The Discovery has all the markings of a potent science fiction parable, but none of the follow-through. The central conceit, that a scientist has discovered irrefutable evidence that an afterlife exists, is simple yet wrought with fascinating consequences. But, as the film attempts to explore its ideas, it is bogged down by poor characters, confusing and unnecessary plot devices, and a banal ending that treads familiar paths, lacks visual storytelling fundamentals, and still confuses. As it stands, The Discovery feels less like a feature film, and more like an episode of Black Mirror – and a weak one at that.
There is a superficial idea championed by some movies that dishonesty sells. Heist films like Hell or High Water or Ocean’s Eleven suggest that a caper can handsomely reward the protagonist, if it’s properly executed. White lies can tell a person, “exactly what they need to hear” as a plot contrivance for furthering a character’s confidence, like Neo in The Matrix. And even films that deride dishonesty often do so by showcasing the extreme fall that accompanies an ill-gotten rise, even though the character doesn’t necessarily need to consider their lies to be a transgression at all; think The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me if You Can, or other examples of hubris-infused justice. Rare is the film that showcases the psychological destruction that a lie can wreak on a person’s life. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is a fascinating exploration of precisely that idea.