Advance Directives Go To Hollywood

Have you seen “The Descendants” yet? If not…spoiler alert!

But, no more than you’d get if you watch this trailer.

That’s a photo of Elizabeth King (played by Patricia Hastie) in a before-the-credits scene. Her husband, Matt (George Clooney) tells us in a voiceover that, “23 days ago my wife, Elizabeth, was launched from a powerboat and hit her head.”

Very soon we learn that she’s in a coma. And won’t recover. And, Matt has to tell his two daughters, Scottie and Alexandra ages 10 and 17. (There’s more, but we’ll leave out those other parts, just in case you didn’t watch the trailer!)

Not exactly the first 30 seconds of your typical Hollywood blockbuster.

It turns out “The Descendants” is anything but typical. Not only did Elizabeth hit her head but years earlier she’d had the foresight have prepared advance medical directives. So, the film proceeds to track the process of everyone following Elizabeth’s wishes, allowing her to be taken off mechanical life-support and to die peacefully.

Wait, this film was a hit??

The thing is, “The Descendants” is delightful. The story is off-beat and, ultimately, life-affirming; the characters, funny and quirky and angry and unique and poignant.

In the midst of two other story lines, we get to watch Elizabeth’s husband and daughters and parents and friends learn about her medical situation, understand her end-of-life wishes, and carry them out. Like Clooney says at one point in the film, “Elizabeth always wanted to do things her own way.”

There aren’t too many films that address a subject as serious as advance directives and certainly none that approaches the issue as deftly as “The Descendants.”

See it for Clooney’s Academy Award nominated performance, the excellent acting of Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as the daughters, the beautiful Hawaiian setting and the wonderful story of a family making decisions about the land they’ve been entrusted with.

And, while you’re doing so, you’ll also get to see how advance directives work when fate plays its own all-too-common role.

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