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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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