Monday, December 05, 2011

Descendants Ascending

Heroism without guns or car chases – that is the tale of Alexander Payne’s new film, “The Descendants.” Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife is in a coma, and his family was fragmenting before her accident. King compares his family to an archipelago – “we’re all one, but we’re separate, and drifting slowly apart.” There is a *lot* of grief in this movie (I cried five times), but it is ultimately very satisfying.

King learns that his wife was having an affair from his elder daughter, Alex (played by Shailene Woodley), who is angry at her mother for that affair. Both characters have to confront their own emotions while managing the situation for the younger daughter, the rest of the extended family, and their friends. Over and over, they are forced to confront anguishing circumstances–and they generally rise to the occasion.

The film does not get preachy about the infidelity – it simply shows the many varieties of suffering that follows in its wake. Nor does the movie explore what any of the characters expect to happen after death (we viewers can discuss our opinions, afterward).

One character uses a homophobic slur, and there is a lot of profanity (in particular, the f-bomb). There is one scene where the 17-year-old Alex is drunk (and defends herself with “at least I’m off the drugs”). There is a sub-plot about some ancestral land, that King’s family must sell to developers, which did feel as deep or authentic as the rest of the film. Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel may have done more with it; I don’t know.

There are several funny moments, and some gorgeous scenery. However, the main point of this movie is watching the characters struggle to do what they feel is right. They generally succeed, as does the film. I would not see it on a first date (!), but if you can stand the profanity, it could lead to good conversations with teenagers about infidelity, drug use, end-of-life issues, or death.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)


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