While The Descendants’ (2011) symbiotic nature — intimately illustrating a family’s post-tragedy togetherness — is rather conventional and predictable, the aesthetic is befitting and makes impressive what would otherwise be quite a bland film.
There is a quaint silence that accompanies each of the scenes, all of which retain a similar pace. Though there is never much action, the film couldn’t rightly be considered slow-paced; this speaks volumes about Payne’s ability to use image to evoke emotions and reveal plot. It further speaks volumes about the performers’ abilities in physical acting, One scene that is particularly exemplary of this is when Alex (Shailene Woodley), upon hearing her mother’s death-sentence, dunks herself underwater and screams; there is little sensory evocation, since we don’t hear the scream, yet somehow the scene has an even more sincere and striking impact.
This withholding of emotional intensity imbues the film with a kind of melancholic slowness. There is a transient nature of things — all must pass — and the film paints a somber but necessary acceptance of this nature. The light, airy soundtrack, in concurrence with slow dissolves and sequined images of natural landscapes, leaves the viewer with a lingering flow of images expressive of solemnity, peace, and tranquility.