The Descendants

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges; land baron tries to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident

Louise Keller thinks this is generically complicated. It’s not: it’s a family melodrama, that is all. And Andrew Urban (on the same page) seems to be suggesting there is bookending in the fact that the film both begins and closes with a water scene, tho he admits they are ‘very different’. But the film does not end with the scene on the water. It ends with the family sitting on the couch eating ice-cream and watching TV. The camera is positioned to that they are all barely looking past it. For me, this recalled the discomfort the viewer may experience in an Ozu Yasujiro (or Wes Anderson) film. When Ozu shot a conversational exchange, he placed the camera so close to the opposite of the actor’s eyeline that the viewer has difficulty in deciding whether or not the actor is looking into the camera – that is, at him or her. And so it is in Payne’s (2011) film. In that final scene, the three characters are very close to looking ‘at the audience’. Which gives rise to the possibility that they are interrogating viewers. OK, you’ve seen the demonstration, now here’s the test: what would have done? Would you have done any better?

And by the way, the reason it’s not a coming-of-age story, pace Keller, is there is no change in the child/adolescent characters: they are only there as part of Clooney’s character’s story. And, in my opinion, he doesn’t do a lot of growing-up either, for that matter.

The whole thing made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I suspect that Payne has taken important material and trivialised it.

I’ve been thinking about the other strand in The Descendants, led there by the soundtrack: what might be called the ideological or even nationalist aspect. The music throughout is Hawai’ian slack key, principally that of Gabby Pahuini (he died in 1980) with Keola Beamer and others. So of course one is led aurally to being aware of Hawai’ian traditions and values, which helps greatly with an acceptance of that part of the plot. Sneaky. The best thing about this film is the music. We all bought the CD and forgot the film (except for that).

References and Links

IMDb page
Wikipedia page
Urbancinefile review

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 20 March, 2017 | Now: 23 August, 2022