Netflix and Amazon have emerged as new big-money players to the filmmaking poker table. Although released in theaters, the highly successful and excellent film, Manchester by the Sea, was produced by Amazon Studios. Although it came up short in terms of winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it did produce a great script and heartbreaking story that did manage to win Best Original Screenplay and earned Casey Affleck the Oscar for Best Actor. On top of that, it became the first film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars that was produced by an online streaming company. It created a new window for how we as the movie-going audience can enjoy quality filmmaking.
All of that background brings us to today when I guess you could say I discovered The Discovery, which is a film that looks into an interesting theory of seeing a window of the afterlife through a new scientific experiment on the dead. In fact, it was so interesting that I decided to make The Discovery my first ever Netflix original film review.
I know that Netflix announced it will be spending upwards of $6 billion on original programming this year between original films and TV series. Some of that incredibly large sum contributed to making this film. The Discovery, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and on Netflix this past Friday, tells the story of a man named Thomas (played by the legendary Robert Redford), who is believed to have proven the theory of the afterlife. He has done this through a scientific experiment that allows him to trace brain waves of a dead corpse and watch the display of their subconscious on a monitor in the lab. Since news of this has gone public that the afterlife has been proven and is no longer an assumption or doubt, depending on if you are a believer or a skeptic, the amount of suicides has skyrocketed. This obviously presents a moral issue.
In the midst of all this are two people, Will (Jason Segel) and Isla (Rooney Mara) who have met by chance and discuss the eventful times of their world. Will does not rush to judgment and remains highly skeptical of the experiment, while Isla is tending to believe there is substance to it. Both Will and Isla go on an interesting journey together to ultimately find the truth. Not only do they find the truth, but they also discover more about themselves in the process.
This is the first time I have seen Jason Segel in a serious role. Honestly, I think his performance was respectable. I already am a fan of his from his comedic roles in Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and This is 40, among other titles. I also know he is a talented writer and has written the script for The Muppets movie and contributed to writing a few other films, too.
Segel seems to be a talented guy, so it doesn’t surprise me that he was able to transform into an emotionally scarred loner neurologist for this movie. Ironically, Jesse Plemons (who plays Will’s brother Toby), who is more known for his serious roles in the TV series’ Fargo and Friday Night Lights, as well as films such as Black Mass and Bridge of Spies, is the one who ironically provides the comic relief in this picture over Segel.
I found the premise of this film to be very intriguing. The sad thing is, I think in real life if this discovery had been announced, the same suicidal craze would take place. There would be a lot of people who would be in a rush to get to the newly confirmed afterlife, and send themselves and their loved ones there quicker instead of trusting the natural process of life as intended. One memorable line from the film was when Isla said to Will, “just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you can’t pray.” I never thought about it myself, but this kind of film can make you ponder deep thoughts like that. I suppose a person who doesn’t believe in God can still pray to something for something different, like peace of mind and faith in one’s self.
I have been skeptical for a while with the quality of Netflix programming due to the excessive quantity of it. However, The Discovery was a stimulating, spontaneous find that I am happy I came across on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t the best movie in the world, but it was thought provoking and kept me excited for the future of Netflix original films.
The ensemble acting, led by the surprising Segel and the always consistently strong Rooney Mara, delivered a solid level of personal believability to a currently unrealistic circumstance. At times, it reminded me of a modern day Brainstorm (hardcore movie buffs may remember this one, but if not, it was a movie made back in the early 1980s starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood), in that it too was a film centered around the foundation of extracting cerebral details from the subconscious. The main difference here was the theological and moral aspect inserted to secure some sort of originality.
Althought the acting was good, I felt as though the script for The Discovery was extremely tight. The entire dialogue of the film revolves specifically around its theme of verifying or debunking the experiment. Therefore, it doesn’t really give us a chance to really get to know the depth of the characters.
With that said, I would still recommend The Discovery, as it is a mind-bending mystery that dissolves into a dark romance. Although the romance aspect is there, it is quite dim. However, Segel and Mara’s chemistry is very plausible. If nothing else, this movie stirs the pot and is capable of instigating an interesting conversation about what you would do if the experiment in this fictional film became a reality.
MATTER RATING: 6/10
BY: CHRIS GUEST