Soon after the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically proven by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), upwards to four million people begin killing themselves, thinking that there’s not much more to live for, if all there really is, well, nothing, when it’s all over. Nearly two years after this discovery, Will (Jason Segel), the son of Thomas, decides to head out to join his father’s small, but trusted group of believers who are constantly trying to figure out what the meaning to the afterlife is and, in a way, fix it all, so that people stop offing themselves. Meanwhile, Will also meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a girl with a tragic past who found her life seriously affected by this groundbreaking discovery and has a hard time really connecting with anyone, because she herself doesn’t really know if she wants to stay around much longer. Eventually, the two start figuring things out about the afterlife and together, they feel as if they’ll be able to crack the code and live happily ever after.
Or, I don’t know. Maybe something like that.
The Discovery is so ambitious and so interesting for so long, that it’s absolute travesty what it eventually turns out to be. Cause for the longest time, co-writer/director Charlie McDowell, just like he did with the One I Love, puts us in a state of where we don’t know what’s going to happen, at any time, to any person, for any which reason; it’s unpredictable and off-putting, making the movie itself all the more intense than it probably should be. But whereas that movie was talking about relationships, how we love one another, how we connect with one another, and the lies we each tell the other in a relationship, the Discovery is dealing with a much bigger issue on-hand, such as life, the reason for it, and what’s after it.
So yeah, that’s probably where some of the issues for the Discovery already come from, because while it’s a movie that tackles a lot, it also doesn’t know how to contain all of it on its plate. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, falls off the plate, and almost never gets picked up again – it’s as if McDowell and fellow co-writer Justin Lader knew that they were dealing with a whole lot, but didn’t care. Just mentioning the reason for life, the afterlife, and existence as a whole, it seems to them, was enough.
But honestly, it’s not.
See, in order for certain mind-benders such as this to work, there has to more than just mystery, science and babbling about life’s meaning; sometimes, there needs to be a plot, characters, heart, some humanity, and oh yeah, a small idea that we, the audience, have a general idea of what’s going on. When that’s not all there, unfortunately, sci-fi flicks like the Discovery get a bit messy – they like to deal with a lot and talk about a lot of things, but without helping the audience out, every so often, there’s sort of no point. It’s like throwing a huge banger, full of booze, drugs, hookers, and disco-punk blasting on the speakers, and not inviting anyone to it, except for just you, yourself.
Okay, actually, that does sound awesome. But see, so should the Discovery, a movie that seems to be very close to Lader and McDowell’s hearts, yet, doesn’t fully transport the same feelings towards ours. There’s a lot of talk about what this “discovery” about the afterlife actually was, yet, we barely get to hear, or see anything of it; there’s also a lot of talk about what this group of people are doing now to solve the issues from before, which again, aren’t made all that clear; and there’s even this sort of rogue mission Segel and Mara’s characters both go on that feels like it’s supposed to be more important and most of all, about something, but it’s just random.
Once again, there’s a lot that this movie wants to be about, but it just isn’t.
Still, it’s not a total piece of junk and more often than not, proves to be another sign that McDowell is still a very interesting, young director who has a chance to make some real beauty in the world, if given the right script to play around with. The human-element of the story, meaning, the relationships these characters all have with one another, probably remain the most interesting aspect of the whole movie and it’s a testament to McDowell’s direction that makes us see that. It also makes us wonder why there wasn’t more character-development in the first place.
After all, Segel, Mara, Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough are all very good here, it’s just that there isn’t always a whole bunch to assist them. Segel’s still interesting as a drop-dead serious straight-man; Mara’s deadpan is hilarious, but also shows a sad, heartbroken soul; Redford, when given the chance, can be chilling as this sort of ring-leader; Plemons’ character seems like he wants to be weirder, but isn’t given the chance to; and Keough, despite having what was a pretty miraculous year last year, isn’t given a whole lot to do here, but still remains chilling enough as is. In fact, just about everyone and everything about the movie is, for lack of a better word, chilling.
It’s just a shame that it wasn’t able to be transported into something far more entertaining, or better yet, even compelling to watch.
Consensus: Even with all of its talk about the afterlife and existence, the Discovery still feels like a half-baked idea, given the big-screen treatment, when in reality, it probably should have been a pilot for a very interesting, very promising TV show. Hence why it’s probably perfect to be on Netflix.
6 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire