Print Editor Joe Ryan reviews the Oscar-nominated animation that wordlessly meditates on life, death and everything in betweenWritten by Redbrick Film on 12th June 2017
Review: The Discovery
What would you do if you discovered there was an afterlife? Film's Emillie Gallagher reviews Netflix's latest original film, 'The Discovery'
Following Dr. Thomas Harbor’s discovery of a definitively proven afterlife, The Discovery explores humanity’s response to the promise of a future after death. As the film moves through the two years following the discovery it explores the tragedy that ensues for the human race as we see the death count rocket as a suicide counter, seen in all public spaces, rapidly exceeds 4 million deaths as a result of people rushing to get to this newly promised afterlife.
“In its philosophical exploration we see the success of the film
The film follows Will (Segel), Harbor’s estranged son who is battling the grief of his deceased mother and his guilt for his involvement in the discovery, and Isla (Mara), a beautiful woman who is also struggling with her own grief and searching for an escape. Meeting on an empty ferryboat heading for the seaside town in which the majority of the film takes place, the pair’s complicated relationship begins. After saving Isla from her suicidal actions, the pair head to the secluded mansion home of Harbor and his cult like group of suicide survivors, and aid them in their latest experiments in creating recordings of the next plane. However, in the experiments success in creating these images, Will and Isla end up having to decipher more than simply the reality of these videos as they begin to question the purpose of life and the importance of human connection.
In this questioning comes the true essence of the film; what is humanity searching for? As Harbor asks Isla if knowing what was following death would change her desire to die, we see how humanity can be controlled by this belief of the grass always being greener. As the human race seems hypnotised by the possibility of escaping their hardships, Will recognises the tragedy of these wasted lives, in seeing “people jumping out of aeroplanes and thinking they’re going to grow wings” he is also seeing the true tragedy of this phenomenon; wasted life. In this philosophical exploration we see the success of the film as it questions the reality of the human experience; should we concentrate on what’s next or live in the moment by accepting our regrets and choosing to find happiness in this timed existence. As Harbor states when suggesting our lives won’t necessarily end with our death; “we’re programmed to process our experiences as having a beginning and an end, when in reality, […] it's just one drawn out middle”. Can we in fact explore this notion as an invitation to focus our attention on enjoying today instead of worrying about meeting life’s deadlines? As Will states “reality and fantasy are mutually exclusive, they don’t exist in the same space” it's clear that he believes that despite not knowing what will happen tomorrow, we have the opportunity to live today, and all this worrying about what’s next is causing us to forget to enjoy the reality of how lucky we are to have this life.
“The Discovery unfortunately becomes bogged down by an ultimately confusing plot with dull and desultory scenes
The Discovery is seemingly promising to begin with, with a fine cast headed by Jason Segel, Rooney Mara and Robert Redford, and a complex and interesting plot delving into long asked questions of the prospect of what follows our death and essentially the point of existence, the film is initially absorbing. However, it unfortunately becomes bogged down by a confusing plot with dull and desultory scenes causing a potentially stimulating story to seem a little dreary and slow. Ultimately, the film’s success seems to lie in its exploration of human truths and contemplation of an undoubtedly fascinating existential question, rather than its telling of a convincing story. However, despite its slow burn in plot, there’s a lot we can take away from the movie, including the importance of creating human connection, making the most of the life you’ve been given and asking yourself the question - if you knew where you were going, would you be ready to go?