How Accurate Is 'Chappaquiddick?' The True Story About Ted Kennedy Will Leave You With So Many Questions
Everyone knows about the folkloric "Kennedy curse," which supposedly caused both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy's assassinations as well as the 1999 plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. The new movie, Chappaquiddick, is mostly accurate in how it depicts yet another Kennedy accident, but it focuses on the 28-year-old victim Mary Jo Kopechne, rather than a member of the family's political dynasty. In the real-life event — and the film which comes out on April 6 — Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), the Massachusetts senator, drove his car off a bridge and into the water, killing Kopechne (Kate Mara).
Not only does Chappaquiddick — named after the small island near Martha’s Vineyard where the accident took place — depict the events both leading up to and following Kopechne's death, but it also draws attention to how oddly Kennedy handled the whole thing. Even the beginning of the night of July 18, 1969 raises suspicion, as Kennedy had started the night at an annual party that reunited staffers from Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, according to the History Channel. Those staffers included Kopechne, who proved herself a savvy political aide as she helped write some of RFK's important speeches, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Vulture points out that at the beginning of the night, the party included six married men with six younger, unmarried women. Yet when Ted Kennedy drove Kopechne away from the party, the story becomes questionable. Even though Chappaquiddick uses Kennedy's testimonies from the time, it also proves an impossible story to tell 100 percent accurately as certain parts don't quite add up.
The strangest aspect of Kopechne's death is the fact that it took Kennedy 10 hours to call the police after driving the car off the bridge. As both the movie and the historical record divulge, a passerby found the car in the morning and called the police. As Vulture states, the diver who extracted Kopechne's body said in his testimony that he could have gotten the woman out of the car in 25 minutes following the crash had he been notified, which the movie also shows.
Instead of calling the authorities, Ted Kennedy testified that he tried to get Kopechne out of the car himself until he determined that he couldn't and returned to the cottage where the party had been held. There, he got his cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and Gargan’s friend, U.S. Attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), who joined the senator in forming a plan. In Kennedy's testimony, he said that he swam back to his hotel — he originally testified that he had been driving himself and Kopechne to the ferry dock to return to their respective hotels in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. In the movie, however, Joe and Paul bring Kennedy back to Edgartown on a row boat, where he then changes his suit and calls his father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
Even though Chappaquiddick fills audiences in on the 10 hours between the accident and the next day when Kennedy finally called the police, it still largely remains mysterious why the senator chose not to call first responders immediately. “Gargan and Markham not only failed to get immediate help, but also let the senator swim back alone to report the accident from Edgartown,” Kopechne's mother, Gwen, told the Boston Globe. “This is the big hurt, the nightmare we have to live with for the rest of our lives: that Mary Jo was left in the water for nine hours. She didn’t belong there.”
Tragically, as Vulture reports, the movie suggests that Kopechne could have been alive in the submerged car for a few hours following the crash. Perhaps Kennedy simply feared what would happen if he had phoned the police immediately. As the Boston Globe revealed, reporters at the Chappaquiddick cottage discovered a trash can filled with empty liquor bottles, though Kennedy testified that he had only had a couple of drinks before leaving the party. Also suspicious is the fact that Kopechne left her handbag and hotel keys back at the party, and if that were the case, why would Kennedy drive her to the ferry to return to her hotel as he had claimed he was doing?
So many questions remain, and even though Chappaquiddick mostly accurately recounts the events of July 18, 1969 in Massachusetts, the only thing that audiences will walk out of the theater knowing for sure is that the exact events following the car crash will likely never be revealed.