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The Men in the High Castles

Jason Adams reviews Chappaquidick, new in theaters this Friday

"I am a collage of unaccounted for brushstrokes - I am all random." Those are among the last words spoken by Stockard Channing's character in Six Degrees of Separation as she flees another ritzy party, her sense of self in tatters. Who are we, just an assemblage of stories we tell ourselves, and others? Is there something in between the molecules, if you drill down deep enough, or does infinite digging render everything dug? When we get up and look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning, are our eyes showing us Fake News? The post-modern self is an existential crisis in overdrive, but at a certain point don't you have to just stop drilling and take stock of what you actually see? Where does the scrutinizing of facts end and the perversion of them begin? Who writes our histories?

On July 18th, 1969 in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge and a 29-year-old woman named Mary Jo Kopechne died. What happened in the hours following that accident has been the subject of numerous books, not to mention many a feverish speculative daydream of right-leaning politicians and pundits. But it hasn't gotten the movie treatment until now with John Curran's Chappaquiddick, starring Jason Clarke as Kennedy and Kate Mara as Kopechne, out in theaters this Friday. Curran seeks to write that history...

He does a fine job. The movie sorts through the facts of the incident and renders them with at times  excruciating clarity - Clarke doesn't disappear into the role but shows us some stark, and at times scary, truths about the way privilege can infect and corrupt decency, and he's surrounded by a chorus of unsettling yes men, implacable white catalog faces. It's like somebody smeared asbestos across a Land's End catalog. They make the truth; the truth makes us. We all asphyxiate on the fumes.

The problem, it seems, is timing. The film began production one month before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and it has all the feel of a film that aspired to wrangle with the future prospect of the exact opposite of what actually happened. This is a movie about the poisons of political dynasties. It would've had conversations to elbow and nudge opposite a President Clinton the 2nd. But history had something else, eons scarier, in store.

Curran and Clarke have been defensively making the interview rounds making their case that the movie has things to say about politics, period, and what we should want from it - truth and justice and all that jazz - and they're not wrong. But then they've also got a movie to sell. They've got two hours of our time to take, and a narrative to build. And the stories we tell about ourselves as a country are just as important, as defining, as the ones we tell about ourselves - they build, piece by piece, our communal self, which we hope won't slip through the cracks. We should aspire to be far, far better than the Kennedys were in Chappaquiddick.

It's just that right now, as our institutions creak under the weight of this daily tweet-storm chaos, I think we all feel ourselves slipping through the cracks - we are unaccounted brushstrokes, and every damn thing is random. Chappaquiddick asks questions, but they're not really the right ones right this minute, and we need to be asking the right questions right now, and anyway we need answers not questions, and we need them quick. Our country's mask of sanity is slipping. We're all just filling in the dirt as fast as we can.

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Reader Comments (9)

A review less about the relevancy - I thought it was OK, but could've been better. Felt like a missed opportunity. I didn't really FEEL the situation, it was more like reading an account of the events. I don;t think the choice of actors helped - a group of thespians that do their job fine but don't really reach into the realms of greatness (except for Bruce Dern, but he really doesn't have much to do here).

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

I don't count Kate Mara as one of my favourite actresses, and I don't deliberately seek out her movies. But every time I see her, I'm reminded of how good she is, and how perfectly she embodies the character she's playing. I need to appreciate her more.

April 4, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

i thought that politicians having extra-marital affair was something new, of our days. I am surprised to find out about this story, being the Kennedys democrats and liberals. i thought that things like corruption, sexual harrassment and secret lovers were about being republican and conservative. I was raised with this belief. It`s a shame.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLorienne, Florida

The Kennedys - a family still full of scary untold stories - a lot of skeletons and ghosts in the closet.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMelchiades

The discomfort of some reviewers and critics about the theme of this movie is patent and somewhat embarrassing.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGiovanni

This was a "review"? It read more like Jason was expressing his frustrations with the political state of the country (yawn), and this movie just happened to get in the way. There's about two sentences of actual review, and I have no idea of the quality of this movie other than "does a fine job". The rest of it isn't even that coherent.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGuestguestguest

JA: Good point. But Trump is so bizarre and without real precedent in reality that the only political thing that could really "wrangle" with what he represents, in code, is an adaptation of that "Lex Luthor becomes President" thing from DC Comics.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I saw the rather bland trailer and thought why did anybody make this movie? Kennedy haters? And who is going to watch it?

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

Guestguestguest and Giovanni - I actually don't disagree with you (well except for maybe the "yawn" part") - I wasn't planning on reviewing the film at all because the film is fine, not all that exciting to be honest; the only thing that got my fingers moving on the keyboard at all was a couple of interviews I'd read this week with Curran & Clarke that I reference amid these jumbled thoughts where they're clearly on the defensive about nobody wanting to pay their movie any attention right now. This thing was a response to that. I know it's jumbled but I'm jumbled as hell right now, and this movie's entry into this time and place confuses me on top of that. That's all I was trying to get across, really. It's more interesting than the movie, which is, as Travis said, kind of a missed opportunity.

April 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJason

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