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The Descendants, Directed by Alexander Payne

Fox Searchlight Pictures, November 16, 2011 (US)

Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash based on the novel of the same name and the short story “The Minor Wars” by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, and Judy Greer

Bill Triffids, aged fifty-seven, always imagined visiting paradise, although he never considered that his mother’s death would take him there.

Such was the manner in which the first anniversary of Diane’s January passing arrived with bittersweet emotion. Bill still mourned her loss, even though their relationship was marred by uncomfortable silences and unspoken truths. A mutual support, regardless of how feeble, went abruptly cold. Additionally, the battle over her modest estate had turned agonizing. Bill and his older brother, Tom, each felt an entitlement to a fair share of her assets, except Tom lived outside a code of equal distribution. Three foreign luxury cars, a beautiful two-story home in a gated suburban Atlanta neighborhood, a pretty wife, and an endearing, well-mannered young boy spoke volumes about everything Tom had in relation to those who had not. Access to top lawyers lent a greater advantage, and Tom ultimately netted the bulk of the money, even resorting to an empathetic plea for the welfare of his son during a contentious fight.

“Nurture the future generation,” Tom said, as if Bill’s own life held no significance, no hope. “Mom would have wanted to make her only grandson happy.”

Bill was single, a confirmed bachelor by the estimation of some, and a lucrative career evaded him. Odd jobs working at the public library and a local historical society put his knowledge of books and a fervent appreciation for the past to use. Extra cash—a break in whatever guise—could have made a difference for him, too. Nevertheless, Bill adored his nephew and accepted that his brother’s insinuations teemed with substance. Bill epitomized a lost cause; let the child prosper, while his own life stretched into a long punishment for violations unknown.

If only his mother had left a goddamn will. Diane was anything but a planner, however. She did not prepare for widowhood. She never anticipated the breast cancer. She never foresaw that her two children would clash over dividing her belongings equally and amicably. She also never recognized Tom for the greedy prick that he had become. Bill knew better and did not put it past his brother to roll the inheritance into his personal portfolio, rather than establish a trust for his child, who already benefited from the security of his father’s independent riches.

Ten grand. That’s what Bill got. The decision to blow a large portion of the money on a Hawaiian vacation took careful consideration. A late-night broadcast of South Pacific on AMC, caught during a lonely channel surf around the Christmas holiday, sealed the deal. Bill needed to escape to somewhere peaceful, lush, tropical, and new. When the time came to lock an itinerary, Bill spared little expense. Most of the money he received would be gone—a small price to pay for happiness. Anticipation of the exotic and pristine destination infused the sweet into the perpetual bitter.

For the first week, Bill found solace. Island air wafted pineapple fresh. The sun warmed his ghostly skin. He hopped from Oahu to Maui to the Big Island and back. Toward the end of the trip, though, the atmosphere deteriorated. Rain clouds formed overhead. Bill removed the goggles of a tourist, permitting the reduced glare to render a clearer view of his surroundings.

Garbage littered the roadside. Indigent slept on the beach. Then, while driving a rental car to the North Shore, traffic (fucking traffic!) snarled to a crawl. An ambulance, red lights flashing just like on the mainland, parked at the scene of a car accident. Bill glanced toward the paramedics, who covered the body of a man—most likely a native—with a white sheet. Catastrophe ruptured the tranquility of Eden.

The crash from a Pacific wave snapped Bill out of shock. Regardless, his thought lingered: Under scrutiny, a place so beautiful grappled with a side insipidly ordinary. Bill’s remaining days on vacation were spent like anyone else’s.

During his concluding minutes on Hawaiian soil, Bill settled into the seat of the 767 headed east. He felt no more and no less at ease than when he left home. The plane taxied down the runway, before gently lifting its nose at takeoff. The wheels of the plane retracted into the jet’s belly with a dull thump underneath the main cabin. Oahu dwindled off in the distance. Along with the land mass, romanticism reduced to a dot soon out of view, drowning in the ocean.

Bill’s mind drifted, yielding dreamy contemplation about his existence. He wondered: When his term on earth expired, what would he have to leave behind and to whom would anything be left? Answers eluded him. He soon fell asleep with what he had always heard was a welcomed luxury to travelers: an empty seat beside him.