I saw this movie tonight. And unlike many critics, I liked it a lot. Basically, the movie tracks a bevy of characters in and around the Ambassador hotel on the day Bobby Kennedy won the primary, presaging his assassination that very night. In itself, this worked moderately well. But what gives the movie its power is the scene when Bobby is shot. Throughout the film, we are presented with snippets of the man and his message. As he lies on the floor of the hotel kitchen, surrounded by complete chaos, we hear some of his most soaring rhetoric. And what rhetoric it is. He talks about the futility of hatred and division. Of how violence is never the answer, no matter how tempting. Of how compassion must be our primary concern. And how we are all part of a community, connected to a greater whole. It was beautiful and poignant and uplifting. And then it dawned on me: the movie was presenting snapshots of the interconnected human community as it existed on that day and in that place in 1968, all brought together by the terrible events of that day, and thereby imbuing Bobby's words with a tragic dimension.
An aura of sadness and loss hangs over the movie, as we know the author of these majestic words is dead, and that his noble vision ends with him. I did not live through this era, as I was only born two years after Bobby's assassination. Would Kennedy have been a good president? There is no answer to this question. Perhaps his idealism would have hit cold hard reality, in Vietnam, in the coming global recession, in countless other challenges. But we will never know. All we know is that it all went downhill in America from that June night in 1968, culminating in the presidency George W. Bush, who in many ways is the anti-Kennedy. While Bobby spoke of bringing peace, Bush brought war. While Kennedy talked about compassion from heartfelt belief, Bush talked about compassion to earn votes and then chose instead to reward the wealthy and especially his cronies. While Bobby's rhetoric was noble and inspiring, Bush speaks in monosyllabic sound bites. And while Bobby was guided by his idealism, Bush offers only cynicism and petulence.
But this goes way beyond Bush. No public figure speaks like that anymore, with the possible exception of Barack Obama. Of course, Bobby's belief sprung from his heartfelt Catholic faith. He is a reminder of what Catholic public figures were like before the advent of people like Rick Santorum, Bill Donohue, George Weigel, and Deal Hudson. This was a time when Catholic politicians clung to the entire Catholic social theory, not only the parts favored by the Republican party, or evangelical allies.
So, go and watch this movie. Let Kennedy's words, uttered in 1968, offer meaning in the current climate in 2006. Shed a tear for what was lost. And hope for what may come.