Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Side Effects": Shrinks and "The Cheating Culture"

Steven Soderbergh likes dramas based on institutional or corporate corruption of some kind, and “Side Effects”, ultimately about the collusion between the mental health establishment and pharmaceutical companies, fits his mold. The trouble, for me at least, is that none of the characters is very likeable.

The film opens as Emily (Rooney Mara) finds her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) stabbed in their posh Manhattan apartment.  The film shifts back three months, and soon we learn that Rooney was being treated for depression (by Dr. Siebert, Catherine Zeta-Jones) and that her husband was getting out of jail (not free like in Monopolyu), after doing countryclub time for insider trading (he probably made a profit by shorting all those mortgage derivatives).  She tries to end herself by slamming her car into a parking garage wall (sorry, there’s an air bag).  She gets a mild concussion, and soon falls under the treatment of the psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). 
This is probably a good place to mention the 2004 book by Princeton professor David Callahan, “The Cheating Culture” (Book review blog, March 28, 2006). Callahan discussed the pressure physicians come under from drug companies to prescribe new and exotic medications and sometimes overmedicate the patient.  A dentist once hocked a $100 waterpik device on me. 

Is isn’t too hard to predict where this can go.  Or maybe it is, unless you believe the sleepwalking defense (which has been covered on 20-20) – here as a “side effect” of the meds (as well as vomiting).    Emily winds up in an “institution” as an “m.p.”, gets persuaded by watching an electroshock treatment, and pretty soon has to connive with the doctor. 
Banks lives the high-life, dealing with divorce and putting his son through a private school (to learn the “Gossip Girl” values),   and will do anything to meet his own economic ends.  He had come over to the US from Britain because, across the pond and under a salaried National Health environment (to the pleasure of Michael Moore), patients didn’t get better. 

That the conniving would be allowed seems a little hard to believe.

The link for the film (Open Road) is here.  
The last shot is rather telling as to what kind of life an institutionalized "not guilty" patient can look forward to. 

I saw this at the late show Saturday night at the AMC Courthouse in Arlington VA, small auditorium, sold out, with reclining seats.  The earlier show had been sold out when I got there.  

The film could be compared to "The Constant Gardener", 2005, Focus Features, directed by Fernando Merirelles.  That film hit a little harder. 

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