FILMS: ‘The Descendants’

Shailene Woodley and George Clooney in "The Descendants." (CNS/Fox)

A lesson in selfless love

Love takes work — even in paradise. In “The Descendants” (Fox), George Clooney plays Matt King — a wealthy lawyer and landowner, a descendant of Christian missionaries and Hawaiian native royalty. His wife, Elizabeth, is in a coma as a result of a boating accident.

Their marriage and family were in trouble even before the accident. Matt is upset to learn that Elizabeth had been having an affair — and subsequently tries to find his wife’s lover. He is angry, but still cares for his wife and recognizes the role he may have played in her affair.

Shailene Woodley, who plays Alex, Matt’s troubled 17-year-old daughter, provides the most moving moments. She’s angry with her parents for neglecting her. The youngest daughter, the pre-teen Scottie, played by Amara Miller, begins to act out. Their parents’ selfishness is leading to the destruction of the entire family.

It is clear that, as Pope John Paul II warned, the idols of pleasure in the lives of the King family had closed their hearts off to one another. Yet through tragedy, family members look beyond their own needs and learn to love one another.

This culminates when Matt says goodbye to his wife, who is unable to respond in her comatose state. He emotionally tells her, “Goodbye my love, goodbye my friend. My pain. My joy. Goodbye.”

The King family comes to understand that while choosing love is not easy — it is ultimately more fulfilling.

In the film’s other storyline — involving Matt’s decision on selling a large inherited land trust — he chooses what will benefit his descendants. The decision is both selfless and loving — not to mention unpopular with the rest of his extended family.

The King family is back on track and caring for one another, even though it’s not always easy. Love is complicated. It requires forgiveness. But when sought, love fulfills where selfish pursuits cannot.

Media critic Rebecca Bostic is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun. Send e-mail to


  1. Letters to the Editor

    Dear Editor. I picked up a copy of Catholics in the Public Square at Mass two Sundays ago. I wholeheartedly agree with many of Bishop Olmsted’s major points, such as on Page 21: “However, when it comes to direct attacks on innocent human life, being right on all the other issues (immigration, education, affordable housing, health and welfare) can never justify a wrong choice on this most serious matter.” Kudos also for pages 22 and 24 where it’s mentioned action is needed by church leaders against those Catholic politicians supporting same sex marriage and abortion. Three cheers for page 29 which discusses the need for bishops and priests to speak out on matter impacting the Church (i.e., the loss of religious freedom in America).

    However, I found pages i & ii of the Forward in this booklet both hurtful and disappointing. Here the Archbishop of Philadelphia essentially passes off the Church’s job of speaking out on matters impacting the Church, to the Catholic laity! There are few, if any, Catholic lay persons who have the stature and prestige of our Bishops and Cardinals. Witness the news coverage and national response which occurred when New York’s Cardinal Dolan spoke out this last summer on the loss of religious freedom which would result from government insistence that the Church provide insurance coverage for birth control, including the morning-after abortion pill. One wonders why there isn’t more speaking out by our Bishops and Cardinals. Is it concern over the separation of Church and State? Take the example of The Alliance Defending Freedom. Here, over 1000 Protestant pastors have decided to preach to their congregations on how these pastors will vote for candidates who most closely represent Christian beliefs regarding issues such as abortion and same sex marriage. Only this kind of courage will save freedom of religion in this country.

    John W. Baie
    13315 W. Stardust Blvd.
    Sun City West, AZ 85375


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