If there was unequivocal, scientific proof of life after death, how would it impact your life? This is the question at the center of the film, The Discovery starring Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, Jason Segal, and Reiley Keough, and directed by Charlie McDowell.
Thomas Harbor (Redford) is a scientist whose work culminates in the creation of a machine that proves the existence of an afterlife and results in millions of people committing suicide to reach this afterlife. This leads to intense media scrutiny and a public initiative that displays an electronic ticker with up to the minute suicide counts along with slogans such as, “Suicide Is Not The Answer” and, “Stay In This Life”. Harbor’s estranged son, Will (Segal), questions whether his Father’s research is worth the loss of life. Will decides to confront his Father, who has moved into seclusion to continue his research, and meets the enigmatic Isla (Mara). The two begin an unlikely romance that prompts Will to stay. The remainder of the movie grapples with the morality of pursuing the research and the impact it has on Will’s relationships with his Father and Isla.
The use of diffused light and shadows along with background music featuring somber woodwinds combine to give The Discovery a weighty tone. The film communicates that people have a void in their lives that cannot be filled by vocation or possessions, but something intangible. For Will it is the relationship with Isla, for Thomas it is reconciling with his family. The need is undefined, but the void is undeniable.
The theme of a scientifically proven afterlife leads to several questions. Do people have the right to choose when they enter the afterlife? Does the option of suicide de-value current life? If there is such an entity as God, what would they have to say about humankind’s desire to take control through such actions? Will reveals his motivation to confront his Father comes from a sense of guilt over a family member’s suicide years earlier. It raises the point that when a person chooses suicide it is not an isolated incident, but one that produces a ripple effect, touching those that the person is closest to and spreading into numerous relationships. At the start of the film, the viewer is prompted to ask the question raised at the beginning of this article. By the end, however, the question becomes - If there was unequivocal, scientific proof of life after death, how would it impact the lives of those closest to you?