Chappaquiddick and the Death of Mary Jo Kopechne

Mitchell Rolling

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Chappaquiddick, to put it simply, was a very good movie. It developed characters well and stuck to a great storyline — based on actual events — and incorporated other key figures involved in a realistic way.

The movie details the story behind the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, who died on July 18, 1969, after Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge into a shallow pond on Chappaquiddick Island. The movie shows how Mary Jo died while struggling to keep breathing in an air pocket in the car, eventually suffocating – not drowning. 

Kennedy, for his part, never attempted to save her yet told authorities he did later. The movie portrays him in a child-like fashion. Even after the death of his friend,  he finds enjoyment in activities like flying kites and watching cartoons. He also never seemed to want to take responsibility for his actions. The day after the incident occurred, in fact, when Kennedy was supposed to call in the incident to authorities, he was found by his cousin eating lunch with friends. 

After waiting longer than ten hours to notify the police about the accident, officers had already pulled Kopechne’s body out of the water when Kennedy finally spoke with them. The movie depicts the diver who pulled her out as saying he could have had her out in 15 minutes if he had been called sooner, which no doubt would have resulted in saving her life.

The movie is also good at depicting the politics going into Kennedy’s actions going forward.

When Kennedy called his dad to tell him of what happened, he replied with only one word: Alibi. When Kennedy refused to lie about his whereabouts as his father suggested, his dad called together a team of lawyers who then work on saving Kennedy’s name from damage in the public spotlight. 

Ted Kennedy shows signs of questioning whether he should continue in politics, only to cast aside his doubts once he believes his lawyers have successfully come out with a strategy to save his image. 

And save it they did. In his next election as a senator from MA, Kennedy won a greater victory than his last.

The only negative impact this event had on Kennedy was that he ended up not running for president in the next election cycle he could. He would eventually run in 1980 but lost in the primaries to Jimmy Carter.  

This movie brings to light what many people already think; that there is one standard of law for average citizens, and for important figures like the Kennedys and the Clintons there is another standard. For ordinary people, simply committing a crime warrants punishment. For elites, it must be shown that they intended to commit a crime, as a now-famous ex-FBI director once said.