The Discovery (film)

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The Discovery
Film theatrical poster
Official poster
Directed byCharlie McDowell
Written by
  • Justin Lader
  • Charlie McDowell
Produced by
  • Alex Orlovsky
  • James D. Stern
CinematographySturla Brandth Grøvlen
Edited byJennifer Lilly
Music by
  • Danny Bensi
  • Saunder Jurriaans
Distributed byNetflix
Release dates
  • January 20, 2017 (2017-01-20) (Sundance)
  • March 31, 2017 (2017-03-31) (United States/Worldwide)
Running time
102 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom

The Discovery is a 2017 British-American romantic science fiction film, directed by Charlie McDowell from a screenplay by himself and Justin Lader. It stars Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough, and Ron Canada.

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2017. It was released on March 31, 2017, by Netflix.


An interviewer questions Thomas Harbor, the man who scientifically proved the existence of an afterlife, a discovery that led to an extremely high suicide rate. The interviewer asks Harbor if he feels responsible, and he says no. Directly after, a film crew member kills himself on air.

On the second anniversary of the discovery, Harbor's son Will travels on a ferry where he meets Isla. They have a conversation and Will notes Isla looks very familiar. He says he is upset people keep killing themselves, while Isla thinks it's an easy way out. Will shares a memory he had while being dead for a minute, where he saw a young boy at a beach.

Will's brother Toby picks him up and drives him to an isolated mansion where their father is continuing his research. Will notes the large number of helpers, who Toby says used to be suicidal and now have a new purpose. Will meets Lacey and Cooper, his father's aides. Thomas is periodically "put under" and revived while hooked to various machines. When they speak, Will blames Thomas for starting a cult and for the high suicide rate. Will announces his intention to get Thomas to recant his statement about the afterlife and stop the suicides.

Later, Will sees Isla on the beach preparing to commit suicide. He barely saves her and brings her to the mansion, where she is taken in. At a later meeting with the occupants, Thomas reveals his new work - a machine that can record what people see in the afterlife.

To test the machine, Toby, Will and Isla steal the corpse of Pat Phillips from the morgue. Will reveals to Isla the reason for his resentment towards Thomas: his mother killed herself when Thomas was too obsessed with his work to care about her.

Phillips' corpse is hooked to the machine, but nothing happens. After everyone leaves, Will undoes his earlier sabotage on the machine. Immediately the screen shows a video sequence of Pat Phillips driving to a hospital, visiting someone and fighting with a woman there. Will visits the hospital, but finds the hallway from the video gone.

During a meeting, Thomas confronts Lacey about revealing to others about the failed test and expels her from the mansion. Will shows Isla the recording, theorizing that the machine records memory rather than the afterlife. They find a record of Pat Phillips' father, who died in the hospital. Further investigations reveals the events in the recording don't match what actually happened. Pat never visited his dying father in the hospital.

Isla confides in Will that she had a son, who died while she was asleep. Isla and Will grow closer together and share a kiss, which is interrupted by Toby.

Together they rush to Thomas, who is hooked to the machine. They observe he is seeing the night their mother killed herself, except that Thomas stops her. They are able to revive Thomas, who concludes the afterlife is an alternate version of their existing life, only with different choices made. They agree to destroy the machine, as this revelation would provoke millions of suicides by people wanting to improve the lives they have. Thomas prepares to hold a speech, which is interrupted by Lacey shooting Isla, claiming she has just "relocated" her. Isla dies in Will's arms.

Later, a devastated Will hooks himself up with the machine. He arrives back on the ferry, where he meets Isla again, who states this is a memory. It is revealed Will is living in a memory loop trying to prevent Isla's death and he restarts on the ferry every time. Isla says he saved her and they both will move on now. Although Toby and Thomas try to revive Will, he dies, promising Isla to remember her.

Will stands on the beach, where he sees a little boy and gets him out of the water. The little boy's mother, Isla, arrives and thanks Will. They don't recognize each other. After she leaves, he walks away, but as he starts to recall who Isla is, he stops and slowly looks back.



In October 2015, it was revealed that Rooney Mara and Nicholas Hoult had been cast in the film, with Charlie McDowell directing from the script, co-written with Justin Lader, and Alex Orlovsky and James D. Stern producing under their Verisimilitude and Endgame Entertainment banners, respectively.[1] In March 2016, it was revealed that Robert Redford and Jason Segel had joined the cast of the film, with Segel replacing Hoult who had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.[2] That same month, Riley Keough and Jesse Plemons joined the cast.[3] Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans composed the film's score.[4]

Principal photography began on March 28, 2016, in Newport, Rhode Island.[5][6] Production concluded on May 1, 2016.[7][8]


In June 2016, Netflix acquired global distribution rights to the film, with a planned 2017 release.[9] The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2017.[10] The film was released on March 31, 2017.[11]


The Discovery received mixed reviews from film critics. It holds a 46% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 63 reviews, with a weighted average of 5.60/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The Discovery looks fascinating on paper, but in spite of its thought-provoking premise and starry ensemble, it's a disappointing case of untapped potential."[12] On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 54 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[13]

Dennis Harvey of Variety gave the film a generally negative review, saying "Though The Discovery starts out with a great premise, its mystery dissipates over a somewhat tepid course as the concept ultimately heads in a direction we've seen many times before" and criticized the chemistry between Segel and Mara.[14]


  1. ^ McNary, Dave (October 27, 2015). "Nicholas Hoult, Rooney Mara Starring in Romance 'The Discovery'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  2. ^ Busch, Anita (March 9, 2016). "Robert Redford & Jason Segel Join Rooney Mara In 'The Discovery'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  3. ^ Siegel, Tatiana; Kit, Borys (March 10, 2016). "Riley Keough Joins Robert Redford in Sci-Fi Drama 'The Discovery' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  4. ^ filmmusicreporter (September 1, 2016). "Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans to Score Charlie McDowell's 'The Discovery'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  5. ^ SSN Insider Staff (April 1, 2016). "On the Set for 4/1/16: Mark Wahlberg & J.K. Simmons Start Shooting 'Patriots Day', Elizabeth Banks Wraps on 'Most Hated Woman in America'". SSN Insider. TSS News. Archived from the original on April 4, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  6. ^ Coelho, Jamie (March 24, 2016). "Jason Segel and Stars Film The Discovery in Newport". Rhode Island Monthly. Archived from the original on March 27, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  7. ^ McDowell, Charlie [@charliemcdowell] (May 1, 2016). "That's A Wrap on #TheDiscovery" (Tweet). Retrieved May 3, 2016 – via Twitter.
  8. ^ SSN Insider Staff (May 6, 2016). "On the Set for 5/6/16: Taron Egerton Starts 'Kingsman' Sequel, Hugh Jackman Begins on 'Wolverine 3', Rooney Mara & Robert Redford Finish 'The Discovery'". SSN Insider. TSS News. Archived from the original on May 8, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  9. ^ Jafaar, Ali (June 13, 2016). "Netflix Acquires The World On 'The Discovery' With Rooney Mara, Robert Redford And Jason Segel". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  10. ^ Patten, Dominic (December 5, 2016). "Sundance 2017: Robert Redford, New Rashida Jones Netflix Series, 'Rebel In The Rye' & More On Premiere, Docu, Midnight & Kids Slates". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  11. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (January 18, 2017). "Jason Segel & Rooney Mara Make 'The Discovery' In First Trailer For Netflix's Sci-Fi Movie". The Playlist. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  12. ^ "The Discovery (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  13. ^ "The Discovery Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  14. ^ Harvey, Dennis (January 17, 2017). "Sundance Film Review: 'The Discovery'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 23, 2017.

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