Review : Side effects (2013)
"One pill can change your life"
Released (UK) 8th March 2013, Rated 15. Runtime: 106 minutes (1 hours, 46 minutes).
Official Synopsis: A young woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Red Corner Review, by Lisa
Added March 16th, 2013
Happily the trailer to this film didn’t give too much away. Before we saw the film, I saw an interview with Jude Law where he said that it wasn’t a predictable film and there was a big twist which the audience wouldn’t expect. Not knowing much more than that, I happily filled up on popcorn and sat down awaiting entertainment and hoping for an intellectual work out.
I did a lot of nodding in this film. Psychiatry is a particular area of interest of mine, particularly Forensic. The film starts with scenes in an apartment and bloody footprints in the hall – someone has been killed. Go back a few weeks and meet Emily Taylor played Rooney Mara, who I didn’t recognise until about a quarter of the way through the film. Emily is preparing for the release of her stock broker and insider trading husband Martin, played by Channing Tatum. For the next twenty minutes or so the film coasts along mundanely and I start to worry that I am not going to like this film. She meets up with her mother in law, she visits martin, she goes to work in her small office, she struggles to cope with Martin as he is released and then she starts to behave a bit strangely.
I sit up in my seat a little when she purposely, appearing to be in some manner of trance state, drives into a wall. This brings her to the attention of Dr. Jonathan Banks, Psychiatrist, who assesses her in A &E and, in a bid to avoid being sectioned for what he suspects was a suicide bid, she agrees to therapy a few times a week. We think that Dr. Banks is a good guy as before he sees Emily we see him speaking French and explaining to the police that an individual is not indeed mad, but just distressed as he believes he saw his dead father driving a cab. A belief that, in his native Haiti, isn’t that strange at all, Dr. Banks tells us. So we are thinking he is a good guy. Is this the twist? Is he in fact a sadist who is going to drug and torture poor Emily? Well no. Not the twist.
Emily begins to show signs of stress/mental illness, explaining to Dr. Banks that she thinks her depression is coming back. Her husband and his mother know about this and Emily is prescribed an SSRI anti-depressant. She still seems to be struggling with apparent side effects, appearing to be sick in work where her employer reveals she too has taken this medicine. The trance like states increase and she continues to feel suicidal, almost stepping out in front of the train. The director Soderbergh makes a point of noting the name of the officer who pulls Emily back for being too close to the track. We, the audience are supposed to notice this. Feeling desperate she contacts Dr. Banks when he is out with his wife. It does seem a bit odd. But then she is suffering from a mental illness and that can be scary and it can make people act in ways they maybe wouldn’t So I am thinking is she going to start stalking the doctor? But no, not the twist.
At a gala dinner with old colleagues on a boat Emily appears tearful and to be struggling. A former friend tells her she went through a tough time and was prescribed the drug Ablixa which helped. Dr. Banks decides, with her permission to contact her Connecticut psychiatrist Dr. Siebert played by Catherine zeta Jones. Something odd about her for sure and we suspect her right away. She mentions to Dr. Banks that she would try Emily if it had been available when she was treating her and gives Dr.Banks an Ablixa pen and looks out some free samples for him.
In the US it seems to be perfectly ethical and OK for drug companies to openly schmooze with psychiatrists to buy, promote, test and prescribe their drug to their patients. This does not seem to be based on that drugs ability to help the patient but rather that sales person’s ability to flatter the god complex of the individual psychiatrist. Anyhoo… Dr. Banks is approached for a research study and offered quite a bit of money to take part and recruit patients. All seems to be going well for him. Emily then mentions Ablixa as an alternative to her current medication. Complaining of side effects including extreme Nausea to Dr. Banks he agrees to put her on the drug. Initially she sees an improvement and then She claims to suffer side effects including tiredness and somnambulism. Dr. Banks prescribes another drug to help control this, but in line with his patients wishes in respect to her subjectively improving mental health he agrees to her remaining on wonder drug Ablixa.
Suffering from a bout of somnambulism Emily stabs Martin. So at this point I am veering from possibly interesting plot outcomes to wondering if this is going to be boring and totally predictable. Dr. Banks is approached to be a witness for the prosecution and also for the defence, so he must decide if he believes that Emily is guilty. It is also pointed out by the lead detective that there are professional consequences here for Dr. Banks also as she was his patient, and if she blames the medicine as the cause for her behaviour then he then becomes liable as the Prescribing doctor.
So its not a straight forward who do you believe but also a bit of a covering your own arse as well. After doing a bit of research Dr. Banks finds out that Ablixa has been linked to increase suicidality in children and young people and is not recommended for use on young adults for this reason. Although Emily is over that age. He also finds in his research that Dr. Siebert has authored a paper related to sleepwalking/relevant to Emily’s case.
Dr. Banks opts for the defence after discussing with Emily’s solicitors various acquittals based on NGRI ( not guilty by reason of insanity) this legal definition depends on the person’s ability to be in control of and have full knowledge their actions, not wether they carried out the act or not . Banks argues Emily does not have this as she was not conscious when she commited the act. When an NGRI is offered by the prosecution, Dr. Banks urges her to accept this. Even though it means the person is subject to detention in a secure hospital without limit of time. Dr. Banks also visits suspicious Dr. Siebert again and she reveals she knows about the sleep walking, when he asks her how she knows this and if this means she withheld this from him when he spoke with her about Emily’s history. We already know she is dodgy and we suspect she knows more than she lets on. She rebuff’s him saying that she read it in the newspapers.
Therefore it will be until she is deemed no longer a risk to herself and the public. Emily reluctantly agrees thinking this may be her best option. The audience are encouraged to feel sorry for Emily and wonder if the story is turning into people just wanting to cover their own arse rather than help this young unfortunate woman. I am not so easily fooled. I had considered if perhaps Emily had done it all along and was going to pull a Primal Fear moment. I dutifully waited to find out.
Meanwhile press coverage is increasing on the case and questions are being asked about Dr. Banks and his professional conduct is being brought into question from a previous case involving sexual misconduct allegations made by a patient. He is subject to review by the state medical board and as the trial progresses and he comes increasingly under pressure the tide begins to turn against him and no one wants to deal with the messy fall out of Emily’s case. His professional partners are keen to distance themselves from him and ask him to leave the practice, his personal relationship with his wife and step child is under strain and he gets dropped by the Drug research group in light of the negative press surrounding his involvement with Emily’s case.
Blame. It’s like a dirty word in psychiatry that no one wants to talk about until something goes wrong. Even Dr. Bank’s other patients are worried that they are on the wrong medication and ask about the press coverage and Emily’s case. Dr. Banks only comes to suspect that all may not be as it seems as in his quest to understand Emily’s case he speaks to her boss, he asks about her colleague Julia who she told Dr. Banks recommended Ablixa to her. She tells him there is no Julia but she feels for Emily as she suffered from depression herself , and quotes a writer saying was like a blanket of fog rolling in and he realises that is exactly what Emily said. Is Emily Malingering? Is she merely pretending to be depressed and afflicted. Why yes she is! She got away with it!
She has engineered an insider trading scam In order to make a lot of money when Ablixa shares crashed following the break in the story and the subsequent scare surrounding the drug. Siebert is of course in on it, they have become lesbian lovers (snore) and have set up the whole thing. Only they didn’t bank on Dr. Band his dogged pursuit of truth and having her under his care, but also under his power as a restricted patient. Now it is at this point that one might feel that the twist has been revealed and that would end the film. She got away with it, she gets free after a year or two and no one is none the wiser.
But the real twist to the story is how Dr. Banks goes about trying to prove what she has done, turning the lovers against each other and trying to outsmart them and bring them to justice for what they have done. I found the scene with the fake Sodium amytal (so called truth seru m- when they gave it to Hannibal Lecter he just gave them a recipe for dip) interesting as he only administered saline, so you think ah ha! However the prosecutor doesn’t want to know. He says to Banks that they have to just accept on this one they were outsmarted. Emily is still in hospital so she is not a risk to the public. This is not good enough for Banks though. His life is shattered by this point. His wife has left him due to pictures suggesting an affair between him and Emily are sent by Siebert to his wife.
There begins a power struggle and power games between Banks, Emily and Siebert. We aren’t sure who is going to come out on top and I found it interesting to watch the scene where Dr. Banks, who is meant to be the good guy, does a bad thing and makes Emily take medication she doesn’t need and threatens her with ECT if she won’t do what he wants and tell him the truth. He restricts Emily’s visitors and phone calls thus isolating her. This further demonstrates Banks’ power over her in his position within the powerful world of psychiatry. Once they have you how do you fight against it? Clearly Emily should have watched One flew over the cuckoo’s nest and factored this into her sociopathic genius plan.
The head nods came in because the stuck fairly well to the ‘real world’ of psychiatry and they gave a good enough explanation to satisfy me and it played out in a fairly realistic way. The Ablixa scandal was reminiscent of the real life seroxat scare around the turn of the millennium. This so called real life ‘Psychiatric wonderdrug’ was shown to be linked to increase thoughts of suicide and self harm in some young patients. I enjoyed the roller coaster nature of this film and the boring bits at the start lull the watcher into a false sense of boring predictable security before challenging you to figure out what’s going on, what are the side effects of this scheming and plotting, why and who will emerge victorious? Remember – in the end the house always wins.