Feb 08

“Side Effects”: This Film’s May Be Dangerous and Unexpected

The new psychological thriller by Steven SoderberghSide Effects, incorporates issues about the potential pitfalls of experimental antidepressants. Neither the pills nor their prescribers nor the pharmaceutical industry, in fact, come off anywhere close to ideal in this movie.

Writer Scott Burns consulted with Dr. Sasha Bardey, who has significant experience in forensic psychiatry. As Bardey states to Daniel D’Addario, Salon, “The only way to remove the stigma around psychiatry is to depict it realistically — to depict it in a lily-white way doesn’t make it more credible.”

The Plot Basics

Because Side Effects is a twisty thriller, no one’s out to spoil it by saying too much. Rooney Mara‘s lead character Emily Taylor is married to Martin (Channing Tatum), who’s been in prison for financial wrongdoing. After trying a bunch of prescribed drugs (nonfictional ones) with unwanted side effects, Emily begins taking an experimental and fictional antidepressant called Ablixa, given to her by her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law.) Catherine Zeta-Jones plays another psychiatrist who has treated Emily.

The Antidepressants

Reviewer Christy Lemire: “In an accurate reflection of our impatient times, everyone in “Side Effects” wants the quick fix: for their finances, careers, reputations, sex lives and, most fundamentally, their moods.”

The Plot, Part II

There’s a murder. Did Emily do it? Did she mean to do it? Or did the pills do it? If so, is her shrink at fault? Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter:

…(M)emory loss, irresponsible medical treatment and possible insanity come into play. Jonathan’s professional standing takes a big hit, as does his marriage to a beautiful wife (Vinessa Shaw) no one would want to lose. There’s a lot of trade talk about the benefits and side effects of various drugs that might prove fascinating to those interested in such matters and boring to those who are not. But a good deal of the second half is devoted to Jonathan’s downward spiral due to his involvement in this unsavory case, with the uncommonly attractive actors providing by far the paramount reason for any sustained interest.

Here’s the Side Effects trailer:

Therapist Portrayal

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…(H)e’s not a creep or a perv, in classic movie-shrink fashion; what ultimately makes Banks so disturbing is that he believes he’s doing the right thing all along, but is hemmed in by a medical system, or a world (or just a movie) that makes bad things get worse rapidly.”

The Total Effect: Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “What begins as a barbed satire of our pill-popping, self-medicating society morphs into something intriguingly different in ‘Side Effects.’ Steven Soderbergh’s elegantly coiled puzzler spins a tale of clinical depression and psychiatric malpractice into an absorbing, cunningly unpredictable entertainment.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “What it turns out to be is a preposterous puzzle that fails every test under scrutiny, leaving the spectator with a ‘Huh?’ that is meant to be uttered only while chewing gum.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “We’d like to believe that our SSRIs and MAOIs will bring us happiness, that love is real, that art or spirituality can offer transcendence. Steven Soderbergh would like to remind us that it’s all a trick, and we’re on our own.”