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| A love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified.
The Discovery, for me, fell into that latter distinction. Although it gets maybe a little too much mileage out of its concept, I can’t hate the effort made here. Director Charlie McDowell’s sophomore effort gets lost in the weeds of its own intellectual curiosities and relies on rather stock character dynamics involving love, parenthood, guilt, and regret.
But before we dive into that, first of all, the movie from a technical side looks great. A consistent color palette of chilling whites and brilliant blues, Charlie McDowell (son of famous actor Malcolm McDowell) conjures up a world that feels one part desolate wasteland, one part postmodern art piece. Like other science fiction films, it’s a world whose architecture feels real and detailed, all part of a singular whole. When attention is paid to even the color of Rooney Mara’s hair, you know that you’re with a director with a singular vision. Although comparisons with Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind are inevitable.
The movie falters in its writing. It managed to keep me moderately interested with the experiments by Robert Redford’s character (who played it brilliantly), whose guilty feelings for the wave of suicides impulse him seek additional answers about the “afterlife”. His initial discovery revealed that human conscience (soul, spirit or whatever way you want to call it) travels to “another realm of existence” after the death of the body, but nobody knows what’s awaiting us there. And, of course, that attitude Harber has regarding death is questioned by his son (played by Jason Segel), whose experiences with patients himself suggest something less optimistic and more difficult to prove.
Death used to be something we just had to live with, and now it’s a convenient way to escape pain.
With a new “discovery”, Robert Redford’s character hopes to discover what awaits everybody in the afterlife. This is where McDowell’s film somewhat sputters, even if the emotional manipulation that is present works well to lend power to the film, and the various discoveries therein. Towards the end, it seems as though the film tries to outdo itself with extra layers and possibilities of exposition that come quick and fast to close the film. After such a mind bending and contemplative beginning, it is unfortunate to see the last two acts run down a path that it could have walked down.
The weak relationship between its two leads and their performances isn’t helping either. Jason Segel has played funny, likable characters before, and he does it with enough subtlety that I can see him smoothly transition to drama. Unfortunately as mentioned before, this was not a very impressive performance. His personality is slightly despondent and his relationship with his dad is strained. Segel doesn’t have that inherent gravitas. The same goes for Rooney Mara, although I think she’s a good actress, with this movie even she has trouble working with this character. Her character has more depth than Segel’s character given an actual personality and development, but when an actress is saddled with lines like, “I don’t feel emotions.”, she can only do so much. Both characters feels like a draft or two away from being fully fleshed out.
Overall, The Discovery was conceptually really fascinating and it had so much potential for a great script to come out of it, but something was obviously missing. It’s defintely not a total waste of time, but there was a sense of incompleteness to the narrative that by the end leaves you feeling empty and disappointed.
‘The Discovery’ gets a 6.7/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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