Chappaquiddick, the movie, the man, and the manslaughter(?)

Posted On: Thursday - December 23rd 2021 6:28PM MST
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  History  Movies

Over 3 1/2 years back, Peak Stupidity noted with interest that a movie was coming out shortly about the late politician Ted Kennedy's negligent manslaughter of a young lady trapped in a submerged car back in the summer of 1969*. This happened on the island of Martha's Vineyard, south of Massachusetts' Cape Cod peninsula, or, really, on a tiny part-time** sub-island called Chappaquiddick, part of the town of Edgartown. I was looking forward to seeing Chappaquiddick then, as VDare's brought it to my attention in a discussion of the "what if"*** politics, in this article.

I wrote a post at the time titled The Lion of the Se enate a-bed up on the Silver Screen but promptly forgot about this movie until I saw it at the 'brary and watched it recently. Yeah, that post title was a play on "Lion of the Senate", but I'll also note the movie title is not very original. As I wrote in that post, maybe something like "Who's the U-Boat Commander?" would have been better.

That all said, the movie is pretty decent. Of course, there is no real suspense. That also means I don't have to worry about spoiling the ending. Yes, Mary Jo Kopechne dies of suffocation in the air pocket that was left in the submerged Oldsmobile Delmont 88, after Kennedy drunkenly slid it off a bridge that crosses Poucha Pond. The movie does a nice job of sticking to the story over just a couple of days. This was from the day in which the newest Knight of Camelot wannabee (actually, per the movie he wasn't sure if he wanted to be) sailed a regatta and partied with the campaign staffers of his late brother Robert, and got friendly with staffer Miss Kopechne, through the night of the wreck, the cover-up, hand-wringing, and decision-making (i.e. spinning) through the night, the discovery of the car and body in the morning, and a little bit on the local political fallout, or lack thereof.

I read a complete book on the Chappaquiddick incident about 15 years ago. I don't remember many details, but the general gist of it is adhered to pretty well by this movie. Besides the part about all the young Democrats believing having ANY of the Kennedies in office was best thing since sliced bread for America, all true, I guess, Chappaquiddick, the movie, doesn't get into national politics very much except for a nice scene in which the narrative from Ted Kennedy's screw-up is developed. .

The movie doesn't make too much effort to cover for Ted Kennedy's own cover-up of his negligence. This is not ancient history, after all. Though it wasn't the era of ubiquitous video yet, there were witnesses to various sightings of Kennedy before and after he drove the car off the bridge. In one case, Mr. Kennedy made an effort to HAVE a witness, as an alibi. The movie shows Kennedy walking outside of his hotel room to make small talk with some guy, so that guy would be a good witness to Kennedy's having slept at the hotel with no alarm or anything out of the ordinary going on. That wasn't necessary, though, as it didn't fit any of the lies that were bandied about by Kennedy and his accomplices in spin, cousin Joseph Gargan and Gargan's friend Paul Markham. Therefore, I don't know if it would have been easy for the movie makers to have spun the whole thing, though oftentimes they just figure the lies will get through.

The movie shows the local police chief as a complete shill for the Kennedy family. The chief even hooked up Ted Kennedy with a pilot friend to fly him back to mainland Mass (well, semi-mainland, as in the Cape, where the compound was) so that he could avoid questions for the press near the scene of the crime.

Back to Gargan and Markham, accomplices-at-lies, the movie has a scene showing some powerful national political figures**** making a serious effort at coming up with a narrative that doesn't suck. They even deride and laugh at the efforts of Kennedy and his cohorts. I guess the future Liar of the Senate learned more about how to spin and lie from this event which had to have helped him in his future long career in politics.

The movie covered the cover-up activities well, but did not show exactly what went down in the car submerged in the pond that night. That is fair, as it will now never be known to this world exactly what Ted Kennedy did in those moments. The movie shows Gargan and Markham both diving into the pond hours later (after Kennedy finally told them what happened) and trying to get the doors of the Oldsmobile open.

I keep wondering how Kennedy got out of the car, yet, after that, there was no getting in. Was he able to get out before it sunk, yet whichever door he opened closed behind him before the car went down? This pond wasn't very deep, and it'd be an easy dive. Yet, even at 10 ft. down, though that old-timey car was nothing near water-, much less air-tight, it could have taken longer for pressure to equalize than there was Oxygen for Miss Kopechne, and a couple of psi differential would have made it impossible to open a door.

He couldn't have swum out an open window, I don't think. I would imagine Miss Kopechne could swim, but if not, then she may have stayed in the remaining air pocket, were she lucky enough for the floorboards to allow one. Would she stay in the cabin of the upside-down car out of fear, rather than try to get out. In this case, the doors would have no pressure differential. Anyway, the movie shows the windows closed.*****

Could the doors have been jammed shut due to the low-speed impact of the roof hitting the bottom of the pond? That's another possibility.

Ted Kennedy had never "had any recollection" of this important piece of the story, from the time he told anyone about it. I don't believe that. Then again, I don't know if I've ever been as drunk as a Kennedy either.

No matter about all that, Ted Kennedy purposefully put off telling anyone who could have helped rescue Mary Joe Kopechne while he came up with his narrative, yet I read that she may have been alive for a few hours! I am no lawyer, so my "negligent manslaughter" wording is probably not so accurate. As for the morals of this guy, when push came to shove, he showed that they were poor. Yet, that's the kind of people that become Lions of the Senate in this country.

Wait, that was no movie review. Since this is supposed to be a movie review, after all, Peak Stupidity will make one small effort to make this sound like a professional review:

The actors do a good job representing young people of the era. I guess that credit should go partly to the costume department. A guy named Jason Clarke plays the lead, Ted Kennedy. Maybe it's too much to ask, but could he have tried to sound like a Masshole from the Boston area? He only talked with the right accent ONCE, as I recall. Here's what you do, if you're the director: You sit Mr. Clarke down in front of the computer and play Simpsons Mayor Quimby clips over and over until he GETS it. Can't do the accent? Get off the set, man! We'll get someone who can.

That's all I got. The lighting was fine, the casting was fine, production values, whatever they are, were apparently fine, as the DVD didn't get stuck in the player. ;-}

I recommend Chappaquiddick as an engrossing movie and a good history lesson. As opposed to Ted's older brother Jack's book Profile's in Courage, this movie could be part of a series called Profiles of Politicians.

* What else happened that summer? Well, the first men to ever do so, 2 Americans, set foot on the moon. That mission was happening at the same time - the landing was 2 days after Kennedy's actions and 1 day after it's discovery. That was very timely for young Ted, as press coverage went, and this was pointed out in the movie.

** It's connected by sand part of the time, as it for some years at a time. (I guess one good hurricane can change that completely.)

*** "What if" meaning, what if Ted Kennedy had gotten actual justice and pushed out of politics. That's a no brainer - we'd have been better off, all else being equal.

**** Some of these are men still known as important political figures of the time even now. You can watch the movie and see if you have heard of them.

***** An engineer friend and I had a 20 minute helpful discussion on this whole thing. (He liked my text message: "Hey, I need to ask you something about pressure differentials and Ted Kennedy's car.") One thing I brought up is that it's no given that windows would roll down under that differential as, say, 2 psi on 3 or 4 ft2, that's a half ton possibly of a normal force resulting in lots of friction on the window rubber seals.

Adam Smith
Saturday - December 25th 2021 9:48AM MST
PS: Merry Christmas everyone...

🎄 ❆ 🌟 ☃️ 🎅 🎁 🍪 ☮
Saturday - December 25th 2021 8:29AM MST
PS That the seven-letter-word-for-the-fundament had any subsequent political career after her death is a blot on the reputation of the people of Massachusetts. But, at least it kept him from becoming president in 1980. For what that’s worth.
Friday - December 24th 2021 7:56PM MST

Just when you thought things couldn't get weirded, we have Biden enthusiastically saying: "Let's go, Brandon!" on national tv live today.

He was prompted by a troll of some kind, and it seems didn't know what it meant, so dove in and cheered on Brandon himself.
Friday - December 24th 2021 7:55PM MST

In 1969 at least the death of that girl was public knowledge and not covered up, Epstein style.
Friday - December 24th 2021 7:14PM MST
PS: Thank you for the correction, Mr. Ganderson. That "uhh" thing again reminds me of Mayor Quimby.

Mr. Anon, thank you for the brief review of your own. Regarding the whole accident prone, assassination-prone Kennedy family, I will write a post on that soon. I think more of the President, JFK, than I used to. Really, I don't think John, Jr. was too bad a guy either, from what I read of him. (He's the one that went down into the Atlantic in that Cherokee 6.

Kudos to RFK, Jr. indeed. He seems to be the guy that is helping our unz host get his head of his ass to some degree. (It's not like I haven't heard about this RFK Jr. and his anti-panic videos and such for more than a year now.) Of course, it's more important that a few million other Americans read his book too.
Mr. Anon
Friday - December 24th 2021 6:23PM MST

I saw the movie when it came out (almost four years ago now). I thought it was pretty good. Ed Helms, who usually plays comic roles as in The Hangover movies, was especially good as Joe Gargan. The guy who played Markham, Jim Gaffigan, is a stand-up comic. Which just goes to show that good comics are good actors.

I was impressed by the fact that it got made at all. As recently as 2000, Kevin Costner's movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13 days, indicated that the Camelot-cult was still alive and well. It's interesting that the Democrats, who claim to be the Party of the common man, are so desperate to have a royal family to pin all their hopes on, and for decades the Kennedys were that family.

But Chappaquidick (the movie) seemed to put several nails in that coffin.

Mind you, I didn't think that Jack Kennedy was that bad. He was the best of them. He seemed to have some good instincts, although he was flawed (well, who is not) and often reckless in his personal life. He warned against secret societies and the secret organs of the state. I was never a fan of Bobby, however his son has rehabilitated the Kennedys in my eyes, at least somewhat. RFK Jr. is doing the Lord's work on this whole COVID business. He will probably be the reason that the liberal establishment finally completely turns against the Kennedys.
Mr. Anon
Friday - December 24th 2021 6:11PM MST

@The Alarmist

"I was going to say that I’m not sure Kennedy getting justice and being pushed out of politics would have changed much, thinking that his death-blow to the Republic came with his 1965 hallmark immigration legislation. I remember Teddy being more of a buffoonish clown after 1969. But looking back on his subsequent record, he did indeed inflict a lot more harm on the US. No, justice for Teddy would have been to drown while Kopechne lived."

Kennedy also introduced and pushed the immigration act of 1990, which also increased immigration and gave us, among other things, the Diversity Lottery.
Friday - December 24th 2021 4:31PM MST
PS: Merry Baby Jesus Day to one and all.
Friday - December 24th 2021 12:08PM MST
Merry Christmas, all.

Just a pedantic note- it was an Oldsmobile Delmont. Fans of the Howie Carr show can back me up.

Howie used to have a. feature called “the Wizard of Uhhhhs” in which he’d play a clip form a Kennedy speech, and you’d call in and guess the number of “uhhs”
Friday - December 24th 2021 7:51AM MST
PS: I think of his push for the '65 immigration Act. Alarmist. Though Ted the U-boat commander wasn't the official sponsor, I guess, his name goes along with that bill. It had lot of votes in the House and Senate though, so I guess alt-history would have been the same on that score.

Official Merry Christmas tomorrow, but coming sooner to you all.
The Alarmist
Thursday - December 23rd 2021 10:54PM MST

I was going to say that I’m not sure Kennedy getting justice and being pushed out of politics would have changed much, thinking that his death-blow to the Republic came with his 1965 hallmark immigration legislation. I remember Teddy being more of a buffoonish clown after 1969. But looking back on his subsequent record, he did indeed inflict a lot more harm on the US. No, justice for Teddy would have been to drown while Kopechne lived.

What a great note end on and to wish a Merry Christmas to y’all.

WHAT SAY YOU? : (PLEASE NOTE: You must type capital PS as the 1st TWO characters in your comment body - for spam avoidance - or the comment will be lost!)