The Descendants

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If you haven’t watched The Descendants yet, you’ll want to.  It’s a deeply touching and down to earth movie on so many levels. Matt (played by George Clooney) is a workaholic lawyer, which immediately grabbed my attention since I’ve struggled over the years with walking the fine line of taking great care of my clients without neglecting my own family.  Unfortunately, in Matt’s case, he failed to strike the balance.  A picture of his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) on a bedside table is the only opportunity to experience her striking beauty.  A speedboat accident leaves her in a coma with dark sunken eyes, a crusty mouth, and shriveled limbs as her life ebbs away.  I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that her character had the wisdom to create a living will with Advance Directives that empower him to have her support system switched off without guilt and condemnation.  It doesn’t take long to realize that he’s going to have plenty on his plate with their daughters.

Like most teens, 17-year-old Alexandra’s (Shailene Woodley) brain has been altered by aliens so she experiments with drugs, alcohol, and young men that would make any parent cringe.  The younger daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), has clearly learned far too much from her older sister.  At the tender age of 11, she thoroughly enjoys rebelling against authority and acting too old for her britches.  She has a mouth that is so foul it couldn’t be cleaned with great granny’s big bar of soap!

Sorrows rain down upon the poor family like a flood of biblical proportions.  Any parent who has survived the teens and lived to tell of it can relate to Matt’s struggles with his girls.  Enough so, that you want to leap out of your seat during his moments of great despair and shout, “Don’t give up, Matt!  Alexandra will get her brain back in her 20’s and things will be much easier.”

 

Another Estate Planning twist in the film names Matt as the trustee for the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.  In the midst of his wife’s tragedy, he must negotiate the sale of a vast tract of virgin land that will make all the interesting members of his family multimillionaires.  On the flip side, selling could also put vast amounts of breath-taking terrain in the hands of despoilers which would betray a 150-year-old legacy.  As if all of these troubles were not enough, Matt discovers that Elizabeth has been having an affair with a local Realtor who stands to make a ton of money on the land deal if Matt swings the direction his family hopes he does.

 

This is the stuff that soap operas are made of, but Alexander Payne (the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways) and his collaborators do not treat it as such.  The Observer said it best.  “Within a single scene, the film can tap into deep feelings of pain, switch into comic modes as various as farce and satire, and confront and evade moral challenges. Within a couple of seconds a father can tell a daughter her mother is dying, she can respond by revealing the mother was engaged in adultery, and both can shock us and make us laugh.”  One of my personal favorites is seeing Matt’s clunky run when he decides to take laps to clear his head and chase down his competition.  Life has a way of aging us all – even debonair George!

 

When Matt sets out to find and seek revenge on his wife’s lover, he constantly loses his cool and focus thanks to those who accompany him or cross his path along the way; especially Alexandra’s goofy boyfriend. The Descendants is an exhilarating, island-hopping, road trip movie.  Matt’s search is as much for himself as it is of his wife’s mysterious lover. Along the way he discovers what it means to be a real man.  He begins to understand himself and ultimately others.  He must make decisions that require gut wrenching honesty and motives that are pure; not an easy thing to do.

 

The film deserved to win Best Drama at the Golden Globes and George Clooney certainly earned his spot as Best Actor in a Drama Award.  He gave his best performance to date.  The movie definitely struck a chord with my heart as an Estate Planner.  Day in and day out, I see families who are no different than the one portrayed in The Descendants.  They’re normal people with their own set of challenges.  No matter what the surrounding circumstances are, when a loved one becomes incapacitated, or passes on, those who are left behind face great pain and confusion.  It’s traumatic.  They discover a lot about themselves as they struggle to cope with the loss and find a way to embrace their new norm.

 

I can’t stress enough the difference that it makes for families when members plan in advance for long term care and death in a living will.  Can you imagine how differently things would have played out on screen for Matt and his daughters if Elizabeth had not specified her wishes in a living will?  I can.  It’s a Nightmare, and I’ve experienced it far too often.  None of Hollywood’s fancy tricks could ever portray the devastation that families go through without proper planning.  If you haven’t written the chapter in your life story that protects your descendants, your story is incomplete.  It’s within your power to steer clear of a horror story.  To do so requires action.  Create a peaceful, loving end for your family members by picking up the phone and calling me at (408)741-3500.  I’ll walk you through the entire process, every step of the way.

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