Chappaquiddick – A Greek Tragedy in Modern American Times


There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” And this was certainly true for Ted Kennedy played by the talented Jason Clarke during the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. The movie has a lot of firepower in its roster with the lovely Kate Mara playing Mary Jo Kopechne, while the versatile Ed Helms plays Joe Gargan. “Chappaquiddick” is directed by John Curran from a script by the first-timers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. The trio did an excellent job of telling the story of what happened on Friday, July 18, 1969 on Chappaquiddick Island. But I feel I must add this point that exactly what happened remains unknown, gaps and ambiguities in what is known provides the filmmakers with room for speculation, which they use very well.

The movie starts off with a scene where U.S. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy gives an interview, where he is questioned about standing in the shadow of his late brothers, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. This question remains a theme throughout for Ted Kennedy. After the interview, he calls his cousin and chief fixer, Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) to arrange for hotel rooms on Martha’s Vineyard for the Boiler Room Girls who were group of young women who were given this nickname when they worked on the 1968 campaign of the Senator’s late brother Bobby (Robert Kennedy), who had been assassinated the previous year.  Kennedy arrives to Chappaquiddick Island, where he, Joe, and US Attorney for Massachusetts Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) try to win a sail race. After losing the race, Kennedy goes to the party at a beach house with his friends and the Boiler Room Girls. The married, 37-year-old senator (Ted) is relaxing on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard, he leaves the private party a little early with 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne—one of the Boiler Room Girls. Kopechne leaves her basket-shaped handbag on the table at the party, a small wrenching detail. Then the accident happens where clearly a drunk Ted accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge and into the tide-swept Poucha Pond. For ten hours Ted Kennedy failed to report the accident, during which time Kopechne suffocated inside the submerged vehicle. In the aftermath of this event Ted and his team try to clean the mess caused by this accident in such a way that it does not sabotage Ted’s political career.

This movie was a brilliant blend of good story telling mixed with top notch acting. Jason Clarke portrayed Ted Kennedy so well that on one hand you’re disgusted by his actions, but on the other hand you feel sympathy for the man who was left to carry the staggering legacies of his brothers John and Bobby.

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