Tuesday, April 17, 2018

But What if Teddy Didn't 
Want to be Great?

by Mark Steyn


April 16,2018

I had minimal expectations of Chappaquiddick The Movie, which opened despite the best efforts of the Kennedy family and their various retainers and enablers. I have always been revolted by the fact that Ted, after killing Mary Jo Kopechne, did not have the decency to do a John Profumo and retire from public life for the rest of his days - and I was even more revolted by the way Massachusetts voters did not have the decency to impose that choice upon him.

But utter contempt for your protagonist doesn't make for very interesting drama. So it is to the film's benefit that its director, writers and Jason Clarke in the lead role manage to locate enough humanity in the empty waddling husk of Teddy to make a compelling story. Mr Clarke is Australian, his director John Curran is American but has spent much of his career Down Under, and the screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan are two first-timers born a decade after Chappaquiddick and who'd apparently never heard the word until 2008. That combination of outsiders and neophytes may be one reason why this film is considerably more gripping and potent than a cookie-cutter limousine-liberal yawnfest like The Post.

In the shorthand of history, Chappaquiddick is a stand-alone event, but it occurred, in fact, on the July weekend in 1969 that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon - and it arose from a reunion of the "Boiler Room Girls", the devoted young ladies who'd worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign of the previous year. 

So Teddy, the youngest Senate Majority Whip in history, is nevertheless staggering in the shadow of both his dazzling brother's recent assassination and the fulfillment of his other assassinated brother's most audacious challenge. He is there, ostensibly, to compete in the Edgartown Yacht Club's annual regatta, in the family sailboat Victura, which his other dead brother, Joe Jr, killed in the war, first sailed over thirty years earlier. 

One feels entirely confident that, if the Kennedy patriarch - old Joe, stroke-afflicted but still running the show - had expressed a preference over which of his four sons would be the only one to survive, Teddy would have been last on the list. 

Handome is as handsome does.

We meet him early on, in his room at the Shiretown Inn, climbing into his swim trunks and checking himself in the mirror before heading for the beach and the girls. Pushing forty, he still seems to have his puppy fat, a soft and doughy middle-aged child.

There is, as it happens, another brother - or "brother": Kennedy cousin Joe Gargan, who lost his parents at a young age and was raised by Teddy's parents as (almost) one of their own. 

As played by Ed Helms, Joe is the conscience of the picture: he doesn't exactly do the right thing, but he's broadly in favor of others doing the right thing, which, in the moral universe of the Kennedys, gives him a sporting chance of winding up a couple of circles of hell further out from where the rest of them are headed. He's officially Ted's lawyer but more importantly his fixer. So we see him in the payphone outside the Shiretown Inn, on the line to the Senator in Washington, reassuring him that the bedroom for "the girl" has been taken care of.

Phone booths are a kind of motif of the picture and its milieu: 1969 is the pre-cellular age, and too many nosy desk clerks like to listen in on the room lines. Ted isn't good at a lot of things (he flubs the sailboat race after steering the Victura into a buoy) but he knows where the payphones are, and he knows how to work them. 

The Senator is married, of course, but it's understood by all that Joan Kennedy never comes to regatta weekend. When her husband gets into trouble, she's prevailed upon to show up, because it's part of the deal. But she's a prop, and in this film almost a non-speaking part: She has just one line, three words delivered to Ted when he climbs into the car and thanks her for coming. She responds by suggesting he, er, do to himself what he's done to her and almost every other woman he's used and discarded over the years.

Jason Clarke's is not exactly a sympathetic portrait, but it is rounded: his Teddy is self-absorbed and self-loathing, both aware of his weakness and cowardice, and yet unable to overcome the Kennedy family's sense of its own indispensability. You get a sense of the peculiarly isolating quality of American politics at its upper echelons, so different from the unglamorous parliamentary life of other countries. 

This Ted is a lonely man who's never alone, buffed and polished by a round-the-clock retinue. He's a brand, assumed to be a shoo-in for the '72 presidential nomination, though he himself seems to have no particular enthusiasm for it, and, by comparison to their love for Bobby, even the girls' encouragement seems pro forma and dutiful. His wheelchair-bound speech-afflicted father, in a gothic performance by Bruce Dern, manages to loose off one complete sentence in the picture, albeit a word longer than Joan Kennedy's: "You'll. Never. Be. Great." Forced through his slack, hanging lips to his last son, there must surely be, for a Kennedy scion, no more damning indictment.

But what if Ted doesn't want to be great? What if he'd just like twenty minutes away from it all sitting on the hood of his Olds parked on the edge of a deserted beach with a girl who seems to feel a connection to him.
Ah, but even then the talk is only of politics and destiny…

What happened is well known: The party to thank the Boiler Room Girls of his late brother's campaign is well lubricated. He leaves with a blonde, and then, instead of turning left for the ferry to Edgartown, he swings right onto a dirt road leading to a deserted beach. 

At a wooden bridge with no guard rails Teddy makes his own personal moon shot: the car sails through the air and lands upside down in a dark tidal pond. The guy gets out and makes it to the surface. He leaves the girl down there. All this has been the subject of innumerable books and magazine articles and newspaper columns, but it is shocking to see it, in heartless, prosaic, unsparing, detail. 

The sodden Senator walks all the way back to the party, past houses with lights burning, full of people who could have called for help, who themselves could have helped. Instead, he totters on to his fixers, and tells them, self-pityingly, "I'm never going to be president.”

Mary Jo Kopechne is something of a cipher in her own story: She led a short, varied life, but, as played by Kate Mara, she's mainly there to look the part, "the girl". John Curran, directing with unflashy efficiency, nevertheless conjures the horror of her final hours: We see Mary Jo in the car at the bottom of the pond, then Ted back in the inn soaking in the tub; Mary Jo pressed up against the shrinking air pocket, Ted adjusting his tie and combing his hair; Mary Jo sobbing and gasping out her last "Hail, Mary" at the hour of her death, Ted heading down to breakfast with supporters in the hotel dining room - until he's interrupted by Joe Gargan, aghast to discover it's the morning after and that Kennedy still hasn't reported the accident. 

And yet Joe too slips reflexively into damage-control mode.

The normal reaction is that of the Chappaquiddick fisherman and his son rounding the bend. The kid is first to spot the upturned Oldsmobile: "Dad!" And the guy tells him to run, run to the nearest house, and the boy pounds the dusty road as fast as he can. But that's why he's a fisherman, not a fixer man. Even before the body's brought up, Mary Jo is fading from the drama: She's no longer a flesh-and-blood human being, no longer "the girl"; she's just a problem, to be fixed - permanently. 

Ted returns to Hyannis Port for what he assumes will be a spot of afternoon tea with his dad, but, when the nurse motions him into the sitting room, he discovers a vast army of Camelot courtiers lined up behind the chintz sofa - Ted Sorensen, Sargent Shriver, and pre-eminently Bob McNamara, irresistibly conjured by Clancy Brown and smoothly transferring his talents from the Bay of Pigs to a bay with only one pig. 

Joe Kennedy's called in the heavyweights, A-list fixers who despise Ted's fixers as Z-list fixers.

This is a more sophisticated and blackly comic view of the nature of politics than, say, George Clooney's Ides of March. The acidic glamour of power corrodes even Mary Jo's fellow Boiler Room Girls. No sooner are they informed that their friend is dead than one of them steps forward to volunteer: "What can we do to help the Senator?" 

The ladies themselves, having kept their silence for half-a-century, are said to deny this version of events, and the words themselves are put in the mouth of a fictional Boiler Roomer created for the movie: "Rachel" (Olivia Thirlby). But, whatever their motivations, the actions of almost everyone in this tale facilitate the replacement of one victim by another: Edward M Kennedy.

The Lion of the Senate according to John McCain

Chappaquiddick is an excellent film that deserves to find an audience. John Curran tells his tale in a matter-of-fact semi-procedural style, punctuated by moments when Teddy seems to be, so to speak, floating dreamily through his own drama: At the height of the crisis, the camera alights on him flying a kite, blank-eyed and beaming and far away from dad's schemes of greatness.

The film's visual language subtly underlines the journey he's on: the Edgartown scenes are bright and airy, all sun-dappled porches and spacious vistas, innocent and optimistic. 

Back at Hyannis Port, the sitting room is literally smoke-filled, the airless, darkened corridors and landings have turned their faces from the world, the better to construct an alternative reality and impose it on the actual facts. 

In Jason Clarke's performance, Teddy's self-doubt is his most (only?) human quality. But the aim of Joe's fixers is to get the last son to the point where he stops feeling conflicted and unsure, and understands that he's a Kennedy and that that trumps all. 

As I wrote way back when:

Ted's the star, and there's no room to namecheck the bit players. What befell him was a thing, a place. As Joan Vennochi wrote in The Boston Globe:

'Like all figures in history , and like those in the Bible, for that matter‚ Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.’

Actually, Peter denied Jesus, rather than 'betrayed' him, but close enough for Catholic-lite Massachusetts. And if Moses having a temper never led him to leave some gal at the bottom of the Red Sea, well, let's face it, he doesn't have Ted's tremendous legislative legacy, does he?

As I mentioned the other day, that bit turns up in the new movie. Joan Vennochi's words are put in Ted's mouth: He says defensively that all men are flawed - "Moses had a temper, Peter betrayed Jesus." And my cheap riposte - "Moses didn't leave a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea" - is given to the outraged Joe Gargan, already on his way out, supplanted by better, colder, harder fixers. When the guy gets out and leaves the girl at the bottom of the sea, it offends the natural order: Joe is telling him he's not a man.

And Ted barely reacts: The angry words fall off him like water off a Chappaquiddick duck's back. Because human feeling is for humans. And he doesn't have to be a man; he's a Kennedy.

The wrong person died in this car accident.

[NOTE: Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human rights activist. His latest book is "The Undocumented Mark Steyn: Don't Say You Weren't Warned"]


  1. I find it impossible to call up within myself any sympathy for the Admiral of Chappaquiddick. His behavior after driving off the bridge is indefensible as far as I'm concerned.

    I reserve my sympathy for Kopechne and, more particularly, for Joan Kennedy.

    Old Joe somewhat despised his youngest son -- or so I've read in many different books about the Kennedy Family -- because he didn't rise to the same potential for leadership as the other sons.

    1. Mark Steyn's unique view of the ultimate meaning of the terrible events at Chappaquiddick is the primary point of interest in this lengthy but absorbing and beautifully written article.

      Giving an opportin/uty for aIring our own long held views on the subject was not the reason I posted Steyn's distinguished piece. I had hoped –– as I always do –– that we would examine STEYN'S article in some depth, then discuss the TONE he sets, as well as the points HE chose to raise.

      We're all so busy drowning in RAW DATA, most have forgotten how to READ for pleasure, and SAVOR the style and the intrepretive nuances as well as the "facts" in writing of this fine a quality .

    2. The insights Steyn presents are not his; he is recounting the nuances of the movie, albeit in his own inimical style.

      It is neat how the words of both Steyn and Kennedy Worshiper Joan Gnocchi made it into the movie.

    3. This is Steyn's REVIEW of the movie, yes, but good reviewers usually include in.terpretive insights of their own as to what the piece in question may or may truly mean.

      The Facts-and-FIgures-Only approach does not constitute a "REVIEW" but rather a REPORT.

      We've become unused to reading genuine reports, because so-called journalists today almost NEVER leave their personal feelings and biases out of their writing.

      "ART," however, is by its very nature almost entirely subjective.

      I hven't seen the movie. It's unikely I ever shall given my present circumstances, but I'd be interested too too how i struck ME. I mght see something very different from Mr. Steyn.

      "Subjectivity," is what makes life interesting –– as long as it doesn't show us as entirely self-absorbed.

    4. Gertrude KrummshiteApril 17, 2018 at 3:04 PM

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I wonder how much they paid Steyn to help sell movie tickets.

    1. Please don't be so cynical. I beiieve Mark Steyn to be above that sort of thing. He's no whore.

    2. Mark Steyn could never have sprung from such an impoverished, desperately low environment.

      He's an utterly brilliant, very classy guy.

      I takes one to know one, don't you know?


    3. Thersites,
      I don't understand your contempt for Steyn, either. I think he's a great and eloquent voice on the right.

    4. Yes, Silver. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be he.

      He strikes a near-perfect balance bertween merry, tongue-in-cheek satire, scathing criticism, and deeply serious thoughtfulness.

      Despite the grimness of American politics, Steyn always leaves us feeling heartened and encouraged..

    5. A lot of mean-faced blowhard cons could learn from Mr. Steyn. He's a quick wit, eloquent, cogent and does it all with good humor.

  3. I am surprised that no one has mentioned the rape case against one of the young Kennedy relatives or hangers on. My memory is foggy on it, but I believe that the woman making the charge was at one of the many Kennedy compounds and that testimony for the defense was given by none other than Teddy Kennedy. As I recall, again vaguely, Ted was wandering around the compound in bathrobe with drink in hand when he came upon the act of totally consensual sex.
    Does anybody else remember this or is it just my overactive imagination?

  4. Mark Steyn is fabulous I love to hear him when he fills in for Rush.
    He is so informative and yet very humorous.

  5. Terdella Poomoji CacapupuApril 17, 2018 at 2:49 PM

    Ted Kennedy, the Lyin' King of the Senate, was a disgusting, philandering drunkard. Finally, this movie serves as his historical comeuppance.

    1. The LYIN' KING of the Senate!

      That's good. U'll be sure to remember it.

  6. Phyllis Butts-McCrackenApril 17, 2018 at 3:02 PM

    I would encourage the angry mob to pause and consider the possibility that Senator Kennedy, the LION of the Senate, dedicated himself to this country and employed his legislative brilliance as an expression of repentance for his tragic mistake.

    1. How YOU –– or anyone ELSE –- could POSSIBLY say a stupid thing like that after studying this article by Mark Steyn about a well-established, notably hideous FACT in modern Amercan history defies analysis.

      Either you are a SICK JOKER about a subject that has NO amusing aspects to it whatsoever, a BLIND FOOL, OR you are clinically INSANE nd ought to] be LOCKED UP for your own protection and that of society at large.

    2. Phyllis Butts-McCrackenApril 17, 2018 at 6:54 PM

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Phyliis, you're nothing but a CRANK.

      Please DON'T EVER come back.

      You and all your deluded kind are precisely what's WRONG with our countury.

  7. Something is seriously wrong in America.

    We tolerate sanctuary cities and Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf (D) who protects illegals before citizens. We just learned that California for the first time appointed an illegal alien to a state office position – an indignant rub that tells us California disregards Trump’s federal immigration laws. We watched San Francisco denigrate the memory of Kate Steinle by validating her illegal killer’s rights. Trump was accused of Russian collusion for which they illegally sought FISA approved wiretaps by Democrats who paid for opposition dossier research they knew were lies. Have they been punished? Not yet

    1. True enough, but you made no attempt to realte your cmment to Mark Steyn's excellent review of CHAPPAQUIDDICK, the movie.

      Because of that I ought to DELETE you, but will let this comment stand, because it DOES point out important truths about the overall DEMENTIA and DEGENERACY of the Left much of which has likely stemmed from letting TEDDY get away with MURDER.

  8. Joe Kennedy Sr wanted his eldest son Joe Jr to enter politics and eventually run for the presidency, but alas Joe Jr was killed while serving in WE II so the father's wishes fell to the second son John or Jack as everyone called him.
    JFK never really wanted to be a politician, being an excellent athlete he always wanted to be involved in sports. In fact JFK always longed to be a professional boxer but as we all now know....he couldn't take a shot to the head.

    1. ___ The Deviltry That Lead To ___
      ______ November 22, 1963 ______

      Joseph P. once had a Master Plan.
      Oh, what dreams of Glory he possessed!
      His lust for Conquest never let him rest.
      Naught but vain Ambition drove the clan

      Kennedy had sired to fulfill
      Ego-driven fantasies of ruling
      Nations. Wealth, ill-gotten, had us drooling.
      Nothing seemed to thwart Old Joseph’s will.

      Enter World War Two: It killed young Joe,
      Destined to be President one day.
      Even so, despite this transient woe,

      Ambition took the lead again, so Jack
      Took his brother’s place. That was Joe’s way.
      His will was thwarted by a rifle’s crack.

      ~ FreeThinke

      See! You're absolutly right, Rusty, but WHY didn't you at least try to connect all that with, CHAPPQUIDDICK what is after the topic of this post, hmmmmmm?

    2. Well FT, hypocritical liberals excusing the boorish behavior of not only the Kennedy brothers but also Gary Hart, Bill Clinton and even creepy Anthony Wiener yet they point to Trump who as a private NYC billionaire citizen was blinking strippers.
      If Ted Kennedy's last name was Jones he would have been doing 10 to 15 years on a vehicular homicide charge

    3. Dwew ain' NO DOUBT 'BOUT DAT, Rusty.

      Some people will always be regarded as "more equal than others." It's just theway of the world.

  9. Still and yet, Democrats to include Democrat women will not give up worshiping that fat sack of garbage. You don't treat women like that, okay?

    Meanwhile, the same shitgibbons who worship Kennedy there, they're all over President Trump! Who has not killed anybody, and who has not raped anybody!

    These Hillary fan diaperbombs won't admit, Donald was a Ladies MAN, those women wanted to be with him!

    I am so freakin tired of all thi. Its about time someobody made a film to show American what a real despicable politician looks like. they can put Bill Clinton up there next and we can really watch the leftwing loonies howl and piss themselves blind.

  10. Excellent blog FT, needless to say that I despised Ted Kennedy!

    1. So did his poor abused, neglected dishonored wife Joan.

  11. The Truth Has Been SpokenApril 17, 2018 at 3:31 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


      [As, perhaps, I should be deleted for REDUNDANCY] };^)>

  12. Walter KrankenhausApril 17, 2018 at 3:42 PM

    Statues of kennedy remain but Sandinista Mayor Bill DeBlastio is removing the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, father of modern gynecology. That man has seen more pussy that Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton combined.

    And that's the way it is here in progressive America, where the Taliban left topples a statue every day.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Thomas Sinclair Alexander Winthrop the FirstApril 17, 2018 at 3:58 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. What an ignorant and moronic comment.

      You must be from Assachewshits like your hero Teddy the Rapist.

      President Donald J. Trump did not kill anyone. Donald Trump was a womanizer, but his former paramours describe him as charming and they associated with him willingly, unlike Terrible Ted and his ass-grabbing, waitress sandwiching perv buddy and fellow Assachewshits senator Chris Dodd.

      Go smoke a rope you shitweasel.

    2. You're right, of course, but PLEASE watch your language. Vulgarity sometimes has its place –– when I use it ];^}> –– but most of the time it just degrades the quailty of the comments section, Besides, it BORING.

      Read Mark Steyn. He elegantly and very cleverly ALLUDES to the crudest most despicable things, but never stoops to the use of gutter language. One of the things that make him a great writer.

  15. Reverend Billy Jim HollerApril 17, 2018 at 4:02 PM

    kennedy is the hero of Godless liberal women because he was a champion of abortion rights, abortion on demand, abortion all the time.

    The rest of us see him acting out of cynical self interest.

  16. Wonderful review FT. There will always be these POSs rising to positions for public acceptance and then public control and raping. I'd sure love to see an environment with a lot more critical thinkers who find a way to demand more. Even if it means some people need to be brought to room temperature on occasion.
    We could use some of that now. The evil is bleating away with impunity. That's what bothers me, not that they are evil.



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