With acclaimed series “The OA” and the recent premiere of new film “The Discovery,” Netflix has cornered the market on emotionally involving, strongly spiritual mindbenders. The latter is noteworthy for several reasons. It's probably the most high-profile Netflix-only film to date (Adam Sandler trainwrecks notwithstanding). It features three major stars in Robert Redford, Jason Segel, and Rooney Mara. And it has a premise — a scientist discovers proof of an afterlife, leading to a rash of suicides — that is both conversation-starting and dramatically probing.
Title: “The Discovery”
Year it debuted: 2017
Where it can be seen: Netflix
Who’s in it: Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, and Mary Steenburgen
Running time: 110 minutes
Brief plot description: The world is reeling from the news that a scientist (Robert Redford) has uncovered proof of an afterlife. In the year following the discovery, millions have committed suicide in an attempt to see what comes next. The scientist’s son (Jason Segel) has misgivings about his father’s work, and the deaths that have followed. On the way to see his father for the first time in years, he meets a woman (Rooney Mara) who is seeking answers about what the afterlife may hold. Together they must try to reconcile this earth-shattering news, and discover what it means for their own futures.
Why it’s worth watching: Writer-director Charlie McDowell’s first film was “The One I Love,” a hypnotic, darkly humorous sci-fi drama with a doozy of a twist. For his second feature, McDowell has once again cooked up a wildly original premise, and another meditation on relationships — “Love” looked at marriage, while “Discovery” turns its attention to children and parents. Netflix bought the film well before it premiered at January’s Sundance Film Festival, and the streaming service is the ideal spot for such a film. With its bold premise, it’s designed to provoke discussion, and should make a greater impact in homes than on the big screen. (In fact, “The Discovery” would make a fine series.) But more than the plot, what makes “The Discovery” so interesting is the cast. Redford gives his usual assured performance in years as the scientist intent on barreling forward with his project, whatever the human cost. The character us confident, strong-willed, but always human, Redford is a perfect choice. As his son, Jason Segel nicely follows up his fine work in “The End of the Tour,” here as a conflicted man coping with his father’s work and battling his own demons. However, it’s the great Rooney Mara who steals the show — as usual. Her character has some very specific reasons for being curious about the afterlife, and Mara movingly brings to life her tragic past. “The Discovery” has its flaws, including a middle stretch that seems on the verge of big answers that don’t quite arrive, but rallies for a very strong conclusion. Like Brit Marling’s “The OA” and BBC anthology series “Black Mirror” (both streaming on Netflix), this is a daring work that demands close viewing. Bravo to Netflix for giving it a home — and fingers crossed for an “OA” season two/”Discovery” crossover.