The Discovery is an occasionally brilliant science fiction drama, a film that addresses existential topics with surprising insight, and brought forth by characters that the audience genuinely cares about. While the themes of death and time are certainly ones seen before, the film takes the concepts in a direction that is both original and surprisingly grounded. There are occasional struggles in relating the enormity of the film’s concepts, but for the most part, The Discovery is a smart, emotional sci-fi film.
A year following the scientific discovery of an afterlife by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), the world’s suicide rate has drastically risen. After befriending Isla (Rooney Mara), a young woman with suicidal thoughts, Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segal) takes a trip to visit his father’s laboratory. When a clue leads Will to question if his father’s discovery was legitimate, he embarks on a journey to test what’s on the other side.
It sounds like a thriller premise, but The Discovery is a slow burn, featuring mostly dialogue sequences combining insightful philosophical discussion with inspired character rhetoric. While the rules to the film’s logic are sometimes difficult to keep track of, the emotional story line ultimately redeems its shortcomings. Despite a slight lull in the middle of the film, the conclusion perfectly puts the film into perspective, and raises as many questions as it answers.
After his stellar dramatic turn in The End of the Tour, Jason Segal gives another terrific dramatic performance, giving an honestly heartfelt, and quite understated presence to the conflicted character of Will. Rooney Mara is similarly brilliant, bringing a grounded performance to a truly pained character, giving a complexity to the role without being needlessly over dramatic. As always, Robert Redford is a dramatic powerhouse, and although the core focus of the film is on the central duo, Redford gives a rare window into the torture of genius.
The Discovery deals with some heavy topics, from the the frivolous nature of life to the ignorance of faith, but while a lesser film may feel preachy or awkward, the film is a genuinely moving look at how we perceive life. Boosted by two incredible performances, it’s a subtle and contemplative sci-fi film. Grade: B+