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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Descendants

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service


Shailene Woodley and George Clooney star in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."
"The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight) is sensitive, thoughtful—and spiritually bereft. That's exceedingly sad, especially considering that the key plot point in this adaptation of the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings concerns a wife and mother of two young daughters left brain-dead after a boating accident. The fact that she's made a living will, to which her family feels legally bound, means that any moral exploration of her status is also forestalled.

Instead, as Elizabeth King (Patricia Hastie) lies motionless in her hospital bed, the audience is called on to watch husband Matt (George Clooney) and daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) suffer in their various stoic and dysfunctional manners.
Directed by Alexander Payne, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the movie —intended as bitterly comedic—is hostile neither to religion nor to people of faith. It's just that belief of any sort is conspicuously absent, and the lack of spiritual support—apart from a single conversation with a hospital grief counselor—seems especially cruel to the girls.
Matt is a successful lawyer in Hawaii. His respective relationships with his two frequently foul-mouthed daughters are strained. At the time of Elizabeth's accident, he's already dealing with one familial crisis, since his extended clan wants to sell their ancestral property—held in trust for generations—on the island of Kauai. A resort developer, we learn, has offered them many millions for the pristine beachfront acreage.
Matt also belatedly discovers—he's the last to know—that Elizabeth had been having an adulterous relationship with real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Matt spends much of the running time trying to locate Brian as well as contemplating how to confront him and inform him of Elizabeth's fate.
With all of this going on, pathos runs amok, emotions run the gamut and everyone takes turns weeping. Portraying grief on film always earns points for actors' emotive skills, but this astringent tale of the turmoil provoked by death offers viewers nothing in the way of comfort or resolution.
The film contains mature themes, including end-of-life issues and adultery; frequent rough and crude language; and fleeting profanity. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.




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Gerard of Lunel: Gerard, born into a noble family in southern France, showed an early inclination to piety—so much so that he received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis at the age of five. When he was 18, Gerard and his brother, Effrenaud, hid themselves in a cave on the banks of a river and began two years of living as hermits. Both brothers then decided to go on a pilgrimage, in part to discourage the many visitors to the hermitage who had heard of their reputation for holiness. Making their way to Rome on foot, they spent two years there, visiting its many famous churches and shrines. 
<p>They intended to continue to Jerusalem, but Gerard collapsed on the way. While his brother went to seek help, he left Gerard in a simple cottage near Montesanto, Italy, but Gerard expired before his brother's return. </p><p>Many miracles are said to have taken place at Gerard's tomb, making it a favorite place of pilgrimage. People who were afflicted with headaches or subject to epilepsy experienced special relief through his intercession. The city of Montesanto has long venerated Blessed Gerard as its principal patron. He is sometimes known as Gery, Gerius or Roger of Lunel.</p> American Catholic Blog It is an astonishing truth that God made human beings in his image. An immortal, rational, free and loving God made beings who have immortal souls and who are rational, free, and made to love and to be loved. Human life is sacred because it specifically reflects the nature of the divine.

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