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The Discovery of Heaven
IMDB Rating: 6.8/10 from 3,466 votes
Release: 25 October 2001 (Netherlands) /

The Discovery of Heaven

Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Director: Jeroen Krabbé,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: God is disappointed with the human race and wants his stone tablets back. An angel is given the assignment and, with Gabriëls help, tries to manipulate several humans on earth to get his job done. But humans have a will of their own... Written by Anonymous

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Critic Reviews


The discovery of heaven is the magnum opus of Dutch writer Harry Mulisch, where science, religion and philosophy meet in a 900-page book full of autobiographical details, among which the persecution of Jews in WW2 and the roaring sixties. The story in a nutshell: Science and technology have on earth substituted the Ten Commandments of Moses, so a plan is conceived by God and his angels to bring the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments back from earth to heaven, as the contract between mankind and God is abandoned. Angels are given this task by God, and a child is born on earth to accomplish heaven's plan. The child is the result of a love triangle between astronomer Max Delius (the writer Mulisch), politician Onno Quist and a cellist Ada Brons. (One example of the level of detail in the book: A remarkable congruency is that Max's father, who betrayed his Jewish wife in WW2, has three important locations where his life played out and Auschwitz is the center of again a triangle) As the book states that coincidence does not exist and everything has a reason, all events happening are arranged by angels in heaven including the conception of the child, although Max Delius is on the brink of scientifically discovering heaven.

In the script they made a good effort to condense the book to its bare essentials by selecting the most relevant parts for the movie. But there are (also in the book) irrelevant loose elements that seem redundant and distract from the core message: Vietnam demonstrations, the whole Cuba part, some characters and relations add little. And there are things from the book they could have used like all mothers having the same face after the tablets are placed. Stephen Fry's often failed attempts to be funny are out of place although the book contains some humor: The weapon course in Cuba and Onno's walking stick interpreted as a miracle when seen as Moses' stick. The ending is better in the book than in the movie, where it is somewhat banal.

The pacing is unnecessarily slow despite the enormous amount of events happening in both the movie and the book. The story is told in a very predictable and straightforward way; the director Jeroen Krabbé is just not up to this job and has little imagination and visual style. Take the many direct references to religion and heaven and even the way heaven is represented. Or the clumsy way the deaths are foreshadowed with a short flash. I guess Peter Greenaway (planning to do a movie on Rembrandt) would have been a better choice as director, but this had to make some money being a lavish production for Dutch standards.

The role of God and angels is comparable here to that of the writer of the book; in the movie to the role of the director (and even actor Krabbé as angel). Because the best movies are usually about other movies, the book and script lacks writers, photographers, painters or publishers to lift this to a meta-level. Here we have the relative mundane politicians and scientists.

As science is about everything that can be potentially explained, religion is about everything that can not be explained rationally. The book and movie's statement that physics may one day take over religion, or make religion redundant, is fairly accurate as metaphysics is coming increasingly closer to a theory of everything. But as our knowledge increases, a warning is issued that it will not necessarily lead to a greater happiness or higher morality. The book and movie mixes small, uninteresting stories with larger-than-life stories in a strange and awkward way. It also messes things up inconsistently (e.g. in the book there is an image of concentration camps in space). Some of the book and movie consists of contrived, pseudo-intellectual nonsense, being deliberately pretentious lacking any mastery of the art form at hand (be it writing or film-making).

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