Posted: 11/20/2011


The Descendants

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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In his latest film, The Descendants, heartthrob George Clooney, who plays Matt King, is faced with some heavy decisions. His wife, Elizabeth, is on life support, after a tragic boating accident; he has learned that she was having an affair and planned to divorce him; and to top it off, his is the deciding vote on a trust agreement involving his extended family members and land in his hometown of Hawaii—a $500 million dollar agreement that if it goes as expected would not only benefit Matt’s family but indirectly benefit the dying wife’s lover.

It doesn’t end there, his two daughters, one 10 year old named Scottie and the other 17-year-old college student Alexandra, are disrespectful, particularly the older daughter; but I believe some of the arrogance can be attributed to their mother’s illness. There’s also a certain estrangment felt between the three of them.

The Descendants, even with all the heavy issues, has some funny sides, as Matt, along with his daughters and the older kid’s slacker boyfriend, set off to find the guy with whom his wife has had an affair to let him know that she is being removed from life support. Matt also wants to make the man squirm as he confronts him about the affair. He also has the unfortunate task of telling his close friends and relatives, so they all can make sure they come to visit his wife soon.

His wife’s father, played by Robert Forster, has never really liked Matt. He claims that Matt, who works as an attorney, was such a miser, who sat on loads of money and never let his family enjoy life to the fullest as they could have easily done. He resents Matt and feels that Elizabeth never really enjoyed her marriage to Matt, and now she’s dying.

Matt’s take on his amassed wealth was that you give your kids enough money so that they do something, but not too much money so they don’t do anything. And he also was committed to living a frugal lifestyle; not feeling particularly easy about acquiring money thru kinfolks who were Hawaiian royalty and missionaries whom he never really knew.

The Descendants shows a family in total upheaval, with the majority decision being the wife on life support. The scenes with Matt and his daughters in the hospital consoling the wife and in others cursing her out, because of the infidelity, are at turns both poignant and disturbing. But the family unit sticks together and makes the proper decision about the mother’s medical condition, while Matt also makes a prudent decision around his family’s inheritance.

Even though the film is breathtakingly shot in a few of the tropical Hawaiian Islands, it shows that not even paradise can cloak misery and unhappiness within a family. The film was written by Kaui Hart Hemmings and is based on the 2007 book, which expanded on the author’s short story called “The Minor Wars.” The Descendants is in wide release.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who also serves as a news editor for

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