Day 8 — The Discovery

Director: Charlie McDowell

Writers: Justin Lader, Charlie McDowell

Production Co’s: Endgame Entertainment, Netflix, Protagonist Pictures

Corpse and The Machine

The 2017 film The Discovery details our world two years after ‘the discovery’ of an afterlife. The illusive question of “what’s next” has been answered with a vague — “something”.

Society at large does NOT know what the afterlife is. What Dr Thomas Harber’s (Robert Redford) discovery promises is a “rebirth”. With rebirth and imagination there is fresh possibility; a giant reset button for all your regrets. Tempting? Of course.

What would you do if you knew there was an afterlife?
Would you end your life to reach eternal bliss?

These are the questions explored by McDowell and he responds with mass social suicide. After all, new beginnings are far better then hard hitting realities.

The film focuses on Thomas’s son, Will (Jason Segel) as he returns to his family estate, now acting as a inpatient psychiatric facility. On the ferry ride over Will encounters Isla (Rooney Mara and long term partner of McDowell) and is struck by a bad case of deja vu. Isla confirms the two have never met prior to engaging in talk about the upcoming “discovery” anniversary. We understand Will is scathing of the discovery and Isla’s opinions are mostly withheld.

Isla on the ferry.

The story continues with Will saving Isla and bringing her to stay at the Harber psych home. This leads to exploration of the discovery and how it is not quite what society has been led to believe.

The film is visually beautiful and the blue grey sheath it is bathed in evokes a sense of sadness in viewers. I was left feeling uneasy in my own skin and empathetic to the now ‘deceased’s’ choice to end it all.

This feeling was analogous to how I felt watching Never Let me Go and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. It is the idea the whole picture is just a grasp out of reach. I really enjoy this direction tool,and similar to the previously mentioned films, McDowell uses it well here.

The majority of performances are also solid. As always Rooney Mara is excellent in conveying an inherent vulnerability and Robert Redford is fantastic as the omnipotent scientist.

I would have liked some greater character development from Jason Segel to substantiate his attraction to Isla and overall motivations to save her. Without this his performance came across as a person simply moving through the motions instead of one who would, and does, take action.

Isla and Will doing what they do best, stealing corpses

I was pretty excited to watch this film as I enjoyed what McDowell did with the subject matter in his first film, The One I Love, as well as his comedic drama, Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, The Discovery left me wanting more.

My main critique of the film is the minimal scientific development of the theorised ‘afterlife’. I felt McDowell was trying to appeal to the mass public instead of considering difficult phenomenon at an intellectual level. To me the ending also felt like a cop out.

I found the film overreaching and under performing. It is enjoyable to watch however, it lacked the substance to warrant post viewing deliberation.

I give it 58/100 sizeable life regrets.


  1. The machine.
  2. Mary Steenburgen (McDowell’s mum) doing a cameo!
  3. Redford and Mara’s performances.
  4. The visual effects.


  1. The lacking substantiation of concepts.
  2. Use of shocks tactics to appeal to the audience.