Exclusive: Director Charlie McDowell sheds some light on the mysterious ending of The Discovery

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Apr 5, 2017, 1:00 PM EDT

On March 31, director Charlie McDowell's Netflix Original film, The Discovery, debuted on the streaming service featuring a stellar cast including Jason Segel, Rooney Mara and Robert Redford. In a previous exclusive interview, we spoke with McDowell in depth about the development of the original story.

But the sci-fi-infused meditation about the afterlife ends on an ambiguous note that we also talked to McDowell about, which we present to you now.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of the interview will feature specific plot points from the last act of the film.

The revelation in the last act that the discovered "afterlife" is actually an individual's conscience playing out any regrets they wanted to correct in their life is a great twist and concept. How did that come about?

Charlie McDowell: [Screenwriter] Justin Lader and I landed on the [idea ] of the afterlife ultimately being about the regrets in life, and that if you don't complete that regret in your current afterlife, what if you could get a little closer the next time, or the next time? That idea came from not what I believe the afterlife is, but what I hope it is. There are moments in my life that I think about constantly, the what if I had done this, or what if I had said this, or what if I could change thing?

Now, I'm happy that in this life that I don't have access to that because I am living my life in the moment. But if you could go back to a moment and change it? So it wasn't a eureka moment. It just felt natural to take it to that place, and it connects it to the audience because it's something we've all thought about. What if you could change something ... but then you can't carry over the consciousness of needing to change something, so would you even do it differently? The ultimate growth in humans is that you have multiple chances to do something the right way, and hopefully you get there and do it the right way.

In the very last scene, Will (Segel) comes to a beach where he stops a little boy from running into the ocean and then we see Isla (Mara) appear. He is about to say something to her and then it cuts to black. Do you have a definitive idea of what happens next, or is that for the audience to imagine?

Well, it's less about what I think the ending is because I'm the actual puppeteer and have to get [the story] to the place where people can make the decision themselves. But I do want people to have different opinions about what it means. I'm not saying that one opinion is right over the other. Who you are as a person, and what you bring into it is ultimately how you interpret what this movie means and what it says, and in the last frame of does he remember her or not? The hope is that people have their own thoughts of did he remember her as he did, did he go up to her, did he have a moment that seemed familiar and followed her, or did he just keep walking?

What does that choice encapsulate for you about Will?

What really landed for me in that moment is that Will found a way to get to that beach and stumbled upon her son. By having the conversation with the kid and being there, he saved him from being in the water and that's the ultimate act of love. The reason Isla wants to leave this world and go somewhere else is because she lost her son and blames herself. For Will, the magic element is that he found a way to get to that beach in his subconscious and saved the kid from ever drowning so Isla then doesn't want to kill herself. But the last frame is for the audience.

What did you think happened after the cut to black? Let us know your theories or thoughts in the comments section.