Netflix Original Film Asks About the After-life

In The Discovery Robert Redford and Jason Segel pair-up as a father-son duo trying to reconcile their pasts and alter their futures.

the discovery jason segel

Dr. Thomas Harber (Redford), a renowned physicist, discovers brain activity that leaves the body after death. Because of this ‘discovery,’ he has the evidence to prove an after-life. This unimaginable discovery makes breaking news all over the world. The impact is dreadful. The proof that life after death exists results in mass suicides.  Together entire families take their lives in order to start fresh in the next life.

Will (Segel) is scandalized by his father’s negligence. Harber refuses to take blame for the death-toll, yet forms his own boarding house for the suicidal. Will and his new-found companion Isla (Rooney Mara) thrust themselves into Harber’s cultic community. Will seeks to stop his father, but Harber plunges ahead to find out what the after-life actually entails. As they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That same generational curse of questioning entrances Will—who makes a discovery of his own in the end. . . or perhaps the beginning.

Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader’s film The Discovery  tries to withhold straight answers.

lader mcdowell
Lader and McDowell

It asks a lot of questions. McDowell and Lader’s interesting questions are what drove me to see the film in the first place. During a Q&A writer Justin Lader expressed that this

projected started when he and McDowell began asking, ‘what if somebody proved life-after-death?’ Their answer inspected the underlying guilt and regret that we humans harbor. McDowell and Lader suggest that such a discovery could result in suicidal hysteria, in order to ‘get there,’ that is, to get to a fresh start—a place where people can redeem their past lives.

The first three-fourths of the movie are tantalizing. But, unfortunately the story drops off the deep end when it tries to wrap-up.

Without giving to much away—McDowell and Lader attempt to answer one question, ‘what’s the after-life like?’ and they throw in a twist on top of that. The Inception-ending spin-off is a really unfortunate conclusion to a such a unique story. The final scenes of the film constrict the imaginative freedom that the rest of the film works to create.
Regardless, I consider the film well-worth seeing and certainly worth your time. The Discovery moves into territory of fact/fiction, moral/immoral, certainty/faith. It doesn’t accomplish what it set out to do, asking questions rather than giving answers, but it forges a path into sincere inquisition and story exploration.

The Discovery is available on Netflix, March 31, 2017.

-K. Pastore

“Will movie theaters die?” is the wrong question.

Instead of maintaining equilibrium let’s cannonball into the next possibility.

We should be asking—“What do movie theaters have to give to our morphing cinematic culture?”

Our Cinematic Culture

I’m a big fan of movie theaters. Those nostalgic velvet curtains and thin-framed red seats transport me to the past. My mind swirls about the decades of cinematic history. Even the mouths of crunching popcorn and the slight fear of getting lice from the seat back well-up some sentiment—I’m not alone. Though I’m sitting in a crowd of strangers, for a small blip on life’s timeline it kind-of feels like we’re family. But, the more those ticket prices rocket the less likely I’ll be there. Video-on-demand platforms are offering more options and to tell you the truth I’m getting more into series over feature length.

the crown

My story is not uncommon. A flood of people, probably including yourself, are regularly accessing VOD. And, in the same breath, they are trickling out of theaters. Those at-arms-length films are cheap and abundant. But the cheap and plentiful film selections is not the major reason that viewing has shifted. According to Tim Bevan, Working Title co-chairman, the popular appetite has drifted to long-form narratives, series. Series like The Crown, which Working Title produces, requires budgets close to that of feature-length films. That money’s got to come from somewhere. Overall, it seems that people are more interested in VOD, because they are more interested in long-form narratives.

What About Theaters?

The moment start trying to “keep theaters alive” is the moment we fail as artists. Maintenance isn’t art. . . I mean, it’s not even business.

Music, theater, dance, painting, literature—they all explore. The arts push forward. They look for something new, swoop into unknown territory, ask forgotten questions, and seek untold stories. When we degrade to mere maintenance, we indulge in more singular and conceded sentimentality.

This tension between VOD and theaters has destabilized the filmmaking industry. But, cinema isn’t the first art form to go through massive shifts in funding, production and viewing. It’s just that film is young. This is a major shift, but tension is the place for creativity. It’s the place for collaboration.

Netflix Original “Paterson” made theater release

We shouldn’t ask if theaters will die, but instead what is their potential. What do theaters have to give? In what way could they partner with  VOD services? How would it work to screen a series? The community, the sound, the giant screen, the night on the town, the experience. I’m convinced movie theaters have a lot to offer long-form narratives and their VOD platforms. Theaters must start collaborating with VODs, and when they do—for better or worse—they’ll transform.



– k.pastore