It seems like Sundance co-creator Robert Redford (and/or one of his kids) finds a way into a festival movie each year. More often than not, it feels like these films only make it into the festival because of the Redford name. Such is the case with his latest, ‘The Discovery’.
The concept behind ‘The Discovery’ is great. The entire thing is explained and rolled out in the opening sequence, allowing the rest of the film to play with the concept. It starts with Redford’s scientist character, Dr. Thomas Harbor, recording an interview for a ’60 Minutes’-type program. He and the interviewer go back and forth in an exposition-heavy conversation that explains what he’s done and the results that his actions had on the world.
You see, six months ago, he made a scientific discovery that heavily impacted society. Harbor was able to document a human spirit leaving the body after death and transitioning to a new plane, proving the existence of an afterlife. Ever since the news broke, suicide rates have been through the roof. Millions of average people desiring more out of life have taken their lives with the hope that what lies beyond will be better. Ever since the suicides started, Dr. Harbor has been scrutinized for revealing this information to the public.
Cut to 18 months later. Harbor’s neurologist son, Will (Jason Segel), is among those who despise his dad’s work. Not only does he not believe the study, he also thinks his dad is immoral for not revealing “the discovery” as a hoax. With the intent of talking him into coming clean, he heads to his dad’s locked-down compound.
There, he meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a quiet girl whose motives aren’t entirely obvious yet. Will and Isla quickly become friends and learn what Harbor is up to now. Full of pride and the intent of maintaining the integrity of the discovery, his research is now focused on finding exactly where souls travel to after leaving the body.
I love the idea behind ‘The Discovery’. I especially love the not-so-brave world that it creates and wraps around the audience. The concept can be taken in countless directions. Unfortunately, the writers had no idea what to do with it. Instead of keeping up the creativity, the story heads down a boring and uninspired path that ultimately feels like a handful of other well-known sci-fi stories. (I’ll keep it spoiler-free by not revealing those comparisons.) They go so far as to try explaining the science, yet the ending that they came up with is so weak that it doesn’t even fit within their own boundaries.
Redford, Segel and Mara are excellent in ‘The Discovery’, but ‘The Discovery’ isn’t excellent for them.
[Note: ‘The Discovery’ will premiere on Netflix streaming on March 31st, 2017.]