The Discovery


Robert Redford’s let his hair go.

(2017) Sci-Fi Drama (Netflix) Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Riley Keough, Jesse Plemmons, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Canada, Brian McCarthy, Connor Ratliff, MJ Karmi, Kimleigh Smith, Willie Carpenter, Wendy Makkena, Adam Morrison Khaykin, Paul Bellefeuille, Richard O’Rourke, Rosemary Howard, Lindsay Schnebly, Sigrid Lium, Ally Looney. Directed by Charlie McDowell

 

What lies beyond death has been a central mystery in human existence. Religions have been formed around what happens to our consciousness after our bodies die. It is something that both fascinates and terrifies us. Is there an afterlife? Or do we just stop existing, our consciousness switched off like a light bulb that’s burned out?

Dr. Thomas Harbor (Redford) has discovered the answer to that question – there is an afterlife. He’s proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Today, he’s granting his first interview since the discovery that has changed mankind profoundly. The interviewer (Steenburgen) has a difficult task on her hands; what do you ask someone who has essentially thrown the entire outlook on existence into disarray? Well, as it turns out, not much.

After the shocking turn of events that took place during that interview, Dr. Harbor has retreated to a remote island in New England where he is continuing his research, as well as taking in a sort of cult of people who have attempted suicide and loved ones of those who have successfully killed themselves. You see, in the wake of the discovery, the suicide rate has jumped dramatically; millions of people have taken their own lives and one would imagine Dr. Harbor feels some responsibility in this.

In the meantime, two people ride a deserted ferry headed for the island. One is Will (Segel), the neurologist son of Dr. Harbor who has been estranged from his father. The other is a platinum blonde named Isla (Mara). The two exchange acerbic japes and Isla seems to delight in taking Will down a peg or three. They get off the ferry, expecting never to see each other again. Of course, we all know that’s not going to happen.

It turns out that Dr. Harbor has invented a machine that will allow us to go to the other side and then return – with video, no less. But what is the nature of the afterlife? Is it reincarnation, or a more Judeo-Christian version of heaven? Or is it something totally different? Whatever it is, the machine may hold the key to a lot of questions that are plaguing Will about Isla, whom he has fallen deeply in love with.

The premise is fascinating; what would happen to society if we knew that there was life after the body died. The filmmakers could have focused on how society reacts; would there be mass suicides? Would people be eager to move on to the next life, being dissatisfied with this one? Would society become more kindly if people realized their actions in this life affected their standing in the next? There are all sorts of ways this movie could have gone.

Instead, the filmmakers decided to look at a specific family – coincidentally that of the person who discovered the irrefutable evidence of life after death – and turn the movie into something of a romantic thriller. I can understand why the filmmakers would want to leave the nature of the afterlife vague but we’re left to explore Will’s daddy issues and Isla’s guilt rather than explore the bigger picture. In short, a great premise is used as a springboard into a fairly pedestrian thriller.

That doesn’t mean those in front of the camera are to blame. Redford remains one of the most magnetic screen personalities in the history of film. Even at his age, he owns the screen whenever he’s on it. This is a little different than the roles he’s played; Dr. Harbor is a bit vain, brilliant and arrogant but also possessed somewhat of tunnel vision regarding his discovery. Although he doesn’t admit to responsibility for the suicides, he certainly feels somewhat responsible for them.

Mara, an actress who is always interesting, shines in a role that plays to her strengths. The acid-tongued Isla is maybe the most fascinating character in the movie and one of the better-developed. The sad thing is that her chemistry with Segel, who has shown himself to be adept with dramatic roles, is virtually zero. Segel’s Will is so white bread and homogenous that it might lead you to want to munch on a ghost pepper just to get some taste.

I know that the filmmakers are going for a thinking person’s genre film and there have been a lot of good ones lately. Sadly, this doesn’t quite reach the heights it aspires to, sabotaging itself by taking safe roads when they would have benefited from riskier choices. The movie could have been an interesting jumping off point for discussion on the afterlife and philosophy, but loses momentum after the first five minutes which, to be fair, are about the best first five minutes of a movie I’ve seen in a long time.

REASONS TO GO: Redford remains a magnetic screen presence even now. Isla’s acerbic demeanor is perfect for Mara.
REASONS TO STAY: A very interesting concept is squandered.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some disturbing images, violence and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sharp-eyed viewers might recognize the chateau-style mansion that is used as Dr. Harbor’s compound as the same house that was used for the exteriors of Collinwood, the mansion in the seminal horror soap opera Dark Shadows back in the 60s.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brainstorm
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Hare Krishna!

Womb (Clone)


Oedipus, anyone?

Oedipus, anyone?

(2010) Sci-Fi Drama (Olive) Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight, Istvan Lenart, Hannah Murray, Ruby O. Fee, Tristan Christopher, Jesse Hoffman, Natalia Tena, Ella Smith, Wunmi Mosaku, Alexander Goeller, Gina Stiebitz, Adrian Wahlen, Amanda Lawrence, Jennifer Lim, Tina Engel, Noah Hedges. Directed by Benedek Filegauf

Letting go is the hardest thing possible. When we lose someone, particularly someone who is more dear to us than life itself, accepting that they’re gone is a monumental task. Moving on seems next to impossible. What if the technology existed to bring them back – not as they were but as a completely new person?

Rebecca (Green) met Tommy (Smith) when as a nine-year-old girl visiting her grandfather for the summer she fell deeply in love with him – as he did with her. However, summers end and Rebecca is whisked away to join her mother in Japan. Twelve years pass.

However, Rebecca has never been able to put Tommy out of her mind and as it turns out, neither has he for her. The two reconnect and marry. The future looks limitless; Rebecca works as a computer programmer and Tommy is an environmental activist. Even though the two don’t seem compatible, they are very much in love and all things are possible when you’re young and in love. Unfortunately, so is death.

Rebecca is devastated by Tommy’s untimely demise as our his parents Judith (Manville) and Ralph (Wight). Rebecca is particularly inconsolable, and out of her grief hatches a nutty plan – she wants to use Tommy’s genetic material to create a cloned embryo which she would be impregnated with and carry to term. Judith is aghast at the idea and won’t hear of it. Ralph is more accepting of the idea but urges caution and consideration of the potential pitfalls. He signs the permission forms without Judith’s knowledge and you can guess what happens next.

Little Tommy’s clone-ness however makes him a target for neighborhood bullies and so doting mom Rebecca moves him to an isolated beach shack where she home schools him. As Tommy grows (much more rapidly than the average kid it seems while mom remains just as hot as ever), the bond between them grows deeper – and more than a bit strange. Rebecca has her Tommy back – but has her unwillingness to let her lover go set up her son for ruin?

Hungarian director Filegauf takes a fairly complicated subject with all sorts of twisted implications and to his credit never makes it tawdry or lurid. Certainly there are elements of incest suggested, although it is never made too overt – and yet he doesn’t ignore those implications either. There is definitely a sexual tension between Rebecca and her son.

What I do have issues with is not so much the incest element but the lack of character development.  We never get a sense of why Rebecca is so obsessed with Tommy to the point where she is making choices that can only end in heartbreak. We don’t really see how their relationship develops as adults (before his untimely demise) nor do we get a sense of Tommy the son’s personality other than how he relates to his mom and later, to would-be girlfriend Monica (Murray).

Green is a capable actress, and it really falls upon her to carry the film to a large extent. Unfortunately, she’s not given much of a basket but she does the best she can with what she had. Smith, best known for being the most recent Doctor Who (at least until Peter Capaldi takes over next year) breaks his quirky mold here and plays it pretty straight although he has a few moments that will remind his many BBC fans of his performance on the beloved science fiction show.

I’ve said this about other movies but it bears repeating here – there was a good movie to be made here but the filmmakers didn’t make one. They made an okay movie out of a subject oozing with potential which considering the length and breadth of product out there is probably not a sufficiently good motivation to choose this movie above all the rest.

WHY RENT THIS: Takes a fairly lurid subject and never goes down the exploitation road.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks character development.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are very, very adult and there are a couple of disturbing images here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was retitled Clone for its home video release in the UK.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Negligible box office on a $13M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Possession

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Butler