REVIEW: The Discovery

3 04 2017

Sundance Film Festival

I was a bit peeved to learn that Netflix owned the rights to Charlie McDowell’s The Discovery after I had blown a portion of my precious ticket allotment to see the film at the festival. Most people will experience this film from the comforts of their own living room. That’s their loss.

McDowell’s follow-up to his audacious debut, 2014’s “The One I Love,” works from a similarly complex setup. Robert Redford’s Thomas Harber discovers proof of an afterlife, leading masses of people worldwide to commit suicide to get there. A few years later, his son Will (Jason Segel) navigates a “Children of Men“­­-like world so substantially depleted of human energy that a hashtag campaign using #nomoresuicides and #discoverlife exists. Against his better judgment, he ends up in a position to probe the boundaries of his father’s finding and expose some potentially unsavory truths about what really lies there.

Will also encounters the suicidal Isla, played by Rooney Mara in what might be the closest thing she ever plays to Clementine Kruczynski, which substantially deepens his knowledge of rapidly changing attitudes. We get out of this world what we put into it, and neglecting our imperfect existence in favor of some distant fantasy can only lead to ruin. Locating meaning in death rather than in life leads people in strange directions, such as the cult-like estate that the elder Harber establishes.

It was nice to know, too, that audiences still respond to the shock of suicide. Too bad that Netflix can’t include the audible gasps of a stunned Sundance crowd at many moments in “The Discovery” as some kind of supplemental audio track. McDowell makes perfectly clear that human life matters in the film. Sharing and reaffirming that feeling with others just serves to emphasize it all the more. B+

NOTE: A portion of this review ran as a part of my coverage of the Sundance Film Festival for Movie Mezzanine.

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