The Discovery. 2017
Written and Directed by Charlie McDowell
Starring Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough, Ron Canada, and Mary Steenburgen
A love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified.
While browsing the selection of available Sundance Film Festival titles to check out, The Discovery stood head and shoulders above the rest of the wide variety of offerings, solely for its heavy (possibly offensive to some) premise of an alarming increase in suicides due to scientific proof of the existence of an afterlife. Sci-fi is about exploring the impossible, challenging the mind, and diving into deep discussions regarding moral ethics, so it’s sufficient to say that the thought of watching a movie about characters potentially contemplating suicide to rejoin loved ones or push the reset button on a disappointing life, is exploding with intrigue. The Discovery might have the best hook for a movie in quite some time.
However, it’s what The Discovery does with that premise that is jarringly awkward, leaving audiences perplexed at the ins and outs of the direction it is headed, but holy hell does it lead somewhere wholly satisfying and absolutely mind-bending. Writer and director Charlie McDowell’s sophomore feature has proven himself a sci-fi force to be reckoned with, and if there is any justice in the world of film he will go on to create more works of visual art that ask viewers the really tough questions. It’s one of those movies where a critic really doesn’t (and definitely shouldn’t spoil everything like the horrible trailer) want to talk about the plot and the numerous unpredictable places it goes; everything just needs to be seen to be believed, especially the final 15 minutes which would have even Christopher Nolan grinning from ear to ear.
What I will say is that a good portion of the middle revolves around a mystery regarding visual evidence of the aforementioned scientifically proven afterlife. And for every moment that I wished the film hadn’t gone that route, instead hoping it stuck to exploring the relations between characters and the profoundness of the premise, again, by the end, it was all worth it. Every nuisance, contrived plot device, lingering question, all culminates into an unforgettable ending that enhances the rest of the movie to the point where an immediate second viewing is almost necessary and definitely a guaranteed desire.
From a thematic standpoint, probably the biggest concern going in was if The Discovery would deal with the devastating reality that is suicide respectfully and tastefully, or simply glorify it into a device used to heighten sci-fi shenanigans. The answer is somewhere in the middle, as there are definitely times where a suicide or character’s pain feels forced, unnatural, or confusing, but for the most part, it’s another one of those aspects of the movie that clicks into logic during the ending sequence. You may wonder why characters have the motivations they do, but all will become clear soon enough.
The Discovery also doesn’t function on an emotional level without its fantastic turns from Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough (who has more of a supporting role that could have been elaborated on, but she still manages with the material given to her). All of these actors elicit feelings from regret to grievance to confusion surrounding a certain mystery, but it’s the relationship between Segel and Mara playing characters with polar opposite opinions regarding suicide that stand out. Their bonding and chemistry together (working from some gripping and deep conversations) is another crucial component to this highly complex film coming together as a total package of sci-fi goodness.
The only minor frustration there is with The Discovery is that, although as mentioned, the film does come together, at times there is an unshakable feeling that Charlie McDowell is unsure of what to actually do with his concept. I would ponder so much so, that the ending to the movie could be a fluke stroke of brilliance saving a movie that seemingly was going nowhere fast. Or, maybe he is simply a genius writer and director; time will tell, especially if he is rightfully given the funds to put together another project. Regardless, The Discovery brings to memory the sci-fi masterpieces Christopher Nolan typically churns out, which is a massive compliment. Ambition and taboo storytelling deserve to be rewarded, and The Discovery oozes those ingredients.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★