The Descendants (2011)


The Descendants  is a soap opera, skillfully done. Women dominate: the dying, adulterous wife, victim of a water-skiing accident, in an irreversible coma in ICU who has turned her earnest if neglectful husband, Matt King, a wealthy lawyer and trustee of a pristine, large tract of Hawaiian land which is apparently to be sold to developers with the enthusiastic cheering of his many down-and-out relatives and co-owners and who is a closet environmentalist, into a self-conscious cuckold searching for his comatose wife’s lover (the revelation of that lover delivered by Matt’s oldest daughter); self-destructive teen and elementary school daughters of the cuckold rebelling against the dying wife; a mother-in-law of the cuckold who has Alzheimer’s and is attended by her bitter and accusatory husband and the cuckold’s father-in-law who blames the cuckold For Everything; and the male adulterer’s wife who has two small children and bravely forgives her husband’s comatose lover, Mrs. King, in a late visit to ICU.

The cuckold, played by George Clooney, is slowly converted by the experience into a man who sees that love conquers all, that none of the acts of the women–betrayal and its sins visited upon him and his daughters as well as the accusatory insults of him made in ignorance of his wife’s infidelity–are important. He’s the problem. He’s not been in touch with his feelings. He’s been angry when he should have been showing love. He needs the great wisdom of forgiveness.  Yes, it’s all the fault of Matt King. He neglected his wife while he was out making money. He set in motion all the badness. He must forgive. He must atone. He must become an engaged father. His prosperous and sustaining law practice? A distraction. His intended decision to sell the timeless tract of beautiful land to time-share developers? An affront to the environment.

Clooney is here a straight man. And as they say, The Descendants is an “emotional roller-coaster.” Domestic drama is supreme in the wallowing around in deep emotions.

In short, The Descendants is a comprehensive, ingenious distillation of the preeminent sensibility in the land of Dr. Phil and Grey’s Anatomy and their ilk. Why “ingenious?” It’s made many imagine it’s a serious movie.

Matt learns to solve His Problem: He finds that there is nothing some popcorn and watching The March of the Penguins with your daughters won’t fix. After all, look at the noble striving of the penguins to nurture their offspring amidst awful natural travails.

Actually, I took away from Penguins an import quite different. It was good to see the error of my ways.

I, Richard Sorge, have warned you.