Mary Jo Kopechne Portrayed in ‘Chappaquiddick’

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Jason Clarke as Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne in "Chappaquiddick." Courtesy Entertainment Studios.

“Chappaquiddick,” the political drama starring House of Cards actress Kate Mara, opened this weekend, and I was one of the many riveted spectators at Georgetown’s AMC Loews on Sunday, April 8.

The film recounts the fateful events in the summer of 1969 when Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara) suffocates to death in a submerged car, driven by Sen. Ted Kennedy off a bridge on Martha’s Vineyard.

You’ve heard the stories and the conspiracies, but in the wake of the #metoo movement, the film takes on a chilling resonance.

Chappaquiddick exposes the infuriating Mad Men-era machinations that led to Kennedy’s escape from legal and public damnation, but leaves you thirsty for an answer to a burning question: Who was the real Mary Jo Kopechne and how did she end up in that car that night?

Her story actually makes two stops in Georgetown, not seen in the film. Kopechne moved to Washington in her early 20s to work for a number of politicians. She lived on the 1200 block of 35th Street and then more famously at 2712 Olive St. NW, a home once owned by the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker.

In the film, Kopechne is devastated after the death of Robert Kennedy, her former boss and hero.

Mara sits on a beach beside Ted, wistfully looking into the sea contemplating her future. He wants her to come and work for him. She seems unmoved by his overtures (whether they be romantic in nature, the viewer isn’t sure).

Later that evening, she’s at a house party organized by Ted and his cronies for the young women, like Mary Jo, who worked for Bobby. In those pre-PC days, they are quaintly called the “boiler room girls.”

As the evening progresses, it is Ted’s turn to be the despondent one.

He rests on a sofa, aloof from the crowd. Mary Jo sits next to him. Not long after, the two disappear into the night, leaving her purse behind.

While the film is unequivocal in its indictment of Ted’s actions after the crash, its portrait of our tragic neighbor is as murky as the waters in Poucha Pond.

What remains clear is that a life of great promise was cut short far before its time.

 

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