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The Discovery [2017]: Ambitious premise, lesser film

Maybe the film couldn't soar as much as it could have been because of the over ambitiousness, but The Discovery deserves appreciation just for making an attempt at being something very different.

Let me clarify something first. The title of this review is not necessarily a criticism of the movie.

Of course, Charlie McDowell’s The Discovery is not exactly a great movie. There is a considerable amount of flaws in it and the screenplay is kind of all over the place. Yet, the movie worked for me because of its’s extremely unique premise and in the end, it got to me on a personal level, thanks to the final twist (even though it was kind of messy and the execution could have been better). I won’t reveal anything here because that would be a spoiler and I obviously want people to see this movie without knowing that part, which is really the point of writing this piece.

I like when a movie tries to be unabashedly ambitious. Attempting to do something really innovative, telling a story that has not been told before is something really commendable; even if it does not work all the time.

The Discovery tells us about a world where the existence of a life after death is scientifically proved (they call it another plane of existence in the movie) by a scientist, and mass suicide is happening all over the world with lots of people trying to find this other ‘life’. With a premise as exciting as this, the film could have been a large-scale dystopian sci-fi thriller, but very interestingly it chooses to focus on a small group of characters (who are obviously connected/responsible to/for this groundbreaking invention) and tell their story (or stories, considering there are interconnected arcs) instead.

McDowell (and his co-writer Justin Lader) skillfully sets the entire film on a kind of remote island which helps it to isolate from whatever big happening in the big world. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography, which uses a particularly morbid color palette, helps the movie to alienate further. Thus, barring the first scene where we see a man killing himself on live Television thanking the scientist for inventing this “afterlife” and electronic boards which show the number of suicides happening (this was particularly smart); the movie remains mostly contain in its small world.

The tone of the movie is very weird, overall. There is a certain vibe of deadpan humor all over it. The film benefits a lot from its quotable dialogues. But the overall screenplay kind of goes all over the place and riddled with unexplainable errors. For eg, Rooney Mara’a character who comes from a different place than the other characters suddenly fits into the dynamic as if she has been there for long. The back stories do not work. And even when the movie deals with very few characters, all of them don’t seem like properly fleshed out so you don’t feel like caring for them. However, it’s the performance of a talented cast consisting actors like Robert Redford, Jason Segel, a white-wig clad almost unrecognizable Rooney Mara and a particularly impressive Jesse Plemons that holds the movie together.

Back in 2014, Charlie McDowell debuted with the very impressive, strikingly original sci-fi romantic comedy “The One I Love” which had a couple fooling around with the better version doppelgangers of each other. His follow-up to that film was not as great, but most definitely more ambitious. Maybe the film couldn’t soar as much as it could have been because of the over ambitiousness, but The Discovery deserves appreciation just for making an attempt at being something very different.

Sidenote

# I am going to rate this 3 out of 5 stars, but I really liked this movie a lot and I believe it is going to stay with me for a while. On that note, I find this whole rating system very tricky (and kind of confusing too), as sometimes I find myself liking a movie which I would rate 3.5/5 a lot more than something I would rate 5/5.

# I have never seen a movie where Rooney Mara talks so much (in a good way).

★★

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