Sunday, January 17, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: The Descendants

The Story: I was shocked by this scene in The Descendants. It's straight out of Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel, but I was still shocked and it caught me off-guard, leading to a stew of mixed emotions, which a really good scene can and should do. There's a sense of unfairness about it—a wronged husband lashing out at his unconscious comatose wife unable to defend herself. But, her affair with real estate developer Brian Speer had been going on for some time under the nose of lawyer Matt King—he's only just recently caught wind of it (even his teenage daughter knew about it)—and this is the confrontation they never had over it. And the lawyer plays both parts with his arguments as well as the counter-arguments he expects and has gotten used to over several years of marriage.

But the affair came about (probably) from need. Matt's remote, not "in touch with his feelings." He's been consumed with his career and stewardship of a verdant unspoiled Hawaiian landscape that has miraculously survived the centuries of haole encroachment. He barely knows his daughters and doesn't know how to relate to them. He has only come out of his shell with the boating accident that has left his wife catatonic. He has to take care of things—the things in his control, anyway, or thinks he has some control of. Obviously he was left in control less than he thought.

So, this outburst. George Clooney plays it viciously, selfishly, and with his innate sense of the absurd, finally taking it out on a stuffed animal (one of his wife's childhood dolls brought by his father-in-law—played by Robert Forster—who thinks his daughter could do no wrong) in his cuckolded impotence.

Still think it's unfair. Even inert, she still has all the power.

The Set-Up: Matt King (George Clooney), a lawyer in Honolulu, has a lot of arranging to do. In the midst of a real estate deal selling a preserve held by his family, his wife is mortally injured in a boating accident. The tragedy forces King to stop being the "back-up parent" to his daughters Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) and try to keep his family together. In the midst of it all, he finds out his wife was having an affair. After confirming it with friends, he takes the girls to the hospital to visit their unconscious mother—his first visit after learning the truth.


The Descendants PINK Shooting Draft 4/11/10 Draft 

As Matt leads his daughters toward Elizabeth's room --
MATT Let me go in for just a quick moment alone first. I'll be right out.
Matt closes the glass door behind him and slides the privacy curtain across it. He looks at his wife. She's starting to look different -- her face more gaunt, her hair more matted.
Since the last time we saw her, OTHER ITEMS have been added around her bed. Along with draped LEIS, we see a childhood DOLL, DIPLOMAS, and of course SPORTS MEDALS and RIBBONS. An antique QUILT covers her legs. Her father meant it when he said they'd bring her old things.

Matt crouches down bedside.
MATT You were going to ask me for a divorce? So you could be with some fucking fuckhead Brian Speer? Are you kidding me?
MATT Who are you? Because the only thing I know for sure is that you're a goddamned liar.
MATT So what do you have to say for yourself?
MATT Go ahead, make a little joke and tell me I've got it all wrong.
MATT Tell me again I'm too out of touch with my feelings and need to go to therapy. 
(then --) 
MATT  Isn't the idea of marriage to make your partner's way in life a little easier?
MATT For me it was always harder with you. And you're still making it harder. Lying there on a ventilator and still fucking up my life.
MATT You're relentless.
MATT You know what? I was going to ask you for a divorce some day.
MATT (CONT'D) (grabbing a DOLL, tossing it)
MATT Daddy's little girl.
Matt rises, looks at her motionless face, exhales, gets himself together.
MATT (CONT'D) I'm bringing in your daughters now. Alex is home from school. Try to be nice, okay?
He slides the curtain open and lets the girls in.

The Descendants

Words by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (and Kaui Hart Hemmings)

Pictures by Phedon Papamichael and Alexander Payne

The Descendants is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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