Thursday, February 28, 2013

Side Effects

What was Steven Soderbergh thinking? Roman Polanski Repulsion was a classic about madness. Soderbergh’s movie has a similar fascination with objects (in this case a model boat)--and blood. But the subject is feigned madness, something Ophelia was once accused of, that is now presented in what is nothing less than a Elizabethan/Jacobean revenge tragedy about the pharmaceutical business. The plot is a failed cocktail of news headlines that goes as awry as all the failed combinations of SSRI’s that are supposed account for the erratic behavior of its central character Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). Still the bald-faced contrivance is rather shocking in a filmmaker of Soderbergh’s stature, though some of the blame could fall on the shoulders of the screenplay writer, Scott Z. Burns.You have hedge fund trading and a new anti-depressant called Ablixa, which may have suicidal and homicidal effects on the wrong patient and also a doctor on the payroll of a big drug company. Sound familiar? Lines from William Styron’s memoir of depression, Visible Darkness are quoted in the service of a supposed suspense plot, in which Jonathan Banks, the well-intentioned British psychiatrist (Jude Law) is driven so crazy by the ludicrous criminality he’s caught up in that he picks ups a Thorazine loaded dagger. Soderbergh has announced his retirement from film, having made 26 films by the age of 50. Too bad a pharmaceutically oriented psychiatrist couldn’t have offered him some sort of a drug that makes once talented film directors stop before they go over the edge. 


  1. The pharmaceutical industry is itself a caricature of a stereotype of Capitalism-Gone-Awry. It would be hard to make a movie about Big Pharma that isn't cliche-ridden, since it exists on a business model that is borrowed from dystopian literature culminating in 'The Lorax.'
    What is a drug for restless-leg-syndrome but a chemical sneed?
    I wonder: does the movie point out the droll truth that, rapacious though it may be, the pharmaceutical industry could not exist without its millions of willing victims?

  2. However, there is madness? What do you do about that? Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven. Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. Isn’t medication, for all its side effects, preferable to self immolation?

  3. jylle benson-gaussMarch 1, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    While I wouldn't want to go back to a world before antibiotics, where every injury carried the possibility of death from infection; or before anesthesia, where surgery was performed with the patient fully conscious; nor where the neurochemically malbalanced must suffer, what the movie Side Effects describes is a once-helpful branch of science run amok as it chases profits.

    There is a lot of ground between saving lives (or restoring mental balance) and selling pills whose side effects include the very symptoms they're supposed to treat. Or worse.

    The 'willing victims' I refer to are the fully informed consumers who hear the list of side effects in advertisements but ask for the magic pill anyway. I feel the same kind of 'what were they thinking?!?' that I get watching a Shakespearean drama. For all the timelessness of the dialogue, it is often hard to fathom people behaving in such a silly way; any thinking person can see the characters' choices are unlikely to end well. Perhaps if drug package warnings were written in iambic pentameter it would be easier to see the dramatic elements--villain, victim, rescuer--at play.


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