In today’s society, there seems to be no ailment of the human condition that cannot be kept in check with a simple trip to the local Duane Reade. In the past, most people would have to suffer through endless therapy sessions to pinpoint the causes of various incidents of depression, anxiety, and stress ( that we now know are brought about by chemical imbalances in the body and mind ). And with these psychological conditions falling under too broad and over simplified categories of bipolar disorders, many doctors have found it hard to treat such maladies. These days, however, psychiatrists find most answers by turning to pharmaceutical solutions. This has given rise to a mood stabilizing pill culture. Prozac, Xanax, Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, and other anti-depressants are annually approved by the FDA. I doubt you can name one person who isn’t on some type of medication to “take the edge off” Life, so to speak. However, as the pharmaceutical companies flood the healthcare system with these “wonder” pills, the only real wonder here is is whether these prescriptions will make things better for the patient……or in the case of Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Side Effects…worse.
The film revolves around Emily Taylor ( played by Girl with The Dragon Tattoo star, Rooney Mara ) who is finally reunited with her stock-broker husband Martin’s ( played by Magic Mike’s Channing Tatum ) after his release from prison for insider trading. Unable to handle the maelstrom of emotions surrounding her husband’s return, she intentionally drives her car into a brick wall in her building’s parking garage. While she is being treated for her injuries in the emergency room, she meets psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks ( played by actor Jude Law ). Although Emily assures him that there will be no repeat of another life threatening psychological breakdown, Banks gets her to promise to meet him for weekly therapy sessions. In order to help her manage her anxiety, he prescribes for her a series of anti-depressants. Unfortunately, the drugs seem to be of little help.
In order to get a handle on Emily’s problem, he consults her former therapist Dr. Victoria Siebert ( played by actress Catherine Zeta Jones ). Although Siebert can offer no further insight into Emily’s case, she does recommend a new experimental drug known as “Ablixa”. When Emily suffers another suicidal episode ( by almost stepping off a train platform ), Banks puts her on the medication. After a few days, Emily experiences a dramatic turnaround and her life and marriage seems to be back on track. Unfortunately, one of the more adverse side effects of Ablixa is sleepwalking. And when Emily experiences one of these episodes, her life takes a shockingly violent and tragic turn for the worse.
First, the good. This is a superbly acted and timely thriller. Rooney Mara adds another adept performance in her first film since her Academy award nominated role in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Mara ably runs the gamut of multifaceted emotions that makes up her character . And as the psychiatrist, Jude Law suitably conveys the pressure of a mental health professional who must face the nightmare of having a patient breakdown while under his care and the career fallout that accompanies such an event. And Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta Jones add another film to an impressive resume of Soderbergh collaboration.
The only problem I have with this movie is that although it has the potential for being a serious discussion piece, it suffers from the studio’s need for it to be a “traditional” thriller ( to satisfy box office returns ). Instead of saddling this film with plot twists, conspiracy theories, and having it wrapped up with a neat and tidy “Hollywood” ending, Soderbergh should have ended this film on a more haunting and morally ambiguous note. The film raises valid concerns of an over prescribed healthcare system and the question of who ultimately bears the responsibility when new prescription drugs take patients “deeper into the abyss”: big money pharmaceutical companies that reap untold millions by guaranteeing FDA approval and safe trial runs. Or the mental health professional who prescribes them based solely on the biased testimonials of pill salesmen who benefit from the sale but never shoulder the risk of “making the call” when it comes to administering their products