Sometimes I simply form an opinion about a movie or a book, which I have a hard time explaining to people and also to myself. “The Descendants” falls in that category. I insisted that we watch the movie in the theater and was very unimpressed with what I saw. Agam on the other hand thought it was a great movie. And there are many in the world that share his opinion. I on the other hand, beg to differ and this post will explain why.
To be fair, I will give credit where it is due. The movie is pleasurable. The characters are real and deep. They certainly have shades of grey, demented in some ways and yet responsible. I appreciate the scriptwriter’s ability to take a couple of grim subjects and weave a light and humorous script around them. I definitely enjoyed the background scores, and the director’s attention to detail is compelling. It is very enjoyable to sit back and smile at the subtle imperfections of us humans, and marvel at the treatment given by the director to subjects like divorce, death and inheritance. These are topics from real life, and there are several of us who face situations similar to those depicted in the movie. It is all very close to reality. And then suddenly, it all becomes so unreal.
If your wife cheated on you with another man, it is between you and her to resolve this issue. You will not travel across islands, leaving your dying wife in a hospital, to get a chance to meet the guy face to face. That’s just not what happens in real life. Secondly, if you rant at your dying wife and vent out your frustrations on her while she is on her death bed, knowing that she cannot even hear you, then you are a coward. And I don’t think anyone can summon up such anger towards a lifeless form.
So, all this while you built up a plot that is so close to being real and your characters are so human and then in a single blow you remind the audience that drama is what sells. Matt takes his kids and spends a few days finding the guy with whom his wife slept. Just so he can see him face to face and then do nothing about it. And hence it was then, that all of a sudden, Matt’s character lost its appeal for me. The film blatantly exposes the weakness in the plot here and starts to resorts to unnecessary drama in order to keep going. After the movie ended, I felt like I just finished watching a soap opera. A good one to that, since I was quite engaged in it, but it did not touch me.
The very subtle portrayal of the imperfections that made you smile, now turn into blatant blows on the character of Matt King. The grey that you enjoyed is now turned black. Well Alexander Payne, that’s where you spoilt it for me. And maybe that’s real for some but it was not real for me. And I wonder then, if reality is always relative.
Perhaps then, movies are only meant to be engaging, and hence The Descendants will win several Oscars this year. And while I will congratulate Alexander Payne on putting together a very entertaining package. I will applaud the director of “The tree of life” for a stupendous contribution to the world of art.
But of course, what does not change regardless of my opinion on the movie, is my opinion on the man that plays the lead character. He is still the one that wins my adulation and shall forever remain my most adored actor. He can play a charmer and the charmed and both to utter perfection
A fascinating read! I am not a movie critic and I do not possess the kind of writing prowess that you have but I simply could not resist writing some thoughts:
My response to what has been expressed in paragraph 4: is it perhaps possible that Matt travels across islands with a burning desire to meet and confront his wife's ex-lover precisely because he cannot resolve the issue effectively with his wife since she is in coma and therefore cannot answer his questions? Can we assume to always know how humans may behave in extraordinary situations?
Secondly, Matt is extremely upset, angry, and feels humiliated – I think the 'rant' he exhibits at the bedside of his dying, comatose wife although described as cowardly behaviour here, may appear to others (including I) as an extremely difficult thing to express, given that, inspite of everything, he still nurturted a certain degree of affection for his wife.
I would consider all these actions just as valid if, hypothetically, the situation was reversed: that is, Matt was in coma and had cheated and his wife was the one who had found out. This is to clarify that I do not have a gender bias here!
After Matt sees his wife's ex-lover face to face, he does not 'do nothing'- he talks through the things he had chosen to talk about and (very courageously)invites the man to the funeral. I do not think that Matt did 'nothing' simply because he did not lose his temper(as is often showed in such situations)- I found his sense of 'resignation' quite natural. Perhaps that sense was aided by (a)knowing that the man did not truly love his wife but this was a brief 'affair' and (b) his wife had experienced real joy and happiness, even though it was brief and perhaps would have led to unhappy times eventually, for everyone.
More in the email, but to keep the discussion intact –
I did not expect Matt to be angry. I expected him to let go. And just let it be. And what you correctly call ‘resignation’ is what I expected too. I just could not justify his act of leaving a dying person, to go fetch answers to questions that were not going to even matter, since she was anyways half dead. That’s all. But you are perhaps right, we cannot always predict human behavior in extreme situations.