Release Date: November 18, 2011
Runtime: 115 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures/News Corp.
Director: Alexander Payne
Executive Producer: None
Address Comments To:Rupert Murdoch, Chairman/CEO, News Corp.
Chase Carey, President/COO, News Corp.
Stephen Gilula, President/COO
Nancy Utley, President/COO
Fox Searchlight Pictures
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
10201 West Pico Blvd., Bldg. 38
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: (310) 369-1000; Fax: (310) 369-2359
When Hawaiian land baron Matt King (played by George Clooney) is away on business, his wife, Elizabeth, is in a boating accident and falls into a coma. It soon becomes evident she will not wake up, and Matt faces the difficult process of bringing his daughters together to say goodbye to their mother prior to honoring her DNR order and unplugging her from life support. Clooney’s stunning performance reminds us all too well that life must be lived today, and not put off to tomorrow. In a touching but troubling scene, he tells his comatose wife, “I’m ready to talk. I’m ready to change. I’m ready to be a real father and husband. . ..” but it’s too late.
Matt faces another shock when his older daughter reveals his wife had a boyfriend and was engaged in a serious affair. This news is confirmed by Elizabeth’s friend. Matt also learns that Elizabeth was madly in love with the other man and planned on asking Matt for a divorce. So, Matt sets out with his two daughters and his eldest one’s boyfriend to visit family and inform them of Elizabeth’s condition. He also plans to confront the young real estate broker (Matthew Lillard) who was having the affair with his wife before the accident.
In spite of exceedingly strong acting, especially from Clooney, and a tightly executed script, THE DESCENDANTS ultimately fails on the moral level by suggesting that simply banding together and working past troubles alone and as a unit are the only solutions. In the worldview of this movie, there is little, if any, place for God’s Grace. Yet, the focus of the movie seems to be precisely to alert the audience to the brokenness of affairs, and the damage they cause to so many. When Matt finds his wife’s lover, he discovers that he, too, has a family and children. Moreover, he was never as serious about Elizabeth as she was about him.
The movie’s message is clearly that these two individuals have hurt their families more than they ever imagined by living in the moment and failing to uphold their marital vows, but the filmmakers don’t suggest that things could be any different. Rather, they portray people as emotions-driven beings who ultimately make mistakes and hurt those around them.
[SPOILER ALERT] That said, the final sequences of the movie emphasize the importance of forgiveness (albeit a secular view of it), as Matt and his family bid farewell to Elizabeth. It closes on an image of the family together spreading her ashes.
In spite of exceedingly strong acting, especially from Clooney, and a tightly executed script, THE DESCENDANTS ultimately falls short. For example, there is little, if any, place for God’s Grace in this movie. Ultimately, therefore, it’s all up to people to fix things on their own. Thus, despite some slight references to prayer, forgiveness, and healing, people and families must rely on themselves in THE DESCENDANTS.