So many memories for me. Having spent the summers of my youth on Chappaquiddick the island is forever emblazoned upon my being. Chappy is part of who I am. Or to say it another way, to know me you have to know Chappy.
Chappaquiddick is the island adjacent to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Martha’s Vineyard covers almost 90 square miles. Chappy makes up 7 % of the larger island’s land mass. 16,000 people live on Martha’s Vineyard year-round, swelling to 100,000 in the summer. 180 live on Chappy.
There is only one way to get to Chappy other than by private boat or a four wheel drive vehicle over the narrow barrier beach that some years provides a connection to the main Vineyard island. That being the wonderful Chappy Ferry, which can hold on any one crossing of the Edgartown Harbor a maximum of three cars. It runs every day from 6:45 am in the morning to midnight. The crossing takes just a few minutes as it traverses 527 feet of water.
Many celebrities have frequented Martha’s Vineyard over the years. Mia Farrow, Meg Ryan, James Taylor, Lady Gaga, and Seth Meyers to name a few. Presidents vacation there. The Clintons and the Obamas in recent times. Jack Kennedy came over in his sailboat often from the family compound in Hyannis Port. Senators. Senator Ed Brooke, an African American Senator from Massachusetts visited Oak Bluffs, one of the towns on the island, many times. James Reston and Walter Cronkite of the media made it their getaway.
Chappy, on the other hand, has not been frequented by many celebrities. I assume this is primarily because of the difficulty in accessing the island from Edgartown.
The one exception to this is Ted Kennedy, the Senator from Massachusetts for 47 years, the fourth longest serving Senator in US history.
And while his name will forever be associated with Chappaquiddick, the reality is that he was there for only one night. But it was a night that will never be forgotten.
That night saw the tragic death of a young 28-year-old vibrant woman, and the derailment of a potential Presidential candidacy for then Senator Ted Kennedy. But even more impactful, the incident, what occurred, and how it was reported and what eventually came to light shook the moral fibers of each of us. Or at least it did to me.
This past weekend I saw a first release at the Toronto International Film Festival of the movie “Chappaquiddick”. It is directed by John Curran. Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy. The movie is a replay the night of the tragic incident and the aftermath of the next week. It is gripping and chilling.
I did not want to touch my clothes at the end of the movie.
I found that I had so many emotions running through me that I was a wreck by the end of the movie. So many different themes in the movie, each one of which had its own brutality. Brutal in the sense of the starkness of the reality. Brutal in the sense of the raw emotional outpouring. Brutal in the treatment of the supposed moral compass.
Knowing Chappy so well, there were several location shots in the movie that were not exactly accurate. For example, the house that Ted had rented for the evening party for the “boiler room” girls who worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign was the same house that my parents had rented for our first summer on Chappaquiddick. I know the cottage well. The cottage that they show in the movie is not the actual one they stayed in. another example, the dirt road that leads to the Dike Bridge over Pocha Pond where the car carrying Mary Jo Kopechne flipped off the side of the bridge into the water is shown in the movie as narrow and windy. In fact, it is much wider and pretty straight. Little things like this I noticed in the movie. Nevertheless, these variances from reality were minor when viewed against the major plot, subplots and themes of the move.
So many different subplots were difficult to watch and absorb. Yet there is little doubt about whether they were real.
The relationship between Ted Kennedy and his father, the patriarch Joseph Kennedy. The situation that Ted Kennedy lived with being the youngest and least accomplished of the four Kennedy brothers. Both of these themes bring real empathy for Teddy. To have lived in this environment for his whole life would be something that most people would not be able to do.
The loyal aide who sticks with Ted Kennedy through thick and thin, even though it is tearing him apart inside. the movie openly questions the limits that one must set in helping a lifelong friend.
The relationship between Ted Kennedy and his wife, or the lack of it is more accurate. Whether there was extracurricular activity going on with Mary Jo and others is unknown but hinted at. The role of women is a foot note in this male dominated era.
The show of what money and power, rank and privilege can do when they need to pull some levers. What advice is available on a moment’s notice, and how long-term relationships can sway decision making by officials at all levels.
These are all sub themes that run through the movie. Each of these is dramatic, wrenching and brutal in its own way.
But these are opening acts to the primary theme of the movie which bares what a man (Teddy) does when faced with a crisis. How does he handle it? The answer is not pretty. It is difficult to absorb the inaction, the fabrication, the embellishment, the lying, the thinking about self-first and others last.
It is a very powerful movie. But it is a movie that you want to take a shower after seeing.