Film Review – The Discovery

DIRECTED BY: Charlie McDowell

STARRING: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough, Ron Canada, Mary Steenburgen and Robert Redford



A love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified.

In The Discovery we learn that scientist Thomas Harbor is responsible for proving the existence of an afterlife, which results in an extremely high suicide rate in the process. On the second anniversary of his discovery, his son Will travels to the island where his father lives and learns that his father has developed a machine to record what dead people see in the afterlife.

The Discovery is a Netflix film that is from director Charlie McDowell, working on a script that he had written along with fellow collaborator Justin Lader. Scientist Thomas Harbor proves the existence of an afterlife, which results in a dangerously high suicide rate across the world. Upon the second anniversary of the discovery, his estranged son Will travels on a ferry to the island where his father lives and meets Isla. Will learns that his father has developed a machine in order to find and record what dead people can see in the afterlife.


From the films opening scene of Thomas Harbor being interviewed six months after his discovery of an afterlife, which has resulted in a million people committing suicide since then, I was hooked to the films concept. The film focuses on not only Will’s guilt on helping his father prove the existence of an afterlife, but also holding his father responsible for his mother’s dead. When the film focuses on the relationship between the father and son, I found it to have the films strongest moments on how Thomas puts his life into working on the machine to find out what exactly lies on the other side of the afterlife while Will is struggling to deal with the whole scenario and the defacto cult of suicide survivors. While some may see it as the weakest plot within the film, I thought the relationship between the skeptic Will and suicidal young woman Isla was interesting and it actually had me invested in the characters relationship. In terms of performances I thought Robert Redford brought that gravitas to elevate role of Thomas Harbor, Jason Segel is constantly proven to be a good dramatic actor and for me gives a good performance here as Will and Rooney Mara gives a good, understated performance as Isla.


While I did enjoy the film I will admit that it seems to struggle just a bit too much in terms of different styles of narrative as we go from romance to science fiction to almost detective-like investigation plot, so much is going on that it feels like a couple of episodes of a television series has been condensed into an hour and forty-five minutes of screentime. While I did enjoy his performance and one scene he actually gets to shine with a heart to heart with Segel’s Will, I thought Jesse Plemons portrayal of Toby Harbor was too limited for my liking. Also I wasn’t a fan of the suicide survivors sub-plot as it didn’t do much for me in terms of why these people were selected by Thomas Harbor to basically serve him, though as he puts it give them purpose and while the element of finding out in the afterlife is interesting, the final act decides to focus on the romance plot and it hinders the films interesting questions and tries to give us an emotional ending that doesn’t feel as earned as the film thinks it does.



The Discovery is an interesting premise about life after death and has some intriguing ideas which unfortunately become sidelined somewhat in the films final act as it focuses on the romantic plot. Still though I liked the film and thought the performances from Jason Segel, Rooney Mara and Robert Redford helped elevate the material here.  7/10


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