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'The Discovery'

Worth Finding

The Discovery (2017, Netflix) is a strange, edgy, powerfully soft-spoken movie about a scientific attempt to find, map, and understand the afterlife. As such, it bears some resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland's 1990 Flatliners (coincidentally remade in 2017, but I haven't yet seen it). The Discovery sports Robert Redford in a quite central role, with Jason Segel, Rooney Mara (House of Cards), Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights), and Riley Keough (first season of The Girlfriend Experience) in leading and strong supporting roles.

As for the plot, it's somewhat murky — as I guess befits afterlife stories — and manages to combine the ambience of grade-B 1950s science fiction/horror, replete with a hokey laboratory, more than reminiscent of the Frankenstein-monster set-up, and the more modern retelling of early events and dialogue in the movie, near the end, in a way which makes the beginning make more sense, though it wasn't all that opaque in the first place.

Redford is the scientist who thinks/claims he has discovered evidence of an afterlife. His son (played by Segel) resists this because it's somehow tied up with the death of his mother. He in turns falls for Mara's character, who has a complex story of her own. I won't tell you more, lest I give too much away. In other words, I'd like to see this movie have an afterlife.

All in all, I'd say the best part about it is the at-once jarring, compelling, and subtly controlled way in which the movie was shot, including a long speechless scene with Rooney on camera, thinking about something, sitting next to Segel on the beach, about to tell him a crucial piece of this story. That kind of pacing is realistic and hard to find in science fiction. Kudos to filmmaker Charlie McDowell.

Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code (winner Locus Award, Best 1st Science Fiction Novel of 1999) & The Plot To Save Socrates. His nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context has been translated into 15 languages. 

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