In recent years, Netflix has become a leader in the television market by producing original series and films that are only available through the streaming platform itself. While much of its content, such asHouse of Cards, Daredevil, and the film Beasts of No Nation (2015), has received critical and public acclaim, not all of Netflix’s original material is as satisfying to critics or viewers, such as theirMarco Polo series. Charlie McDowell’s film The Discovery (2017) is an example of an additional less than stellar offering from the usually reliable Netflix content farm.
The basic premise of The Discovery is that scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) finds empirical proof of an afterlife. However, the titular discovery initiates a rash of suicides across the world, as people who are dissatisfied with this life attempt to send themselves to the next. This rash soon turns to a wave, creating a global crisis as millions of people take their own lives.
While visiting his father’s lab, Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segel) winds up saving a woman named Isla (Rooney Mara) from drowning herself and gives her shelter in the lab complex. Staffed by other suicide survivors, Dr. Harbor has continued his research into identifying what the afterlife is like, and he reveals to Will and Mara that he is working on a machine that will allow people to view the afterlife through a deceased person. Will, however, is unenthusiastic about his father’s research, blaming him for the deaths of many, including his mother.
Will and Isla’s relationship is the central plotline of the film, as they slowly fall in love and discover more about Dr. Harbor’s research. However, this love story is not particularly unique nor is it engrossing. Despite superb acting from Segel and Mara, the movie’s script is an unconvincing read, failing to add a desperately needed layer of sophistication. The film routinely falls short of its potential, turning what could have been a bitingly introspective drama/thriller into a plodding mystery that one hardly cares to see resolved.
Equally as unconvincing as the script is the film’s central narrative. The concept of people killing themselves after the existence of an afterlife is proven is ridiculous. It is almost as if Director McDowell has forgotten that religion still exists, as it seems to be almost completely excluded from the film, barring one awkward mention of God that showed absolutely no theological literacy. In order for the world in The Discovery to exist, all of the world’s major faiths would have to have faded into obscurity, yet the concept of religion is barely even hinted at.
Had McDowell chosen to address matters of faith with his film, The Discovery would have joined the classic sci-fi tradition of opening up classic philosophical quandaries for new and unique contemplation. However, by choosing to focus only on the personal development of the main characters, the film loses all possibility of transcending itself. It is only fitting that a modern-day attempt at discussing faith fails due to a self-centered avoidance of the matter at hand.
In an attempt to create a philosophical mind-bender, Charlie McDowell succeeds only in making a subparEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind knockoff. While the acting is stellar and the mystery is at times entertaining, the conclusion fails to adequately answer any of the questions that it purported to ask. The absence of relevant philosophy or theology in the narrative leaves the movie feeling empty, like opening a bag of chips that winds up being mostly air.
Wagner’s Watchlist Rating: 5/10