​”The Discovery,” the second feature film by Charlie McDowell opens with a suicide, which, in the world of the film, is not uncommon. Since the scientifically proven discovery of an afterlife, hundreds of thousands of people have killed themselves to effectively “start over.” Robert Redford plays Thomas Harbor, the scientist who discovered this afterlife, but the true lead of the film is Jason Segel playing Will, Thomas Harbor’s son. He and Isla (Rooney Mara) show up to Harbor’s strange facility where he continues his research on the afterlife. It is cult-like to an extreme. The building is an old mansion formerly used as a summer camp for at-risk youths and everyone there wears jumpsuits of different colors symbolizing their caste in the system. Here, Harbor reveals his newest creation, he has created a machine which allows one to see into the afterlife without dying.
Charlie McDowell’s last film was similarly sci-fi but grounded. “The One I Love,” was about a couple who take a vacation at a lake house to work on their relationship but find that copies of themselves have materialized there and appear to be superior to them. The film led the audience to ask the question, what would I change about my partner? The core question at work in “The Discovery” is, what would I do if I knew there was an afterlife? Although the films are similar, “The One I Love” is superior as it effectively operates on more levels than “The Discovery,” which is not to say bad on the latter, a film I still enjoyed, it just didn’t reach far too much greater than itself.
“The Discovery” was released through Netflix as an attempt to become what they are in TV in the field of film. Former original movie attempts have been very limited, the greatest of which was 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation.” Since then it has been fairly quiet on the Netflix film front, but here they have a project by a director whose first film is critically adored, and it is seen as another attempt for Netflix to get in the game. I doubt this film will have much impact overall as heady sci-fi can be hard to stomach for mainstream audiences, but I hope them all the best. “The Discovery” is a film that should be seen, and thankfully it’s easy to do as most students have a Netflix account. It’s crafted well, full of subtle performances and a compelling and fresh tale.
The Discovery: 4/5 Cigars