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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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Elizabeth of Portugal: Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. Thus fortunately prepared, she was able to meet the challenge when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom. 
<p>He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, she set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.</p> American Catholic Blog In the name of the Father, use my mind to bring you honor, and of the Son, fill my heart to spread your word, and of the Holy Spirit, strengthen me to carry you out to all the world. Amen.

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