The discovery of all-but conclusive scientific evidence for an existence after death, an afterlife, has sent the world into a spiral of questions and existential crisis. Suicides spike by the millions and those left behind wonder if it is worth trudging through the continued trenches of life when the gamble of the decision of finality has become no gamble at all. However, there are still questions to be answered. Just because a confirmed afterlife exists, is it preferable to our current existence? Might it be worse? Is there any way to know?
Featuring a stellar cast, an emerging director, and a thought-provoking premise, Netflix’s The Discovery roars off to an intriguing start that fuels its momentum through to the final scene. Director and writer Charlie McDowell (The One I Love) along with writer Justin Lader (The One I Love) create a world of great depth of curiosity and attempt to explore the grand questions of death, life, loss, and regret.
The premise of the fallout of afterlife confirmation is explored by McDowell in the microcosm of interpersonal relationships, but the big-picture idea is one worth revisiting. What is the global reaction? What has become of the political climate? How does organized religion unravel in the face of the new evidence? Has faith been abandoned, or instead, has it been grasped onto with that much more fervor?
While similar ambitious projects can feel heavy, bogged down in their own despair, McDowell finds a balanced tone utilizing ambient light and suspenseful music that is contrasted and softened by the humorous dialogue between the two leads. The chemistry between Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother; Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Rooney Mara (Lion; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is not electric, but sufficiently believable and endearing enough to cut the tension and help navigate the story through the tumultuous waters of its burdensome themes.
Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights; Breaking Bad) is especially noteworthy in his supporting performance and plays the perfect eccentric son/brother to bring equilibrium to the solemn and earnest exchanges between Segel and his father played by the inimitable Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods; All is Lost).
The film is reminiscent in tone and rhythm to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but lacks similarity in imaginative visuals and focus. To compare the two would be a disservice to The Discovery though, which boasts an identity of its own. The music in McDowell’s film, by Danni Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, is a slow-burn and at times is nothing more than minor notes sustained for an entire scene. As the film progresses and reveals its lighter side, the music complements nicely with quirky instruments and lighthearted, if sporadic, percussion and tones.
The Discovery attempts to answer none of the questions it raises. The truth is found only for its own characters which may leave viewers clambering for closure, but that is where its power lies. The best art tends to be that which asks a question of its audience and nothing more, allowing the viewer to formulate his/her own conclusions. The strength of this movie arrives triumphantly when the credits roll and the discussions begin.
So just go watch it already. Let’s discuss.