Produced and distributed by Entertainment Studios
Directed by John Curran
Screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan
A Quiet Place
Produced by Platinum Dunes
Directed and written by John Krasinski
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
On July 18, 1969, Sen. Edward Kennedy infamously drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. He had left a late-night party with an aide named Mary Jo Kopechne supposedly to take her to the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. His Oldsmobile flipped upside down in Poucha Pond and filled with what he later called “murky” water. He managed to escape, but left Miss Kopechne to die. He claimed he had gone to seek help but, as it now seems, he was most intent on protecting his political future.
Before I go further, I must confess my deep dislike for all things Kennedy, most especially the reverence reflexively accorded the family members no matter how they behave.
That said, I will try to be evenhanded in what follows. Let’s first address Chappaquiddick’s accuracy. Screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan and director John Curran have portrayed the then 37-year-old Kennedy as an immature and self-absorbed lightweight, accustomed to pushing around those socially beneath him. Is this true? I’m persuaded it is. For those who are on the fence about what happened on Chappaquiddick and how it is presented here, I refer you to the spectacle of Kennedy loyalists who have tried to quash the film. Kennedy’s old drinking buddy and fellow harasser of cocktail waitresses Chris Dodd used his position as the president of the MPAA to try to stop its distribution. Kennedy speechwriter, Bob Shrum, didn’t see the film, yet dismissed it for “trafficking in conspiracy theories” that did “a disservice both to the victim and the truth.” Many more have agreed. I’m especially intrigued by the statement made by Greg Craig, who joined Kennedy’s staff in 1984. He also didn’t bother to see the film, but reminded us that “Ted Kennedy’s contribution to his country and to the American people since that happened will not be forgotten.” That’s true. As the liberal Lion of the Senate, Kennedy treated his country much the same way he did Miss Kopechne: He abandoned it to the mercy of his left-liberal agenda. He helped rewrite our immigration laws so they no longer favored Canadians and Europeans, all the while assuring us that the new policy would not change our demographics one whit. Tell that to Americans in the Southwest who are dealing with the steady and indigestible influx of Mexicans into their region. He also stood up for the right to have unborn infants killed in the womb, and went one better when he voted against the partial-birth abortion ban for women who didn’t act promptly on their unwanted pregnancies. It’s a curious phenomenon, but the biggest supporters of abortion rights are our womanizing representatives, Eric Schneiderman being the most recent example. I wonder why. And of course Kennedy had been a staunch advocate of LGBT issues including same-sex marriage and transgender acceptance. Does anyone seriously believe Kennedy did any research to inform himself of the wisdom of these positions? Did he know, for instance, anything about the extraordinarily high suicide rate among those who undergo “gender confirmation” surgery? Did he care?
Some have charged Curran with producing a hatchet job on Kennedy’s legacy. Actually, he and his writers have striven to keep to the unembellished facts as known. They’ve avoided sensationalism, refusing to speculate on the salacious nature of the Chappaquiddick story. Were Kennedy and Kopechne romantically involved? The film gives no clue. Was Kennedy drunk that night? Ditto. Did Kennedy try to save his passenger as he claimed? Curran gives us some shots of him trying to rescue her from the car based on Kennedy’s own testimony, which many have concluded was more than a little questionable. Curran, however, has allowed himself to conjecture about Miss Kopechne’s death. Here he takes a liberty. He had to, since Kennedy made sure the facts of her demise would be unavailable for all time. He had her body shipped to her parents’ town in Pennsylvania where they were advised by his handlers that no autopsy was necessary. Mary Jo was buried the next day. The police chief at Martha’s Vineyard, however, seems not to have followed the script. He reported that Kopechne had been found in the back seat of Kennedy’s car, where she had evidently clambered to reach an air pocket so she could continue breathing. The film cuts to this scene several times to show Miss Kopechne calling for help as she gasps for air. Forensic evidence indicates that she didn’t drown but suffocated two to three hours later as Kennedy returned to his hotel to sleep. Only upon waking ten hours later did he report the accident. We’re left to draw the obvious inference: Mary Jo Kopechne could have been saved from the submerged car had Kennedy reported the accident promptly. It’s sickening to imagine what she suffered during her last hours.
What Kennedy did do was try to get his cousin Joe Gargan to say it had been he and not Kennedy who was driving the car. Gargan finally stood up to Kennedy and refused, after which Kennedy wondered out loud if they could say Miss Kopechne was driving. No, said Gargan adamantly, pointing out that he didn’t know if she could drive.
Once Kennedy is back at his family’s compound in Hyannis Port, his father, Joe, takes over. He’s called upon his retainers, including Robert McNamara and Theodore Sorensen, to tidy up the mess. Ted is pushed aside so these adults (maybe hacks would be the better word) can concoct a scenario least damaging to their boy and his political future. They arrange to have Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident before a sympathetic judge, who gave him a two-month suspended sentence.
All in all, it’s a disgusting portrayal of how the privileged abuse the less fortunate to achieve their ends, which in this case was to preserve Ted’s chance to run for president in 1972 and start the gravy train rolling for his supporters.
Kennedy was in luck with the timing of the accident. The following day, the Apollo spacecraft safely returned to earth, dominating the weekend’s news and television coverage. Then five days later, Kennedy went on national television to tell his self-serving story to the country in a speech crafted by Theodore Sorensen, who had helped brother Jack by writing Profiles in Courage as though it were the work of the handsome junior senator from Massachusetts. Yes, Scott Fitzgerald was right. At the conclusion of The Great Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway sums up the rich and entitled: They’re “careless people . . . they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
As Ted Kennedy, Australian actor Jason Clarke gives an effective, hangdog performance. After the accident, he moves in a lumbering stupor and avoids eye contact with others. He knows no one believes his story. Kate Mara plays Mary Jo Kopechne as a bright, earnest young woman who is attracted to politics because she sincerely believes that office holders such as the Kennedys are working to improve America. As Joe Gargan, Ed Helms gives us a portrait of a man at once enamored of the Kennedy mystique and resentful of it. He’s also corrupted by it. In one scene, he tries to gain ground with one of the “Boiler Room Girls,” as the female aides of Robert Kennedy were charmingly dubbed by the chivalrous men who employed them. Gargan tries to pass himself off as Kennedy’s brother. She responds icily, “Nice try.” Clearly, the lady was after bigger game. Ah, the glamor of politics.
I turn with relief to A Quiet Place, an encouraging if trying film. Encouraging, because it has the distinction of being a genuinely moving dramatization of family love; trying, because of its largely unexplained science-fiction premise. It opens in a deteriorating home in Upstate New York where a family of four resides in a cluttered basement. Slowly, it’s revealed they’re trying desperately to save themselves from some blind monsters who hunt and devour humans by responding to sound as their predatory strategy. Discarded newspapers in the house reveal in their headlines that these creatures have killed much of humanity already and seem determined to feast on those who remain. To avoid their attacks, the family must remain silent. They’re helped in this regard by their daughter, who is deaf. She’s played by the lovely 12-year-old Millicent Simmonds, who is herself deaf. As a result of her disability, they’ve all become proficient in using sign language, which is how they communicate with one another through the first silent 30 minutes of the drama.
The premise seems to be allegorical in nature. For one thing, it’s a device for forcing the family members to stay close together, literally in touch with one another in a manner quite rare in today’s noisy world. And that’s the point, surely. Outside forces have driven the family intimately together just to stay alive. Playing the outside forces, the monsters are preternaturally sensitive to the world that howls around us: the incessant news, advertising, amusements that fill our days and nights. When was the last time you lived in silence for more than a few minutes at a go? Is our addiction to noise killing our peace, our intimacy? This movie suggests so.
Emily Blunt and John Krasinski play Evelyn and Lee Abbott, a couple devoted to their marriage and their family, including the baby boy Evelyn gives birth to in the second half of the narrative who puts them in graver danger yet. Newborns are notoriously unshushable. Still, the parents are delighted by the boy’s arrival.
Krasinski, who wrote and directed the film, has said that its central theme is parenting and the sacrifices necessary to protect children. As Evelyn asks at one point, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?”
The other players, the monsters, are hideous creatures about the size of donkeys, brown, angular and startlingly fleet when on the hunt. When we get to see them more closely, they resemble walking ears whose auditory canals widen with the slightest sound to reveal furiously vibrating tympanic membranes. Monsters don’t come more menacing than this. Well, there’s the wail and drone of our popular culture, isn’t there?
I hope to see more of Blunt and Krasinski, a married couple in real life. They make a refreshing alternative to the usual Hollywood actors.
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