The Descendants— Trouble in Paradise

Ah the beauties of Hawaii and the ugliness of broken human relationships juxtaposed. Add to all that the problems of dealing with death when you don’t really believe in life after death. Here is a story written by a Hawaiian about believable life on the islands. And also trouble in paradise.

The Descendants is indeed a powerful movie, and a perfect vehicle for Kentucky ‘homey’ George Clooney to show his full dynamic range. Clooney plays a self-absorbed millionaire facing a major decision of what to do with a huge tract of gorgeous beach front land on one of the Hawaiian islands which almost all the sycophant brothers and cousins want sold to a realtor so they can all rake in another big pay day. As the trustee of the trust which owns the land, his is the determining vote as to what will happen. In the midst of this, his wife has a boating accident which puts her in an irreversible coma, and so there is another decision to be made— a life and death decision.

On top of this, Matt King has to deal with two bratty daughters, one in drug rehab. And then, as a coup de grace, King learns that his wife was cheating on him when she had her accident, and his oldest, and most messed up daughter Alex, knows this and decides to inform her Dad after the accident. Life in Hawaii can be ugly just as much as life elsewhere. It is hard to muster much empathy for Matt King’s plight, a man who did little parenting and neglected his wife as well in his devotion to his business.

It thus comes as a surprise how much one comes to care about Matt King and his daughters over the course of this one hour and 50 minute film. In the crisis which he faces, Matt King is humanized by it all, and begins to do the job of parenting, and caring, he should have been doing all along. He comes to rethink his priorities in life and stops worrying about the money (earlier in the movie his mantra has been ‘give your children enough money so they can do something, but not so much so that they can do nothing’).

It is the small glimpses of humanity and forgiveness and recognition of his own flaws, and faults and sins that makes Matt King an increasingly appealing character as the movie progresses, and the family bonding scene watching TV at the end of the film is heart warming.

Still, there is an emptiness to the scenes where King says goodbye to his wife, with no hope of something more beyond, an emptiness to the kiss of the father of the wife who can muster little more than anger, but some poignancy when the wife of the lothario who had bedded Matt’s wife shows up with flowers and the desire to get some closure by forgiving Matt’s wife, even though she heard none of it.

Like Hawaii, this movie is full of surprises and has already gotten lots of kudos and Golden Globe nods. Expect Oscar nods as well. If this movie proves anything it is that it is not where you live, or how much money you have that makes a life beautiful. It is rather the quality of the life you lead, the depth of the love you give, the amount of loyalty you show to those around you, and the amount of faith you have in the One who gives life and gives it abundantly.

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