The Descendants

Matt King’s family has lived in Hawaii for generations. He and his numerous cousins own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends seven years hence. It makes sense to most to just sell the land, speculation of which has featured prominently in island gossip – after all, to whom they sell could literally change the face of Kauai.

Matt (George Clooney) is a humble enough guy, choosing to live on his attorney’s salary rather than on the wealth that comes with being a land owner. However, his perfect Hawaiian life is a ruse. His rocky marriage is 2011_the_descendants_006surviving only because of his wife’s coma. His 17 year old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has been sent off to boarding school due to bad behavior but she returns as her mother is declared brain dead to reveal the nature of the fight she’d had with her mother. It’s all a lot more than Matt feels he can handle, especially now that he’s effectively a single parent.

It’s a satisfying movie about the messiness of life, beautifully filmed on location around Hawaii.

In  1992, Hurricane Iniki tore apart many chicken coops on Kauai that housed birds used for cockfighting. By the time The Descendants went into production, there were thousands of feral chickens roaming the island. In the Kauai scenes, chickens are sometimes seen wandering through the shot. Sometimes the crew had to shoo chickens away before a take. Animators observed the same thing when they were working on Moana, which is why her sidekick is a rooster named Heihei.

Matt decides that he’d rather not sell the land.  “We didn’t do anything to own this land, it was entrusted to us,” and if they sell it, “something we were supposed to protect is gone.” Perhaps losing his wife reminds him of the importance of a family’s legacy. Certainly the film gently reminds us of the land’s fate should it be sold to a developer: contrasting the rolling green hills, we also see condos and golf courses and resorts-in-progress.

The movie fails to engage in a meaningful way about what it means that Matt’s family – “haole as shit” (a derogatory term for white immigrants) – owns so much Hawaiian land. It’s still not as bad as Aloha, a movie about Hawaii featuring an all-star cast of white people.

Sean and I are in Hawaii and on the lookout for feral chickens as we speak.



20 thoughts on “The Descendants

  1. Brittani

    I didn’t know that about the chickens, that’s interesting. I really liked The Descendants. I was so pissed when Shailene Woodley didn’t get an Oscar nomination for it but Melissa McCarthy did for Bridesmaids *sigh*

    Liked by 2 people

  2. J.

    I really liked this one… thought the cast was spot on. Clooney’s awfy likeable, eh? Even if he wasn’t a handsome chap.

    Chickens, eh?


  3. Colane Conundrum

    This has been on my list for a long time to check out. I think it was Alexander Payne’s first movie in several years since releasing Sideways, which I enjoyed. I’ve always liked his films, so I definitely need to get my hands on this one.


  4. Liz A.

    I can’t remember if I saw this one or not. It sounds familiar, but then again, I hear about most major releases, so it might sound familiar even if I haven’t seen it.


  5. ninvoid99

    I love this film as it didn’t portray Hawaii as some island resort but rather as a place that is like any other place in America while also having this story that is engaging. Yet, unlike Aloha. It did at least show some natives in a better light and living in suburban houses whereas Aloha have them talk about stupid mystical shit while they live in fucking trailer parks. What a piece of shit film that is.


  6. kmSalvatore

    yep id give it a go,, for George:) and with you guys being there, it must mean something too ? since you can really see all the land and how the big island is so commercial.. id hate to see that happen to all of the islands. of course things might be cheaper? then 🙂


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