‘Side Effects’ holds mirror to society

Posted March 25, 2013


Celexa, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Adderall, Paxil, Beta blockers, Xanax and more are all manufactured with the same intention that these medications “make it easier to be who you are.”

imageThis is how the fictional Dr. Jonathan Banks attempts to justify their ubiquity.

The controversy with prescription drugs is implicitly addressed through the eventual demise of each character in Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller, “Side Effects.”

This modern film noir, originally named “Bitter Pill,” derived from a screenplay written by Scott Z. Burns. The two also worked together on “Contagion,” a thriller about a medical pandemic. Their latest collaboration not only focuses on the side effects that are listed on a prescription bottle, but also the side effects that derive from deceit.

The film is essentially split into two parts. The first half follows Emily Taylor, played by Rooney Mara, through New York City as she struggles with depression and mental imbalance. Her husband, Martin Taylor, played by Channing Tatum, was recently released from jail for insider trading. Despite Emily’s expectation that her depression would lift with his return, it simply continues to spiral along with her social detachment.

The cinematography by Soderbergh is expertly produced as a reflection of Emily’s hollow, yet frightening and intense state of mind. There’s an array of simple shots, such as the back of her head as she walks down the street and her foot as it slams on the gas peddle to drive her car into a wall.

These scenes are completely silent except for natural noise, such as footsteps and the transitions are sharp and brusque. The simplicity of this surprisingly creates an alluring sense of despondency. New York City’s gray clouds and constant dreariness complement this effect. In addition, her face is always pale and her hair is never styled.

These factors enhance Mara’s zombie-like performance of a woman consumed by depression. This is portrayed with dramatic action, such as a suicide attempt by ramming her car into a wall. It’s also portrayed through subtle details, such as the way she behaves with Martin. When they make love she has her head turned to the side as though he’s not there and when he asks her a question she replies in a lifeless tone, “Yes baby.”

Another memorable scene is when she is overwhelmed with emotion. She runs out of a party, bursting into tears as she shakes her head and says to Martin, “I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t.” And although not everyone can relate to the intensity of depression, Tatum’s convincing portrayal as a caring and understanding husband is enough for the audience to want to care for Emily as well.

The only time there is a scene that reflects any sort of sincere joy is Emily’s flashback to a bright afternoon when she and Martin were drinking champagne with their friends at an extravagant mansion. Emily’s hair was neatly brushed and her pale complexion was replaced with laughing. The chosen details of her flashback allude to the theme of monetary greed that develops in the second half of the movie.

Emily finds hope through the psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law. He plays the good guy who seems to sincerely care about her recovery by putting her on an experimental drug, Ablixa. Yet, Dr. Banks was originally hesitant about the drug until he was offered a generous amount of money.

And although there are no explicit words, it’s a clear sign that even the good guy gives into greed. Even worse, Dr. Banks keeps Emily on the drug despite the fact that she told him of her side effects, including sleepwalking and suicidal thoughts.

There are also a few of scenes that indirectly criticize the accessibility of prescription drugs and a psychiatrist’s willingness to allow it. For example, Dr. Banks tells one of his patients that Ablixa will help her depression. She practically rips the waiver out of his hands and immediately signs it without any concern of possible side effects.

An interesting touch to the movie is that Soderbergh adds particular detail to Ablixa’s marketing. There are pens and prescription pads with the logo throughout the film, and the slogan “Take back tomorrow!” is repeated in the commercial played in the movie. There is even a faux website, www.tryablixa.com.

Trickery actually becomes a dominating factor in the second half of the film when the unthinkable twist changes the entire dynamic of the plot. All of a sudden, the psychological factor is dropped and the film becomes about deceit, manipulation, and self-indulgence.

This is when Emily’s previous psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, begins to play a significant role. Even though she would occasionally discuss Emily’s condition with Dr. Banks, her character didn’t seem to play a vital role. Dr. Siebert’s relevance to the plot is only revealed once her plan for personal gain surfaces.

The final portion of the movie is spent determining which character is telling the truth. The series of lies that occur, the dramatic turn of events, and the truth about the characters were a bit disappointing. Instead of ending with purely deceit, it would have been preferred to keep the psychological insanity consistent through the film.

Nonetheless, Soderbergh holds up a mirror to society and shows that prescription drugs can simply be another outlet to foster manipulation, self-indulgence and greed.

  • Title: Side Effects
  • Released: Feb. 8, 2013
  • Playing at: Regal Southland Mall Stadium 16, Movies at the Falls 12, Regal Kendall Village Stadium, AMC Sunset Place 24, Paragon Grove 13, Palace 18 Cinema, Flagship Cinemas, AMC Mall of Americas 14, Cobb Theatres Dolphin 19 Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Gregory Jacobs, Scott Z. Burns
  • Production Company: Summit Entertainment, LLC
  • Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
  • Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
  • Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh, alias “Peter Andrews”
  • Run time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
  • Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: R (for sexuality, nudity, violence and language)