‘Side Effects’ Made Me Mad

I felt like the rug was ripped out from under me in Steven Soderbergh's thriller.

by Kali Tuttle
Side Effects

I had high hopes for Side Effects when I began the film. As someone who suffers from depression, I was hoping to relate to Rooney Mara’s character, Emily Taylor, who also seemed to be suffering from it. I would soon realize that I could not relate to her character at all, which genuinely saddened me.

As we come to find out in the second act, Emily is lying about her depression in an intricate scheme to make a stack of money. I found myself relating more to Jude Law’s character, Dr. Jonathan Banks, as I, too, felt betrayed by Emily’s lies.

While subverting expectations and heightening tension is what Steven Soderbergh does well, I really wish he hadn’t.

Feelings Betrayed

I’m going to get pretty personal here. There are times when I feel a lot like what Emily was pretending to be: hopeless, numb, and defeated. There are highs and there are lows, but when the lows come, they are treacherous. Side Effects hit me in a way that I wasn’t ready for.

And then it slapped me in the face and laughed at how invested I was in Emily’s plight.

Emily wasn’t really depressed. She was faking it as part of a larger plan to murder her husband and blame it on an experimental drug.

I felt betrayed. Here I was, fully relating to Emily — whom I assumed was our sympathetic main character — only to be duped by her exactly the way Dr. Banks was. Though it more easily made me side with Dr. Banks despite my initial uneasiness about his character, I still felt like I had been rudely tricked.

Trust Betrayed

One thing I’ve learned while fighting through depression is that it’s not always an illness that shows on the outside. Depression can mask itself as a number of emotions and can even masquerade as happiness. That doesn’t mean that the sufferer is lying or that it isn’t real. It’s just a complicated illness to understand if you don’t deal with it on a regular basis.

While I love Rooney Mara, her acting skills are a little too good here. I wanted to fully accept the struggle she was going through. I knew the feeling of forcing yourself to go to social events only to break down at them later. Mara depicted depression in a way that I related to.

When I learned that she actually was faking it, it felt like a cheap shot to the gut. Even while actively taking anti-depressants and attending therapy, I often felt like I was faking my feelings and that maybe I was just being dramatic. Seeing Emily Taylor do exactly that in Side Effects felt like a betrayal of my trust.

Beliefs Betrayed

Though some cases of depression are more severe than others, there are a number of methods that can help alleviate the worst effects of it. For example, as I said before, I take anti-depressants and have attended therapy in the past. While I’m not big on therapy, I can attest that anti-depressants have really helped me to get a hold of my life.

In Side Effects, Emily tries a few medications that give her what we think are genuine side effects. She suffers from lowered sex drive, nausea, and sleepwalking, the latter of which weighing heavily on the plot. I was watching and thinking about the similar journey I had been on. It was so nice to see someone like me portrayed in popular media.

And then my happiness was crushed when I realized that none of it was real. Emily wasn’t like me at all. She was a liar and only using mental illness as a tool to get what she really wanted.

What Could’ve Been

While the idea of using depression in a long con to eventually amass a bunch of money and live a life of luxury is intriguing, I wish Side Effects had been different. The idea of a depressed individual inadvertently committing murder while under the influence of an anti-depressant was an engaging story. It brought up ethical issues that I hadn’t considered before and I was hooked in trying to see where it would go.

Steven Soderbergh isn’t that kind of director though. Going for the simple path just isn’t what makes a film pop for him. I can appreciate that but I can also be frustrated at the direction the plot took.

It makes me wish another director would take up the direction that Side Effects was originally going and remake the film in a way. Sort of like how some movies have alternate endings, this movie could have alternate plots: one where Emily is lying and one where she is not. I’d definitely watch it, if only to get the closure I didn’t receive from the original plot.

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Kali Tuttle @tuttle_kali2.

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Side Effects? Comment down below!

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to MovieBabble via email to stay up to date on the latest content.

Join MovieBabble on Patreon so that new content will always be possible.

Related Articles

1 comment

Nick Kush April 27, 2023 - 4:18 pm

Join the MovieBabble staff: https://moviebabble.com/join-moviebabble/

Like MovieBabble on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/moviebabblereviews/

Follow MovieBabble on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/moviebabble/

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MovieBabble_


Leave a Comment Below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: