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