Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Movie Review: "The Discovery" (2017)

Director: Charlie McDowell
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

A scientist named Thomas (Robert Redford) discovers definitive proof of the existence of an afterlife that triggers a massive uptick in the world suicide rate. His neurosurgeon son Will (Jason Segel) struggles with this phenomenon as he learns his father is continuing his studies into the afterlife and of what that afterlife consists.

"The Discovery" is directed by Charlie McDowell, who also wrote the film along with Justin Lader. It stars Robert Redford as Thomas, a scientist who finds proof of the existence of an afterlife. He hasn't discovered where the afterlife is or what it consists of, just that there is one. This discovery has triggered a massive upswing in the suicide rate across the globe. Many years pass, and Thomas has disappeared from the public eye, retreating to a compound where he maintains his studies and continues his research. Now, his estranged son Will, played by Jason Segel, reunites with him and his brother Toby, played by Jesse Plemons, and discovers their father is researching what the afterlife actually is along with a group of assistants that seem more like a Scientology type of cult than a research team.

This is a science fiction drama mystery that asks, what would happen if science could answer beyond a shadow of a doubt an existential question that philosophers have debated for centuries? What if the unknowable could be knowable? How would the world react? Apparently, Lader and McDowell have a fairly bleak idea of how people would react in real life. "The Discovery" offers an easy answer to the question of what happens when you die: your consciousness continues to live. Well, where does it continue to live? That hasn't yet been answered, thus the need for more research on Thomas' part. One possibility is eternal paradise. Another possibility is that your mind/soul/spirit/being/essence goes to a place where Michael Flatley step-dances on your balls while Rebecca Black's "Friday" plays on repeat for an eternity, but that doesn't stop people from offing themselves to find out the true answer. While the movie does present the aforementioned questions in a way that will be fun to debate and hypothesize about, those post-movie thoughts arguably be far more interesting and entertaining than the film as a whole.

The best part about this movie is its acting. Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough all put on great performances, and the interactions between these characters ranges from compelling to ulterior, mysterious to deja vu-ish. Unfortunately, the entire thing feels like a mish-mash of sci-fi and drama with a heavier emphasis on the drama. The cerebral, philosophical, existential 'faith versus science' questions get lost in the fray in favor of a strong focus on a budding romance between Segel's Will and a woman he saved from suicide named Isla, played by Mara. This is the least gripping part of the movie for both BigJ and I. The film feels a bit pretentious, like a Philosophy 102 class on steroids, and is very reminiscent of "Flatliners" with bits of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" thrown in for good measure. Apart from some riveting visuals and questions that will make you think, this is a rather pedestrian affair that had the potential to be something much more grand than what was produced. The pacing really drags at times, and the entire film feels a little too long. It should also be mentioned that I called the ending in the first five minutes, not to brag, of course, but to show that it's actually not that much of a "thinker." It sort of ruins the originality of its main plot by being so similar to another popular film (which we won't mention here to avoid spoilers). Still, "The Discovery" is worth checking out for the premise, acting, and afterword questions alone.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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