The Discovery (2017)
Watch The Discovery on Netflix
Written by: Charlie McDowell
Directed by: Justin Lader, Charlie McDowell
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons
The afterlife has been
scientifically proven to exist, and millions of people have ended their
lives to get there. Will (Jason Segel) goes to visit his father (Robert Redford), the man who proved the afterlife, and falls for Isla (Rooney Mara).
I expected more from this movie, a really clever critique of religion, an alternate explanation of the afterlife, or even a look at a cult. While The Discovery creates a clever hook of a scientist proving an afterlife and then trying to determine the nature of the afterlife, it never goes anywhere. Why does everyone assume the afterlife is good? I thought for a moment the movie might delve into that, but we're left with a bland conclusion that forgoes exploring any of the interesting ideas the movie had previously presented.
Scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) has proven the afterlife exists. Upon death a part of the body leaves, and there is sub-atomic brain activity. While part of the body leaves, where does it go? Everyone seems to assume the afterlife is a good experience as suicides increase exponentially. Some see it as a fresh start and want to get there, though no one knows what 'there' is. Death is a convenient option to living.
Where is the fear of the unknown or that the afterlife is hell? Just because it's something, doesn't make it a good thing. The movie never address this.
I hoped, in vain, that the movie would explore someone wrestling with that decision, or even the breakdown of society as millions of people end their lives. Instead we get a skeptic, Will (Jason Segel), who happens to be Thomas's son. You can see that coming a mile away. He's headed to his father's castle for no real reason. He wants Thomas to admit that revealing his discovery was wrong because people died. On the way he meets Isla (Rooney Mara).
Thomas is trying to determine the nature of the afterlife with a new machine. I had questions as to why Will even went to visit his dad, and meeting Isla again seemed awfully convenient. You could argue the movie explains this away later, but I wasn't satisfied with the answers.
Isla wants to join Thomas's castle where he's taken in numerous people. She has to fill out a questionnaire that made this seem like it was going to compare Thomas's commune to a cult. Thomas is an enigmatic leader, and I wondered if the questionnaire was some kind of blackmail, but that doesn't go anywhere.
Thomas's big experiment, which just happens to coincide with Will's arrival seems to be a failure, until Will discovers it's not. This discovery seems to indicate the afterlife is a chance to relive past failures, potentially righting them. This is the point where the movie took a nosedive. It has multiple concepts to explore and forgoes all of them for a rather bland path. The big reveal is underwhelming. The fact that a large number of society is killing themselves, that no one knows the nature of the afterlife, the cult Thomas is creating, none of that is a factor into the ending. While the conclusion begins to hint at the nature of the afterlife, it's rather arbitrary and provides no real answers. It could just as easily be dismissed. It's the kind of ending where you ask yourself, "Did I sit through ninety minutes of this movie just for that?"