Would you live your life differently if you knew that death wasn’t the end? Or might you be tempted to end it all? These are the questions posed by this dour and frustratingly uneventful US indie drama, viewable now on Netflix. Robert Redford is neuroscientist Thomas Harbor, whose experiments have conclusively proven the existence of an afterlife and inadvertently sparked a rash of suicides. Two years later, he’s close to finding out exactly what that second existence might entail when his studies are interrupted by the arrival of eldest son Will (Jason Segel, terse) and his suicidal new friend Isla (Rooney Mara).
‘The Discovery’ is clearly more interested in metaphysical ponderings and so-called ‘human truths’ than in telling a convincing story, asking us to swallow the idea that Harbor has made two largely unrelated but equally earth-shattering scientific breakthroughs in as many years. But the truths it unearths are pretty familiar: regret will cripple your life; try to live in the moment; family is important.
None of the cast seem to be having a particularly good time – Segel, especially looks fed up and slightly constipated – but they’re a watchable bunch, and Jesse Plemons adds value as Harbor’s slacker second son. Yet somehow ‘The Discovery’ never really gets into gear, trundling through a series of un-gripping character conflicts and vaguely sci-fi-ish plot diversions without ever engaging the heart or the mind.