What You Need To Know:
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.
(RoRo, HH, C, B, Cap, LLL, V, S, N, A, DD, M) Strong emotions-driven Romantic worldview with strong humanist undercurrents, wherein man is responsible for creating his own solutions and planning out his own life, mitigated with some redemptive, moral allusions to prayer and strong themes of forgiveness and healing in the final sequences as well as the importance of morally doing the right thing when the wife of the man who had an affair with the protagonist’s wife comes to the hospital to represent her family, but more in the secular context of the dominant Non-Christian worldview, plus capitalist content where protagonist is a prominent land owner; 39 obscenities and seven profanities; light violence includes grandfather punches girl’s boyfriend and gives him a black eye; man learns his late wife was unfaithful to him with another married man, which threatens to tear two families apart; upper male nudity and women in bikini bathing suits in beach scenes; drinking; drug content includes boyfriend makes reference to “always having weed”; and, a suggestion that the protagonist in the past neglected his marriage and wife in favor of work and woman has left instructions to “pull the plug” if she ever becomes comatose and dependent fully on mechanical life support.
THE DESCENDANTS has excellent acting and a tight script, but falls short morally and spiritually.
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.