Sometimes the side effects of the drugs we take are not what they seem. Such is the case in Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects,” a chilling adult drama about the complicated process of determining what is drug-induced and what is hidden in other reasons for our behavior.
Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is a psychiatrist whose patient Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is accused of committing a horrible crime against her husband Martin (Channing Tatum). Emily, who suffers from severe depression, is placed on prescription medications that have unintended consequences. In trying to determine her condition, Dr. Banks consults with a former doctor of Emily’s, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who doesn’t always tell the whole story of Emily’s past. To complicate the story further, Emily’s husband Martin has just been released from prison for “insider trading” on Wall Street.
This is a complicated and twisted tale that leaves you guessing as to what is real and what isn’t. Without giving away the plot, it goes without saying that prescribing medications is not without risk, and even the most ethical doctors can be held suspect when something goes wrong with a patient. Once a person has been accused of a misdeed, your reputation is on the line and it is difficult to regain public trust when your name is all over the news. We may live in a land where you are innocent until proven guilty, but we also live in a media-saturated world where public opinion presumes you guilty until every shred of doubt is destroyed.
Drugs may be the assumed culprit here, but it becomes apparent that even drugs can sometimes be the innocent accused. When doubt and malice are involved, it often is the case that the only safe antidote for this toxic mixture is an immediate immersion in a culture of love, support, and grace. Unfortunately, none of the characters in this morality play seemed to think that cultivating a community of faith or loving friends was important in their lives. Their experience is more like an obese person who has a heart attack and then ponders why no one told them this could happen.
“Side Effects” takes us through questions about medicine, law, ethics, and empathy. It also asks the question: to what length do you go to expose the truth? What if getting to the truth means lying to others? Does the end justify the means? There is no easy answer provided here.
What is obvious is that drugs are not the answer to every question of mood or health. Sometimes our mental and spiritual health are compromised more than our physical health. Healing requires a transformation of body, mind, and spirit. Anything less may have severe side effects.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Have you ever experienced an emotional or decision-making side effect of taking a drug that harmed your life? What did you do when this occurred?
2. The awareness that all events have a complexity of motivations and causes is helpful. Do you experience this film as being realistic in the way it presented this situation or was it overblown?
3. When we experience a person behaving in a destructive way toward us we often think of them as intentionally wanting to hurt us. How do you keep from projecting your assumptions on others?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.