In our world of Zoloft commercials, it’s become easy to believe that popping a pill will magically end your depression. What happens if those Prozac promises turn out false? What if there is no magic pill for your mental malaise? What if that magic pill makes you worse?
Emily (Rooney Mara: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a fragile woman in need of help. She lost her friends, her husband and her accustomed life to an insider-trading scandal. Now that her husband is out of jail, she finds acclimating to a new life of work, struggle and stress to be more than she can handle.
Emily’s solution? To drive her car into a brick wall. She survives and agrees to seek help.
Enter Dr. Banks (Jude Law: Rise of the Guardians), a charming psychiatrist who believes in the power of the pill. He starts Emily on an endless series of anti-depressants with middling results. Emily gets sick on one pill, becomes a zombie on the next. Finally, Banks prescribes the perfect pill, Ablixa, which magically makes Emily feel like her old self. Sure, there are some side effects, like somnambulism, but what’s the worst that could happen?
Emily’s sleepy wanderings become a problem when she wakes up with blood on her hands. But who deserves the blame for this gory side effect: Emily, Dr. Banks or Ablixa?
Side Effects is a thriller from a director who knows how to craft a mystery. Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike) creates tension while developing interesting characters. The movie’s plot is littered with semi-ridiculous twists that would be worthy of an episode of Law and Order if not for Soderbergh’s interesting camera work and expert pacing.
The center of the film is Mara as wounded, unraveling Emily. Her impressive performance is the polar opposite of the Lisbeth Salandar role that made her famous. Emily is timid and delicate, her voice barely raising above a whisper. She dips her eyes behind bangs and seems to be living on a razor’s edge.
As the obsessive Dr. Banks, Law shines. As his role is examined, his tight grip on his emotions slips. Soon he’s downing beer, Red Bull and pills, anything to keep him going while he tries to earn back his life.
Though Soderbergh’s movie ultimately twists and turns, the questions the director poses about America’s commitment to better living through science are quite interesting. Every person in the film is taking mood-altering substances, whether they’re pills, alcohol or energy drinks. Is any adult in the film sober? An examination of ways chemicals have changed the way we work, interact and live would have been fascinating, but it’s not as sexy as a murder mystery.
Side Effects isn’t a perfect movie. But strong performances and a look inside the prescription drug culture of America make it well worth the watch. It’ll make you think twice before you pop your next pill.