“… would be better served as a Black Mirror episode; chop off forty minutes, fix the ending, and slap it into season four.”
Last night I watched The Discovery, a movie that I have been looking forward to seeing since I first saw the trailer a couple of months ago. The Discovery is a movie that follows a scientist (Robert Redford) who discovers that there is in fact an afterlife, and everyone goes there when they die. This revelation causes mass suicides all around the world by people attempting to reach this theoretical fresh start. The movie then shifts gears to follow Will (Jason Segel), a neurologist who doesn’t believe that there is an afterlife, and sets out to prove the initial findings wrong in order to prevent more deaths in the world.
Now my opinions on this movie aren’t the easiest for me to communicate, so I’m going to split this review into a few different parts. First of all, I want to talk about what I think The Discovery did well. The main point of praise that I can give to The Discovery is the number of great performances that it had. I was initially excited to see the film because I was interested to see Jason Segel, a traditionally comedic actor, try something that is more dramatic; the light sci-fi undertones that were present in the trailer also helped peaked my interest if I’m being honest. Luckily Jason Segel isn’t what disappointed me about The Discovery, because I thought that his performance was pretty good. He balanced the drama with the comedy (which I will discuss later) well, but the comedy didn’t get in the way of him delivering a very melancholy performance. His character simultaneously acts as though he has everything figured out, while still being completely in the dark on a lot of the topics in the film (much like every other character); I feel that Segel pulled this off and was one of the stronger points of the film. Next to Segel you have Rooney Mara playing the role of Isla, a perfect stranger to Segel’s character yet they grow close to one another. Much like Segel I felt that Mara did a great job in her role, which was a lot more drama-focused than Segel’s. Mara really made her character come to life, even though a lot of what her character was about is repressed and only shown through subtleties. You also have Jesse Plemons (or as I know him, Meth Damon) doing a great job as usual, and I would even go so far to as to say that Plemons stole the show. The character of Toby, which Plemons plays so well, is very interesting to watch and the performance only enhances that feeling. Last but not least you have Robert Redford who was there as well. I wouldn’t say that Redford did anything memorable in the film, he seemed like he was there mainly because of his name. Now that I’ve done all that I can to praise The Discovery, let’s get into my more complicated opinions.
First of all the tone of the film was all over the place. I mentioned briefly that Segel excelled at both the drama and comedy portions of the film, and while that is true I can’t help but feel that those comedy portions were out of place. Now I love dark comedy as much as the next guy, maybe even more than the next guy in fact, but the problem I have with these scenes in The Discovery is that with comedy comes a drastic tonal shift in the film. These weren’t jokes being made in otherwise series situations, these were entire scenes of the film filled with just jokes; it was like two versions of The Discovery were shot, a comedy and a drama, and then edited together in post. Now some of these jokes were really good, in fact almost all of these instances of comedy made me laugh, but the problem is that they just didn’t fit in the movie. Looking back on them I can more clearly see that while these moments may have accomplished their goal of being funny, they didn’t fit in the movie at all. And it wasn’t just the jokes that changed the tone either, the score had a helping hand in it as well. The score of The Discovery is something that I simultaneously love and hate. At times it is a wonderful arrangement that beautifully compliments what is being shown on screen, but other times it is hamfisted and obnoxious even going so far as to alter the tone of the film (as I have already mentioned). It felt like The Discovery didn’t really know what it was doing, sometimes going for the laughs, other times going for gasps; and unfortunately this really impacts the film. Now the biggest problem I have with The Discovery is a plot point that occurs at the film’s climax. Now I’m not going to spoil it, seeing as the movie only recently came out, but I will speak in very vague terms. The plot of The Discovery is one that gripped me until (almost) the very end. The idea of a scientist discovering the afterlife which inadvertently causes a shitload of people to kill themselves is something that I think is a brilliant concept. The problem I have with the story of The Discovery, specifically the ending, is that it broke it’s own rules. With a movie like The Discovery the writers have to set up a series of rules, mainly because the concept is one that doesn’t exist in real life, and therefore we need to be able to understand it as an audience. The problem with The Discovery is that as soon as the film finishes giving you the rules, it promptly screams “Just kidding” as it breaks those rules in order to fit the story. This pisses me off to no end, and it ultimately makes the movie really confusing. To top it all off, after it finishes breaking the rules once it does it a second time. As if to spit on your face after kicking you in the stomach, The Discovery has the audacity to come back and do whatever the fuck it wants again. Now some may argue that this portion of the film (which occurs at the very end) isn’t breaking the rules that the film set up, but I would argue that it does just that. What happens doesn’t make sense based on the rules we were given, and because of that it takes the wind out of the sails of what could have otherwise been a poignant ending. The way it stands, The Discovery makes you question why you even bothered to watch the movie if none of what you were told was true. And what pisses me off even more is that the movie doesn’t even chime in and say “Hey, what you know is wrong. Here’s what’s really going on”, it just change things up for no fucking reason leaving you to make sense of the mess that it just made. Anyway I’m going to wrap this up because dancing around this topic is getting harder and harder.
Ultimately The Discovery was a movie with a lot of promise and a strong start, but one that trips right before the finish line. Despite the drastic tonal shifts, The Discovery could have been a really solid movie if it had just stuck to it’s own rules. I would say that The Discovery would be better served as a Black Mirror episode; chop off forty minutes, fix the ending, and slap it into season four. At least then we might be able to salvage it.
I give The Discovery a C