When I look back at my childhood I find it incredibly difficult to identify any moments of true confusion, fear, or despair. It wasn’t because these forces weren’t present in my life at the time; childhood is characterized by dark moments of discovery and mistakes. A lot of my general positivity and childlike joy may have come from my general lack of understanding or imperceptions of the difficulties of life that become so clear during adulthood. However, I would place the majority of my feelings of safety firmly in the hands of my watchful and ever-present parents.
I can clearly remember clutching my parents’ hands while wandering through the local mall. The very nature of doing so firmly established my relationship as their child, seeking safety and a measure of avoidance from the adult world that approached from the fringe of our connection.
As we age, our relationship to this kind of guidance and security changes. The outstretched hand of our parents becomes an icy grip of control during our teenage years as we grow into adulthood. The shunning of this sense of safety and control signals our maturity and embrace of the difficulties that adulthood has for us.
What does this have to do with the newest film from director Alexander Payne, The Descendants? At a cursory glance, maybe not a lot. However, I would argue that Payne’s seeming lack of understanding of this relationship is at the core of the reason that The Descendants is a failure.