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“The Descendants”

Somewhere along the way, adultery became acceptable. For a while almost every Democrat who ran for president seemed to be surrounded by the rumor of infidelity.
Now, assuming Newt Gingrich gets the nomination for president, the Republicans will have nominated two consecutive admitted adulterers. I am pretty sure neither party would nominate an admitted murderer or thief. Adultery seems to have become the pardonable sin; no real repentance required.

“The Descendants,” now playing, takes adultery seriously. Much more seriously than our politicians seem to anymore.

In the film, Matt King (played to perfection by George Clooney) is grieving the truth that his wife now lies in a coma from a boating accident.

He is also struggling with raising his two young daughters alone for the first time in his life. Then he is hit with devastating news: His wife was having an affair.

To reveal more of the plot would hinder the viewer’s discovery. “The Descendants” is a witty, smart and moving film.

The acting, led by one of George Clooney’s finest performances, is already being recognized by several critics’ groups and most likely will be chosen by the Academy when Oscar nominations are announced in January.

Alexander Payne co-wrote and directed the film; his work includes “Sideways” and one of the best, if not the best film, of 2002, “About Schmidt.”

Both of those films are brilliant, and “The Descendants” might just surpass each of them. It is one of the best films of 2011.

I know nothing about Payne’s personal life or that of his co-writers. Nor have I read the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

But it almost seems someone involved in the writing of this story might have lived through a relationship marred by adultery. The story holds that kind of clarity.

There are moments in the dialogue that echo more truth than one would expect. And quotable lines abound in the film.

There is one slight misstep in the plot, but few may find it troubling. And in the end, the greatness of the film eclipses that one minor choice, which had to happen for the plot to move forward.

The film carries an R rating for language, and this will probably keep some people of faith from seeing the film. That is a shame.

For all the films Hollywood gives us that glamorize and justify adultery, here is a film that shows the destructive power of sin.

Scene after scene offers an honest depiction of the emotions involved in the discovery and the desire for understanding – even when answers bring little comfort.

In 2003 I reviewed “The Secret Lives of Dentists.” I have never met anyone else who saw that film. It too dealt with the impact of infidelity on a marriage.

I wrote then that “the film is an accurate depiction of how destructive sin, or even suspected sin, can be to a relationship. This is a lesson all mature Christians should welcome to the multiplex.”

“The Descendants” handles the issue differently, with more humor and grace, but in the end those words ring true once more. Here is another accurate depiction of how sin destroys many things.

Maybe Christians and politicians need to be reminded often about that and I, for one, am glad to see Hollywood bring that message to viewers.

In the end – though “The Descendants” makes many great points about the impact of infidelity on family – this is a movie about grace.

Grace received and grace given to others, even when they are not deserving. Both victims and perpetrators of adultery receive some grace in the film. As such, the film’s final shot is perfect.

Perhaps that is what is happening these days; grace extended at the ballot boxes to those running for office and running away from their past. Maybe one day we will have leaders who ask for grace through authentic repentance.

Until then, we might just need movies to remind us that sinful choices destroy lives of families. And that grace comes through sincere remorse, honest regret and true repentance.

RogerThomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual references.

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings)

Cast: George Clooney: Matt King; Shailene Woodley: Alexandra King; Amara Miller: Scottie King; Nick Krause: Sid; Patricia Hastie: Elizabeth King.

The movie’s website is here.