A few days ago, maybe last week, I finally watched The Descendants.
It was divine.
Why did I love it? Let me count the ways…
I’ll dive right in. The contrast in this movie was like a classic novel. In the beginning lines, George Clooney (playing Matt King, the dad) narrates something like, “People think our cancer is less fatal…” because they live in Hawaii. They are natives on what most consider paradise, but their lives are spiraling directly opposite of that. The characters have extraordinary contrast as well: Matt King, the “back up parent” vs. his daughters (two girls acting out, frustrated, getting in trouble at school, etc.); Matt King vs. his wife; His wife’s adrenaline junkie past vs. his wife’s comatose present; Matt King vs. Syd, the lovable dorky kid who tags along, making quips at occasionally inappropriate times; the tender situation the King family is in vs. the obtrusive behavior of the daughters and most notably, the foul language of the older sister (it makes a big difference if you pay attention to it; it’s quite well placed, if swear words can be that); and finally, the entire point of the plot of this movie: Choosing to keep all the beautiful, native Hawaiian land, forgoing oodles of money, going against the grain of his cousins’ wishes, and relieving native Hawaiians across the archipelago that some land is still preserved OR selling it all, disappointing the public, going with the grain of his cousins, getting a bunch of money, and creating a bunch of commercial hotels, etc. where there used to be wonderful acres of untouched land.
Can you see the similar structure of the two difficulties running parallel to each other in this movie? Could one side possibly be scraping the good out of the situation, stepping up his fatherhood, embracing what he’s had all along (his daughters = the land), standing up for what’s right, and ultimately regaining some integrity VS. giving in weakly, letting the situation play out in whatever way, giving the reigns back to chance, and not staying strong for his daughters, and ultimately letting things spin out of control?
the land = his daughters = a person’s quality of life [in real life]
the decision between keeping or selling = the decision between being a poor dad, letting his daughters continue to act out, or stepping up to the challenge and forging an even better life than before, no matter how difficult, tightening the bond between him and his daughters = choosing between letting the token unfairness of life get to you and bring you down (taking the easy way) or learning from your mistakes and hardships, grasping your values, and taking the “road not taken” so to speak (doing things the hard way).
his wife = a catalyst in this whole scenario = tragedy in real life – things could start out bad and get worse, or get worse to get better, in a cliched way.
The scene where King is giving his last goodbye to his wife (pulling the plug, I guess) I almost died of overflowing awedness. It is such a perfect scene and immediately screamed “final goodbye!” without them ever saying that they were never going to see the mother in the flesh ever again. King says, ever so eloquently, “Goodbye, my pain…Goodbye, my joy” [single tear rolling down face] with his face so close to hers, almost as if to kiss her – but he doesn’t. He basically says it right there, personifies real life grieving: letting go. Right there, he chooses to traverse the road not taken.
letting go of his wife = finally healing the King family = the affects of choosing the road not taken
Other notable lines include [may or may not be exact wording…it’s been a week since I saw the movie and I didn’t take notes]:
- King [discussing how people think he is cheap because he doesn’t use all the money he inherited on his family – only the income he makes at his job]: “I want to give them enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing.”
- King [remarking on the fact that his daughter is on another island for schooling]: “I think it’s appropriate my daughter is on another island…My family is like an archipelago: we’re all related, but on separate islands.” **I’m sorry, I know for a fact this is incorrect wording, but it is the gist of what he says.
The last thing I will point out is the fabulosity of the ending scene. It is scrumtrulescent. (I couldn’t think of any word that could describe its exceptional elegance.) It holds some killer contrast in addition to its coming-full-circle-esque, home-run, tying-it-all-together quality. So on the surface, it’s brilliant: the family is becoming whole again, but almost like the way bones heal from breakage: stronger than they were before; the family is healing, may not be completely fit to run a marathon yet, but it finally is on track and is healing. The bonds fused during the healing process will triumph the weak ones of pre-tragedy.
The scene is as follows. The youngest daughter is sitting on the couch watching TV with a blanket (the camera is where the TV would be). King enters with two bowls of ice cream, gives one to the younger daughter and sits down with her. The daughter shares the blanket with her dad and they settle in to watch, scooping their ice cream. Finally, the older daughter comes in, the dad scoots over and she sits down with them, the dad offering her some blanket and ice cream. The credits begin rolling as they all share the blanket and two bowls of ice cream.
Simple enough, right?
To get a little nit-picky, let’s look a bit closer: what is the program they’re watching? It’s about Antarctica’s history…that it wasn’t always a frozen tundra…
They are eating ice cream…
However, they are also in tropical Hawaii, snuggled together under a blanket…warm and cozy…
In an article on NPR.org, Alexander Payne coins his final scene is “a coda” or “landing strip to bring the film in”.
I’ll leave you guys with this enriching quote from Payne:
“Well, that’s what life is — this collection of extraordinarily ordinary moments. We just need to pay attention to them all. Wake up and pay attention to how beautiful it all is.”
I think I’m living up to my blog’s name, don’t you?