(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.
As with Brainstorm, a noteworthy aspect of the movie – possibly more so than the relatively modest fact of its existence – is that it has been identified by Aug Tellez, the incredibly expansive and erudite but at times borderline impenetrable cloned insider from the projects (secret, rather than housing) as an example of "soft disclosure". Although, if we’re to believe collective voices in the conspirasphere, pretty much every science fiction (or fantasy genre) creative endeavour ever is an example of soft-or-otherwise disclosure, pretty much every creative endeavour is compromised by the Elite, and nothing really flows forth untrammelled from the minds of just really good filmmakers or writers (since this extends to the authorial texts upon which movies are frequently based)); thus, to really buy into this idea, one must surely assume Archonic influences at work on the baseline of the creative mind itself, which would presumably mean they often remained blissfully – or unblissfully in Philp K Dick’s case – unaware of their being led down a particular path (in Tellez' account, this has been happening since the end of WWII, but by virtue of cloning technology – "everyone you see on TV is a cloned individual" – although, given the tinkering with time he identifies as part and parcel of this reality, perhaps that's not the half of it; albeit, I'm unclear to what extent this is envisaged as altering the collective perception of the past and what extent it is actually doing it. One might debate whether it makes any difference anyway, if this is all a simulation).
Tellez' main bag is boogling your brainbox with abstruse concepts relating to the manipulation of time and space and the nature of what isn’t reality, but he has also held forth on various mainstream works, doing their bit to lay this out for the layman, from the aforementioned Brainstorm to a range of alt-reality texts (Dark City, The Matrix) and the reptilian/Archon masters predator-fest that is Jupiter Ascending (lest you think he thinks aliens are behind everything, he doesn’t, which naturally disappoints a fair few on the conspiracy end of the spectrum). Since the minority of these are actually really great movies, one has to speculate, if all this is intent, that the Elite/Archons want them to be failures on purpose, encouraging slow percolation into the general consciousness via the label of cult fare (the motivation being variously acceptance or baiting self-fulfilling prophecies). The Discovery would certainly fit that bill, inconspicuous but for the presence of Robert Redford (hardly a marquee name anymore at eighty anyway) and tucked away in a crate adrift on the boundless sea of Netflix titles.
There's nothing actually very remarkable about The Discovery's content. Its central conceit is tenuous enough that it resists being an instant draw – the idea that, should "scientific proof" of the afterlife be forthcoming, suicides would become an epidemic as disenchanted types offed themselves on the basis there was something affirmatively – if nebulously – next. Except, those people would presumably need to be largely pre-existing agnostics or atheists, as such a response would surely be a no-no for most religiously (or even just spiritually) minded types.
Notably, the picture, taking place in very much a restricted, closeted environment, suggesting little appetite for considering this wider context, and the conversations on the themes of life, death and meaning aren’t really all that incisive or profound ("Do animals have an afterlife? …And what happens to a child?"); it’s a movie, like most Hollywood movies, where the more profound themes revolve around personalised, subjective values of life and loss rather than identifying with the broader, universal constants (so dad Redford, son Jason Segel and grieving mom Rooney Mara all motivated by grief or remorse, just because it’s an easier shorthand than making them unfettered but remote boffins are seekers).
Tellez' YouTube discursions are often so densely packed and digressive, they can be bewildering; one has to sacrifice oneself to the general flow rather than get caught up in the minutiae or distracted by his linguistic idiosyncrasies. His take is that The Discovery offers an insight into the secret projects' knowledge of immortality, going on to offer such nuggets as how "the first society was TEMPORALLY-QUANTUM STABILIZED[his emphasis]. If a person died, they’d pop back in the next day!" Deciphering this…well, I’m not sure who or how was doing the stabilising, but he’s referring to "an instant continuation of life", presumably with no loss of awareness or knowledge, no "reincarnation trap" of the wiping of memory. The Elite – those he lists as controlling the underground bases – however, can get around this wipe with their technological knowhow, something one might suggest is a source of a variant of soft disclosure in Altered Carbon (you can’t just watch SF to watch SF anymore; it’s all of it a detailing of nefarious intent or practice).
Aug then gets more complicated – as is his wont – with the "second death which is the general collapse of the multi-dimensional system that is separated by quantum or temporal boundaries" (answers on a postcard, but relating to the slavery of the spirit/soul) and multiple universes/timelines being monitored.
The interesting part of Tellez' postulation isn't so much his assertion that the headgear in the movie – not so far from Brainstorm's in function – is real, but his reading of the picture's conclusion – Redford ponders, based on video feedback of the momentarily or otherwise deceased's experiences "I always said the afterlife is a different plane of existence. But, what if the afterlife is a different plane of this existence?" – is "realising you are already there". Which I may be misinterpreting, but in a picture that’s at pains not to mention reincarnation, is surely alluding to exactly that. Albeit, in the context of the movie, it’s captured as an alternate plane of wish fulfilment comprising one’s atonement for a greatest regret (almost a Lost resort of the most meaningful thing in their lives bringing them back together in a church). Which comes across as somewhat whiffy and very pat, not really very far from your average Bruce Joel Rubin fare (so comparisons to Brainstorm are even more apposite). But in terms of an allusion to actual life, this current one is an afterlife or a rebirth, in Tellez' terms, although if that’s so, he doesn’t get into discussing the in-between state.
In strictly plot terms, rather than trying to extract some actual meaning from McDowell's extemporising, Segel's death trip offers an interestingly nightmarish – in the never-ending, unyielding sense – experience, whereby he’s assigned, or assigns himself in a Sisyphean sense, to continually attempting to right a perceived wrong on his part ("How long have I been stuck in this loop?") until he attains release. In this regard, it reminded me slightly of a less visceral, more literal Triangle, although it becomes rather less certain of its rules and conditions when Segel "solves" saving Rooney and is told "Now you’ll go someplace else" (remember, there’s no reincarnation in this take on existence, so once released from a saviour complex, there's only – his own created avatar of a perfect partner? – a, what, self-gratifying personalised "heaven"to progress to?")
The Discovery offers sporadically engaging material in the preceding passages, from Redford's cult, established in an old manor – a staple – with a series of inessential, arbitrary rules designed to enable members’ feelings of self-worth – surely a nod to Scientology…which makes you wonder, if Tom Cruise is a clone, does that do wonders for clearing his engrams? – to Jesse Plemons acing it as usual as Segel's stoner younger sibling, to Redford well cast playing off his natural personability to reveal a steelier, unyielding, underlying determination. Mara's very much the unobtainable object of desire, and the connection between her and Segel never really finds a strong footing, more because of the tentative writing than the performances. Riley Keough makes a particular impression as the punished cultist who reacts very badly to being ejected from the community.
The movie's a mixed bag, but it achieves an eerie potency with the first reveal of footage a slab of meat from the morgue, hooked up to the machine, has elicited, and a degree of intrigue as Segel and Mara work out what the material actually depicts (not a memory, but rather an altered version of the life just lived). There's also a certain coherent banality to the consideration that what's in store next isn't all that – "running around, making the same mistakes over and over, and I don't know why we think it'll be any different somewhere else" – if it ends up back here again. Leading to the all-important caveat, "…unless we learn what we’re supposed to while we’re here". No, you wouldn't accuse The Discovery of being profound, but at least it isn't a dumb movie; it's trying for something, the performances are all strong, and it's probably a stoner's – or a vaper's – delight.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.