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The Discovery

The end is only the beginning.

Rooney as: Isla
Genre(s): Drama
Written by: Justin Lader, Charlie McDowell
Directed by: Charlie McDowell
Other Cast: Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Mary Steenburgen, Riley Keough
Release Date: March 31, 2017 (Netflix)
Production Budget:
Total Worldwide Gross:
Filming Locations: Newport, Rhode Island

  • In the near future, the world is off-balance. People have gained a specific knowledge, and death has lost meaning, due to a breakthrough scientific discovery by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford): There is now definitive proof of an afterlife. While countless people have chosen suicide in order to “re-set” their existence, others go on, trying to decide what it all means. Among them is Dr. Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segel), who has arrived at his father’s isolated compound with a mysterious young woman named Isla (Rooney Mara). There, they discover the strange acolytes who help Dr. Harbor with his experiments. They are all looking to Dr. Harbor for meaning. Can Will and Isla find peace – in this place, or on the other side?

    Production Info

  • Charlie McDowell directed then-girlfriend Rooney Mara and his mother, Mary Steenburgen in this film.
  • Shot in 25 days.
  • Jason Segel claims that, while filming, he would “watch a lot of movies of Robert Redford when he was my age” in his free time for inspiration. He says Three Days of the Condor was one of the most influential films on his acting for this role.
  • Nicholas Hoult was cast but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with the movie The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. He was replaced by Jason Segel.
  • Director Charlie McDowell cites The Master as an inspiration for many of the visual shots in this film.
  • The film was originally written to take place in a sleepy rural town area. Director Charlie McDowell and his team eventually rewrote the movie to fit the Newport, Rhode Island location because of how much they fell in love with the visuals in the area.
  • Character Quotes

  • What do I look like the kind of girl who’s just gonna take a pill from some strange guy?
  • Isla. My name’s Isla. I don’t look like an Isla, though.
  • You were supposed to be the last person I ever spoke to. You don’t get to just change that!
  • Just because somebody doesn’t believe in God doesn’t mean they can’t pray.
  • So, your dad is a little weird. Who cares? It doesn’t make him wrong. I mean, Poe fucked his cousin. It didn’t make him any less a writer.
  • Were you really smart when you were growing up? I bet you were. I was told that I demonstrated an early ability to recognize spatial patterns, whatever that means. But I always just took it as one of those things that a teacher tells to a parent to make them feel better about their shitty kid. Like, “Gordon is very good at drawing circles. Gordon draws circles at a more advanced level than the other children.”
  • Here’s something I haven’t heard anyone talk about. Do animals have an afterlife? Bunnies, kittens, pigs, monkeys. What happens to them after they die? I mean, I feel like they really deserve an afterlife. Do they have their own animal afterlife? And if they do, is it subdivided by species? Because it feels like something as profound as an afterlife shouldn’t pratice segregation.
  • At first I thought I wasn’t supposed to meet you… or feel anything. But maybe I was wrong.
  • Isla: Are you like one of those lunatics who just sits next to a complete stranger in an empty movie theater?
    Will: You look so familar to me.
    Isla: I mean, it’s possible we’ve met, but you just don’t have a very memorable face.
  • Will: Three months ago, I had a patient, really young, found out that she had brain cancer. Very sad. She reacted to that diagnosis as though I’d just handed her a fucking winning lottery ticket. And it wasn’t because she hoped that maybe she was going someplace better. It was because the Discovery made her think that it was guaranteed.
    Isla: Well, yeah. Death used to be something we just had to live with, and now it’s a convenient way to escape pain. That’s okay.
  • Isla: You are so annoying. Has anyone ever told you that?
    Will: Yeah, they have.
    Isla: Ugh. Thank God we only have like a minute left together before we’re strangers again.
  • Will: You’re not even emotional about dying.
    Isla: I’m not emotional about anything.
  • Thomas: There are no right or wrong answers to this questionnaire.
    Isla: Then why do you bother giving it?
    Thomas: That’s a good response. Okay, greatest ability… and most disappointing weakness.
    Isla: I guess I’m good at seeing what makes somebody tick. Understanding who they really are.
    Thomas: Weakness?
    Isla: I’m able to understand them, but I’m not able to care about them.
  • Cooper: These living quarters are just temporary until we can find you a more suitable room. When I first moved here, I slept on a cot in the kitchen. Glamorous.
    Isla: I’m supposed to be at the bottom of the ocean, so this should be fine.
  • Isla: Don’t you think it’s weird how all these people were alive a few hours ago? You know, they had fears and desires, they could exercise?
    Will: I don’t think it’s weird. I think it’s fucking sad.
    Isla: Maybe they went someplace better.
    Will: Yeah? Maybe they went someplace worse. Maybe they went someplace that we can’t even begin to comprehend.
    Isla: All the more reason to see what your dad’s machine shows us.
  • Isla: These bunk beds worked out really well, ’cause they spared me the awkwardness of having to tell you I’m not gonna fuck you.
    Will: Sorry, all I heard was something about circles and not fucking me.
    Isla: I don’t wanna be the only fucked up person on this bunk bed, Will.
  • Isla: Sometimes I feel like I’m taking someone else’s spot and then I feel sad.
    Will: How do you mean?
    Isla: Like, being here alive is a waste because… I don’t enjoy it, I’m not happy or grateful… and I’m taking a spot away from someone who maybe would’ve gotten something more out of it.
  • Isla: “Oh, hey, Isla. What are you up to?”, “Oh, nothing much, Jim. I’m just… lugging a corpse through a parking lot.”
    Will: Why’d you go with “Jim”?
    Isla: Don’t be jealous of hypothetical Jim.
  • Quoting: Rooney Mara

    On her attraction to the script: I just thought it was a really incredible concept. And that it was a really interesting thing to think about. Charlie [McDowell] and Justin [Lader] did a great job of framing the story and making it very character driven. It’s a cool idea that could be a much bigger movie, but I liked how small and contained it was.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director Charlie McDowell: She’s someone who reads the best scripts from the top directors, so we wanted do challenge ourselves to create a character with a great arc that she would want to play. Isla is a guarded character who lets few people in. Rooney is a genius at subtlety – you put the camera on her and you feel everything. There were times when I thought maybe we needed to explain something to make sense, but then Rooney would she give a look during a scene, and we instantly know what the character is feeling. She’s a master class in that.

    Co-star Jason Segel: I feel very, very lucky to be surrounded by actors who genuinely feel they are better than I am. It is a very exciting thing for me to act against someone I have a lot to learn from. My experience of acting with Rooney was very interesting. For me it was like a Rorschach test. She makes those micro movements.

    Critical Response

    Jordan Raup, The Film Stage: Segel, who initially doesn’t bring much personality to the journey, eventually convincingly settles into his lead role, while a platinum blonde Mara deftly blends humor, romance and concealed pain in portraying Isla.

    David Ehrlich, Indiewire: In a loquacious and emotionally stunted role, Mara vibes off a new energy while retaining her signature conviction (crucial in a film that requires viewers to buy its high-concept premise up front and in cash). She’s a perfect foil for the numbed resentment that Segel brings to the table. With a shock of white hair and a well-earned death wish, Isla seems like a perfect catch for a guy seeking a manic pixie dream girl at the end of the world, but McDowell’s script — written with repeat collaborator Justin Lader — mercifully has more interesting things on its mind.