Monday, February 06, 2012

Movie Review: The Descendants

Have you seen The Descendants yet? I've been waiting ages for it to come out here on The Big Island, and I've just seen it for a second time- it was that beautiful. Director Alexander Payne is one of my favorite film makers. I remember watching Sideways at a little arts theater when I lived in Chicago and being overwhelmed by the simplicity and truth of what was on the screen. I felt that hum of recognition inside my body- a part of me knew exactly the loneliness, humor and absurdity flickering across the screen. I sought out all his movies afterwards, and have yet to be disappointed by one.

What I continue to return to are the details in his films that make them feel so authentic. The actors aren't perfectly coiffed and made up. They are people, real people, with real faces and not too much makeup. Their clothes are rumpled, faded and pilled from a thousand washings. Their houses look lived in and full of odd objects, paperwork, clutter, and mismatched towels, just like real homes are. (I wonder if the homes are scouted instead of set pieces. It seems like a touch Mr. Payne might approve of, given his penchant for working with non-actors. ) In an age where movies are two hour long lifestyle advertisements and magazines are filled with Hollywood set and costume designers' finds, it's refreshing to see a film that uses every available inch of screen to tell the story at hand, without editorializing, creating a veneer or relentlessly selling products.

The authenticity in this movie in particular meant a great deal to me, because I often struggle to articulate to friends on the mainland what it is like to live here in Hawaii. It isn't at all what I expected when I came here. There is a softness here- the climate of course, and even the air and gentle breezes. But there is also a beautiful softness to life, an openness and willingness to slow down and use time to be kind and friendly with each other. "No worries" is one of the most common expressions you hear Hawaiians say. Although the characters in this film are struggling to find that same openness within themselves and towards one another, the environment around them exudes it.

Another fact of life in Hawaii is the varied, surprising and constantly evolving blend of cultures and influences. There are Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hawaiian and American cultures all interacting and constantly being reconfigured in a way that is complex, sometimes tense, but more than anything, just truly special. I've never lived anywhere where I felt so moved by the way the culture is being both preserved and lived in at the same time. And I've never lived somewhere where I felt so much that the culture does not belong to me.

There is the isolation that one can feel here, especially as a haole, or white person, without the sense of stewardship and belonging that others have for this beautiful place. (Certainly, that is one of the themes of the movie as well.) Because of their isolation, these islands seem to demand self confrontation and growth. If you can't tolerate yourself, you have no choice but to suffer, run away or grow.

After watching, I also felt strongly that movies like this one, which attempt to describe life as it actually is, instead of some id crazed Hollywood exec's idea of what it should be like, (which inexplicably seem to revolve around massive orange and black explosions, flipping cars and women in scanty lingerie with knives hidden in their stilettos) are the ones I want to see more of. (If you like these movies too, Nicole Holofcener creates similar kinds of stories on film.) I read a few interviews with Mr. Payne and this quote stuck out:

"We don't have movies about ourselves, and we don't have a national film culture. It shouldn't be an epic aspiration to make simple human stories, but it is."

And isn't that a shame? Our simple human stories are worth telling, and they echo through my daily life so much more deeply than any Michael Bay flick.

Have you seen any great movies lately? What should I watch next?

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...