Side Effects


Side Effects is reported to be director Steven Soderbergh’s last movie. If this is his swan song, it’s a nice note to leave on.

Taking place in a world where everyone seems to be medicated (there’s an exchange between two characters where one lists all the different anti-depressants she’s tried and what pill is working for her now), the former stigma of “being on something” has largely been replaced as a symbol of status (in the movie’s logic, a character being anxious or attending sessions with a therapist seems like a prerequisite for a country club membership).

Rooney Mara anxiously awaits the return of her husband – Channing Tatum – a former hotshot Wall Street broker arrested for insider trading and sentenced to jail. They eventually reunite, but something’s off between them. Emily’s had to support herself in the intervening years, downgrading from a white-collar upper-class lifestyle to a small dingy apartment in the city, and despite Martin’s vague assertions that he’ll “make things good” again, she doesn’t seem convinced. When she drives her car full-speed into the wall of a parking garage, that’s when we realize she may be suffering from some sort of mental illness. But it’s a lot more than that.

The movie truly begins when Jude Law, as the psychiatrist assigned to Emily’s case, enters the picture. He puts her on a new experimental drug called “Ablixa” after having it recommended to him by Emily’s former psychiatrist, Catherine Zeta-Jones. The pill has unfortunate (and largely unforeseeable) side-effects. The rest of the film is spent dealing with those ramifications, and down the dark and twisted path it leads.

Side Effects is a great title. Rather than just being limited to the potential complications of prescription drugs, the title acts a metaphor for all the relationships in the film. Each one has unfortunate “side-effects” that ripple out and affect the other characters. Tatum’s illegal actions lead to Mara’s condition. Her condition affects both her former therapist and her current one. And being a psychological thriller, there are many twists and turns that you won’t (hopefully) see coming.

I think the best way to describe the film is an intellectual sparring match between the characters. Each is trying to get leverage over the other ones, and it’s fascinating to watch the plotting and tricks they pull. It’s partly being described as a “Hitchockian thriller” and I think that’s a good summation of what it’s about: the action is through carefully-chosen words rather than bullets and explosions. You’ll have to see it to understand how refreshing that is.

Grade: A


One Response to Side Effects

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    Very perceptive review. I saw the movie myself, but this gave me more iinsight into it. Very literary.

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