“The Descendants”-a movie commentaryPosted on January 2, 2012
“Paradise is not as perfect as it may appear”
George Clooney’s character Matt King says this in the opening of the film The Descendants. He speaks to the fact that while many people think of Hawaii as this constantly perfect paradise, it’s not always so. There isn’t an invisible barrier that keeps bad things from happening in paradise; people still get sick, marriages still end in divorce, poverty still exists. The Descendants has been met with praise by many native Hawaiians for not being just another Hollywood film that misrepresents the state by showing only perfect weather, oceanfront mansions, and gorgeous people. The film centers on a completely dysfunctional family, one whose pool is dirty and where traffic congestion and concerns over development are real.
Matt King is a land-rich descendant of Hawaiian royalty and American missionaries and entrepreneurs. He’s the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of untouched land on the island of Kaua’i that his great-great grandfather inherited upon marrying a Hawaiian princess. The trust is expiring soon and he and his cousins, “the descendants,” have decided to sell the land, most likely to a local developer as a means of supporting the island economy. All the while that this monumental decision is going on, King’s wife is seriously hurt in a racing boat accident, leaving her in a vegetative coma. King, the usually “understudy parent” to their two daughters is now forced to become the star parent. Paradise is indeed not as perfect as it may seem.
The movie takes places primarily on Oahu but there is a portion in which King and his daughters go to Kaua’i. On the drive from the airport to where they’re staying they stop to look at their land, all 25,000 virgin acres. The scene of them gazing at this unspoiled acreage made me think of a similar experience I had on Maui. While on our Road to Hana tour, there was a portion of it in which we drove by completely undeveloped coastline. As I understand, this is extremely rare in Hawaii in today. Our tour guide told us a company had bought the land to develop it into high rise condos and hotels. She said that the local residents were alarmed since no buildings there were taller than any of the coconut trees. Apparently Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer lives on Maui, heard about the issue and proceeded to tell Oprah about it (she herself has a couple of properties in Hawaii). She proceeded to buy all the land from the developer and promised the residents that the land would remain undeveloped (or so the story goes according to Debra, the tour guide).
In the film multiple people who are essentially strangers to King tell him that he shouldn’t sell the land. I’m sure many natives of Hawaii do tire of their homes being a constant playground for vacationing tourists. I feel that for the people who live in paradise year-round there should exist land that isn’t privately owned and off-limits to them.
I strongly recommend seeing the film so I won’t say anything more about the story. While the backdrops of Oahu and Kaua’i could not be more stunning, you’ll also appreciate the realistic and humanist portrayal of Hawaii as a supporting character as well.