As I watched `The Descendants’ unfold a few nights ago at a local movie theater, it began to dawn on me this Oscar-nominated film was not only unbelievable and high-end soap opera but, worse, an attempt to douse the flames of what the right calls “class warfare.” You know, the resentment many Americans feel about the super-rich upper 1% ripping off the rest of us.
Here we have Matt, ahem, King, one of the real-estate moguls in Hawaii, played by one of the most likeable and charming actors of our time, George Clooney, cast to soften us up. Matt is trustee of his family’s vast estate of virgin land on the island of Kauai, all passed down to the descendants of King Kamehameha the Great who unified the Islands in 1810.
The plot has two strands of melodrama. One is family. Matt is dealing with a boating accident that has left his unfaithful wife in an irreversible coma and two self-destructive daughters, Alexandra and Scottie. The other is business. Matt is on the verge of signing off on the sale of the last of his family’s land holdings for $500 million, land that will be turned into a huge resort community.
But Matt is not what most of us see in one-percenters. Far from greedy, he lives below his means. He is faulted by the father-in-law for withholding a life of luxury from his wife. He cares deeply for his children and actually listens to them. He is forgiving of his wife’s infidelity. He is tactful and unusually sensitive to others. In the end, he cares more about the intrinsic, spiritual value of the land than the riches his family can attain by selling it. In all of it, Matt King is god-like and unbelievable as a human being.
Forget the schmaltzy last scenes trying to provoke sobs from viewers. The film is trying to send a message.
Some may say “The Descendants” is a parable on how the rich should deal with their vast wealth, their families and us, their minions. But, to my mind at least the film says, see, some rich people are no so bad after all. Lay down your arms, surrender to the kings around us, trust them. The one-percenters can be benevolent and alturistic.
Unbelievable in this day and age.
The film fails as art, serving only as propaganda in an era that can not help itself from politicizing everything.