The Descendants (2011) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Matt King's family has lived in Hawaii for generations. His extended family - namely he and his many cousins - own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends in seven years. The easiest thing for the family to do is sell the land before the seven years is up, which is all the talk in the state, as, to whom they sell the property could very well change the face of Kauai. Despite the vast wealth that comes with the land, Matt has decided to live solely on what he earns as a Honolulu lawyer. However, Matt has not had a perfect life living in Hawaiian paradise as many believe. He and his wife Elizabeth were having problems in their marriage. She recently got into a boating accident which has placed her in a coma. Their seventeen year old daughter Alex is in boarding school on the big island since they couldn't handle her rebellion, which was made all the worse by an argument of an unknown nature between mother and daughter during Alex's last visit home. And their ten year old daughter Scottie is starting to act out, which Matt doesn't know if he can handle, potentially raising her on his own. Matt decides to bring Alex home upon news that Elizabeth is brain dead, and that she will be pulled off life support. But revelations about Elizabeth and Alex's argument, which is tied indirectly to the issue of the land sale, leads to some decisions on Matt's part about what is best for him in both mourning Elizabeth's death and what is the best thing to do about the land, the two decisions which may be incompatible.

  • Attorney Matt King is having a difficult time coping with his life at the moment. His wife Elizabeth is in a coma in the hospital following a boating accident. His youngest daughter Scottie is acting out and in many ways Matt is forced to be a parent for the first time in a long time. Matt is also in control of a family trust, one that is set to expire in a few years time. The trust owns a huge tract of land - vigorously sought by developers - the sale of which would be of great help financially to many of his cousins. He fetches his eldest daughter Alexandra from school and in a heated argument learns that Elizabeth was having an affair and was going to divorce him. Matt sets out to see the man, but isn't quite sure what he will say or do when he locates him.

  • A land baron tries to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Matt King (George Clooney) is a Honolulu-based lawyer and the sole trustee of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua'i. The trust will expire in seven years because of the rule against perpetuities, so the King family has decided to sell the land to Kaua'i native Don Holitzer for development. Just before family members are ready to officially endorse the deal, which Matt favors, a boating accident near Waikiki renders Matt's wife, Elizabeth, comatose.

    Matt and Elizabeth have two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). Matt is not very close to his daughters and refers to himself as the "back-up parent." With Elizabeth in a coma in Queen's Hospital, Matt is forced to confront Scottie's inappropriate and Alex's self-destructive behaviors.

    Matt learns that Elizabeth will never awaken from her coma, which means that under the terms of her living will she must be disconnected shortly from life support. He tells Alex, but not Scottie, that Elizabeth will not recover and must be allowed to die. Alex tells her father that Elizabeth was having an affair at the time of the accident. Matt confronts two family friends, Kai and Mark, and learns that Elizabeth's lover is Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), a realtor who stands to benefit from the Kings' land deal.

    Matt decides to tell Brian that Elizabeth will soon be dead to give him a chance to visit her while she's still alive. After telling the family of Elizabeth's terminal prognosis, Matt, along with the girls and Alex's slacker friend Sid (Nick Krause), travels to Kaua'i to find Brian.

    Matt goes jogging on the beach and passes a man that he recognizes from the real estate signs as Brian. He trails him and sees him enter a cottage, owned by Matt's cousin, Hugh (Beau Bridges).

    Matt goes to the Speers' cottage and introduces himself as Elizabeth's husband. He tells Brian that he is there to let him know that Elizabeth will die in a few days and he wants to give Brian a chance to say goodbye. Brian says that while Elizabeth loved him, the affair was only a fling for him, and he loves his wife and family. He tells Matt he is sorry for the pain he caused.

    Matt meets with his many cousins to vote on the fate of the family's 25,000 acres. The majority vote for Don Holitzer, but Matt has second thoughts and decides to keep the land and find a different solution. Shocked, Hugh tells Matt that he and the other cousins may take legal action, but Matt is undeterred.

    At Queen's Hospital, Elizabeth is taken off life support. Her father visits and tells Matt he should have been a more generous and loving husband to Elizabeth, whom he describes as a good and faithful wife. Matt agrees with him, choosing to not disclose the details of Elizabeth's affair to her father. Later, Julie Speer (Judy Greer) arrives, telling Matt she is now aware of the tryst between Elizabeth and her husband. Julie forgives Elizabeth, even though she wants to hate her for destroying her family. Alex and Scottie say their final goodbyes, then leave Matt alone with Elizabeth. Finally coming to terms with his wife's betrayal, Matt tenderly kisses her and tells her goodbye. Later, Matt, Alex, and Scottie scatter Elizabeth's ashes in the ocean off Waikiki. The film closes with the three curled up on the living room couch, wearing Elizabeth's hospital blanket, eating ice cream, and watching March of the Penguins.

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