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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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother, the instructions of Ambrose and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, please fill my heart and soul with the confidence that you will always provide what I need, when I need it, and let me be obedient to you.

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