That’s the outrageous implication in Adam McKay’s new film, Vice.
Edit: this article has been updated to reflect paragraphs in Lynn Cheney’s autobiography.
I watched Adam McKay’s unusual biopic of Vice President Dick Cheney a few days ago, and one scene in particular stood out. For all its focus on Cheney’s political machinations, Vice briefly touches on a personal tragedy for Cheney’s wife, Lynne, whose mother drowned at the age of 54. It is the second time Lynne’s parents are mentioned, the other being a brief interaction in the opening scene in which Lynne’s mother is portrayed as a doting and abused housewife.
Early in the film, Lynne Cheney (competently played by Amy Adams) receives a phone call with terrible news. Her mother, Edna, has drowned. Lynne openly wonders why she would be in the lake, knowing she can’t swim. Lynne, her husband Dick (Christian Bale), then Assistant Director of the Cost of Living Council for President Richard Nixon, and their two young daughters fly home to Wyoming to attend the funeral.
At the cemetery, Lynne’s father, Wayne Edwin Vincent (played by Shea Whigham), acts suspiciously and tries to ingratiate himself with his daughter. Dick Cheney interposes and warns him to never try to make contact with them again. It’s almost explicitly stated that Edna’s death wasn’t an accident, and the film wonders why it was never investigated. Then it just moves on as though this isn’t a least bit controversial depiction of events. “Is there more evidence for this than is presented in the movie, which is none?” National Review‘s Kyle Smith asks.
In real life, Edna Vincent drowned on the evening of May 24, 1973. According to the Casper Star Tribune, she was walking her dogs around Yesness Pond when she slipped and fell in. Being unable to swim, she drowned. Sheriff’s deputies found her after her husband reported her missing. Why was her death never investigated? According to Natrona County Sheriff Bill Estes and Coroner Tom Bustard, the drowning was accidental and there was “nothing to indicate foul play.”
According to her obituary, Edna Vincent worked for the Casper Police Department for 15 years and later the sheriff’s department, and was a member of the Wyoming Peace Officers’ Association. If there was any hint her death was suspicious, don’t you think her friends and colleagues in law enforcement would have investigated it?
In the Epilogue to her autobiography, Blue Skies, No Fences: A Memoir of Childhood and Family (2009), in a line she probably regrets writing, Lynn Cheney herself raised doubts about her mother’s death. “…although the official conclusion was that her death was an accident, for years I wondered if she had somehow been the victim of foul play,” she speculated. However, she went on to describe the most likely scenario:
Contrary to the filmmaker’s portrayal of her father’s creepy, nonchalant behavior at the funeral, Lynn said he was “devastated” and basically drank himself to death with grief two years later. Lynn was with her father at the hospital when he died. Despite her parents’ fights, she said they gave her “the gift of unconditional love.” If this doesn’t refute the filmmaker’s portrayal, it certainly adds huge qualifiers.
Other than humiliating Lynne Cheney and slandering her family, what possible purpose does including this scene, and all its malicious implications, serve? I believe it was to show Dick Cheney as a stern father figure and an intimidating man who would protect his family (and by extension, the country) against anyone, even his own father-in-law. But surely the filmmakers could have chosen some other way to portray Cheney in that light that didn’t involve needlessly weaving a conspiracy theory, particularly one that wasn’t directly related to the film’s main character.
There are times when creative license may be necessary when adapting history for the big screen, but filmmakers all-too-frequently take that license too far. Implying Lynne Cheney’s father murdered her mother (or was somehow involved in her death) when there is zero evidence to suggest that, is really outrageous, particularly when there’s no compelling reason to include such a conspiracy theory in the film.