There is much no doubt that Steven Soderbergh is a fantastic filmmaker, a treasure to the American cinematic landscape that unfortunately turned into a loss, the director stating his departure from films, moving on to the realm of Television, leaving many of us who are fans and those who would become fans suffering, especially with the potential that more could have been made. Side Effects would mark as his official final theatrical feature, but many would argue that Behind the Candelabra would act as his true finale, regardless his journey is at the end, a highly sad one since what he has left us is one of his most entertaining pieces, shrouded by the clouding aura of a thriller, whilst underscoring the reality behind pharmaceuticals and the grey shadings of mental health.
Side Effects captures our attention through the sight of blood, an image that would soon shift to our subconscious as we watch the narrative unfold, soon focusing on the film’s apparent victim; a young married woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), suffering from a strong case of depression, wrapped around a world of isolation, abandonment, disappointment, and detachment; a life seemingly empty until the news of her husband, Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum), granted a release from prison, an event that unfortunately uncured and unable to supress her condition. Such a problem has brought her to the attention of a psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), after an attempt of a suicide, hoping to attend to her issues and ease her of the suffering through discussion, analysis, and the prescription of medications.
Rooney Mara’s Emily was an interesting portrait of the nature of depression, how easily it consumes an individual, how dysfunctional it can cause on the victim; apart from Mara, much of the credit is given to Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns, who evidently researched on the condition, attempting to reflect the feeling or mirror a projection of a victim to its audience, to gain a sense of understanding, to find ourselves deeply immersed into her suffering and her development towards optimal functioning, both from a biological and emotional level. Possibly such an aspect is attractive under my eyes, since I encounter people dealing with these issues frequently; coming into this expecting to expose Soderbergh of inaccuracy through his depictions, only to find myself satisfied with the displayed results. Though that being said, it still carries a slight exaggeration to appeal to its cinematic standards, but for that I was able to immediately forgive, as to be so uptight with such a minute issue would lead me to disregarding almost every other film tackling on their respective subjects.
A film such as this could have committedly taken on a similar outlook as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, and it does ride on such an approach for the first half of the film, with Emily suffering similarly to Juliette Binoche’s Julie Vignon, highlighting the journey to recovery, depicting the daily struggles and attempts to cope with such an issue, one that was derived from a tragedy that pulled the rug underneath these characters, displaying the condition of depression that doesn’t necessarily originate from a biological stand point, but of an emotional and social form. The film showcases the troubling effects of polypharmacy, the growing standard of our society, particularly those from the culture of the West, slowly integrating its way to a common or possibly an ideal sense of function, leading to a dependency that may cause more harm than it does therapeutically. Side Effects may not dive into this idea as deeply as it could, but it adds more insight through visual action, allowing it to linger underneath as the plot progresses.
Then the film leads its viewers to the side effects of malpractice, or to be simply associated with a mentally or emotionally fractured client, displaying the fight for maintaining credibility and trust, especially towards the public; the pharmaceutical world relies on gaining the faith of the general masses to gain a profit, a satire on the opportunists of the world, a grey shading of intentions that seems to slowly skid out towards capitalistic intentions, almost as if caring little for its subjects, especially those participating within their trials. When such a controversy hits the world of a medical professional, it was fascinating to see how your once considered close colleagues become antagonistic and untrusting towards you, fearing for the collateral damage that may fall on them.
The film’s second half begins to unpack the inner intentions of its key characters, expanding the film’s outlook towards the supposed supporting characters, placing them on the spotlight, taking on a more Hitchcockian drive that caught on to me with spectacular results. A story of deception and conspiracy that utilised one of modern society’s great issues; which many seem to easily regard as the film turning on to a more primitive mode, a risk that would have easily seen the film self-perish but instead thrives through Soderbergh’s excellent and patient direction, exposing its characters slowly, highlighting the obsessive drive that would consume its victims, remaining true to the film’s title as many are or would be an adverse effect from another’s actions.
Side Effects begins as a strong insight into a world untapped by mainstream cinema, a theme that is often utilised only as a minimal trait to define one’s character or to act as an isolated emphasis on an individual’s development rather than act as the front running concept. It’s slow but eventual turn to the traditional thriller may upset some, but its seamless transition and Soderbergh’s assuring direction and impact, allowed the film to remain entertaining, still maintaining a sense of insight that left me in contemplative even beyond its conclusions. It is simply saddening that Soderbergh wouldn’t embark further into his cinematic journey, cutting us at a time where he is still at his creative peaks.