Last month, Ethel, the new film from Rory Kennedy, about her mother, Ethel Kennedy, premiered on HBO. It made me happy, like looking at this picture of Ethel and Bobby (looking like Brothers and Sisters from another mother and another mister) makes me happy. It makes me happy the way young love makes me happy, the way youthful optimism makes me happy, the way the sense that all things are possible always makes me so very very happy. It’s a sense that’s hard to maintain past a certain age or a certain set of life experiences.
By all accounts, Ethel and Bobby had charmed lives, but it all came to a crashing, soul-crushing end, one day at The Ambassador Hotel, when one man — who represents nothing so much as an idea — the idea of fear and of hatred — put a bullet in Bobby’s head, and in all of our dreams — even if we weren’t even born yet, as I was not, and as Rory Kennedy was not, though she had a front-row seat from inside her mother’s womb. The loss was greatest, no doubt, for Ethel, who in Ethel shows off the quiet courage it takes to simply move on. She lived out her husband’s legacy in ways I had not been aware of. Born into a Republican family, she dedicated her life, from Bobby on, to progressive ideals. In any other circumstance, I’d write her off as the kind of woman who had no mind of her own save the mind of her man, but something about Rory Kennedy’s Ethel makes me know different. In talking with her mother and her eight surviving older siblings (there were once eleven Ethel-and-Bobby-Kennedy children in all), Rory unearths a woman who was transformed by love into a Democrat, but who remained vibrantly, ribaldly herself all her life long (and there’s no sign she has any plans on letting up). She kept a menagerie of pets at their home in Suburban, Virginia, a place where seals and horses and children roamed free, and took her kids on the campaign trail, and to mob hearings that ignited, perhaps, their own passion for making a world of change.
The most poignant moments of Ethel were those moments when all things were possible — and two ordinary people born to privilege, chose to put everything on the line, as if it scarcely mattered the risk they would take — to live the lives they were so clearly born for. In this sense, Ethel is a reminder that our lives are not our own. When lived to their highest potential, our lives are vehicles through which destiny makes it’s face known in the world.
IMAGE via Ethel Official Website
PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.