment of the law for what should have been a case of negligent homicide. And yet the people of Massachusetts returned him to the Senate for another forty years. I need to remember this when I read of evangelical pastor who overlook the lies and philandering of the current US President and declare their support of him. I have tended to agree with the labeling of the President’s supporters as “deplorables,” and yet I probably would have voted for Ted Kennedy had he run for the Presidency. I did vote a second time for Bill Clinton, while confessing to holding my nose while doing so. Is this really any different from 2016? It is always easier to set aside the flaws of “our candidate” while picking out those of the opponent;s, isn’t it? However, I don’t mean that we should lapse into moral relativism and say that “they’re all crooks,” so that it doesn’t matter whom we vote for, or that we shouldn’t bother to vote at all.

Ted faces his father & feels his contempt.             (c) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

I hope those reading this will see the film and then come back and share your reactions. This is a film that, as far as I can tell, does not have an ax to grind, but lays out a plausible scenario of what happened on that awful night, and leaves it up to us to judge a flawed man. I would love to see the same team, including the fine actor who portrays the troubled Kennedy in this film, make a sequel depicting the great Senate career that followed replete with scenes depicting how the Senator wrestled with his past demons. Something happened to this weak man that transformed a weak-willed man desperate for the affection of a stern father into the champion for justice and the underdog, eventually designated “the Lion of the Senate.” Was it a renewal of his religious faith; the support of friends, or what?

I could write a lot more, but this ought to be enough for now. How can CHAPPAQUIDDICK contribute to moving our political discourse beyond shouting and name-calling?

 

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