Writer/Director Charlie McDowell poses an interesting question. The Discovery asks, what would happen if we get proof of the afterlife? An all-star cast brings gravity to the already heavy question. A drama unfolds around a broken man and more broken woman.
Dr. Thomas (Robert Redford) is a scientist who has physical proof of the afterlife. In the wake of this discovery the entire world changes. People kill themselves, and others, in record numbers. Suicide and murder are no longer seen the same ways. Instead of an ending it’s looked at as a new beginning. Governing agencies and individuals are unclear on how to handle these new deaths.
Thomas’s son Will (Jason Segel) is on his way to see his father. Will is full of doubt about his father’s discovery. He carries personal reasons for doubting Thomas’s genius. On his way to confront his father, Will meets Isla (Rooney Mara). Isla is an intelligent woman with her own connection to Thomas’s work.
The initial question posed in The Discovery is fascinating. What would happen to the world if an afterlife was “proven?” The ramifications depicted in McDowell’s drab world feel spot on. The moral ambiguity and washed out gray areas would plague the planet for years. Eventually the new trends would slam into a wall of opposition or become the norm. The Discovery doesn’t span years to find out, but it doesn’t need to.
With the questions in place McDowell dives deeper into the question by following Will. Segel’s character has some doubts about his father. He has some doubts about the credibility of the discovery itself. Along with Isla, who turns out to be something of a kindred spirit, video recordings are secured. The recordings that supposedly show the afterlife raise new questions. Questions the world at large doesn’t seem too interested in the answers to.
Segel is best known as a comedian. The young actor stretches out and shows his more dramatic side in full swing. Will is a broken down man. He carries childhood trauma and baggage into his meeting with his father. Redford’s Thomas is revered in this world. For Will to confront someone held on such a high pedestal with nothing but doubt and contempt brings on an interesting power struggle. This battle is a quiet one. Combating ideals take the place of shouting and shoving. The two men are even motivated by the same reasons, which make the struggle all the more interesting.
The relationship that is put front and center is that between Will and Isla. All the doubt on the discovery and contention with his father is a means to an end for Will’s fantastic story arc.
The look of The Discovery is intentionally drab. The cold tones and soft score underline the feelings of the world. The movie uses these filmmaking techniques without shunning all the modern audio/video tech.
A fresh premise, a talented cast, and a strong director make The Discovery a much watch. Why this went straight to Netflix and didn’t get a big theatrical release is beyond me. What a world we live in.