Side Effects (USA, 2013)

side_effects_ver2_xlgDirected by: Steven Soderbergh. So I guess Steven Soderbergh isn’t the most subtle guy when it comes to his “message” movies. I’m thinking specifically about Contagion and The Girlfriend Experience, rather than, say, Haywire, whose plot I almost entirely forget. Those former movies, as well as this movie, show Soderbergh getting more or less overtly opinionated on aspects of society that he cares about, which seems to be fairly rare for anyone in modern Hollywood to do. Although, on a moment’s reflection, these films are perhaps no more soapbox-y than your average Clooney movie or Sean Penn movie (or Michael Moore movie for that matter). The only reason I bring it up is that I feel like, in this film, the level of social commentary might have been so overt as so eclipse the thrust of the human drama that was so central. But, paradoxically, the social commentary only felt forced because the drama was so central. Does that make sense? I’ll just compare this one to Contagion. I really appreciated Contagion, how its storyline was spread out between a bunch of different characters and locations, and how in doing so, the emotional impact was never too strong. This allowed a certain amount of detached observation to function in the viewer, which in turn allowed for the “big picture”, the social message to come through: in that case, the extreme precariousness and vulnerability that the human race exposes itself to in the modern, globalized, interconnected era. With Side Effects, I thought that the detached observation wasn’t really allowed to occur, and the “big picture” social problem wasn’t really allowed to become a focal point of the narrative. “Ah”, you say, “But perhaps then the problem is with your insistence on reading this movie as a social commentary instead of simply enjoying it on its own merit as a human drama about greed and self-centered manipulation.” I hear that, but I just can’t get past the centrality of the modern pharmaceutical/psychological industrial complex in the plot of this movie. This movie isn’t really about Carey Mulligan and her situation with her husband, it isn’t about Catherine Zeta-Jones and her duplicitous plot, it isn’t about Jude Law and his practice, any more than Contagion was about Matt Damon and his family or Laurence Fishburne and his janitor friend John Hawkes. This film is about Big Pharma. The whole plot, this ornately constructed, elaborate web of deceit and deception where every single character is double-crossing and manipulating the people around them to serve their own needs and to ensure their own gain in this Darwinian/Hobbesian nightmare could certainly just exist in a different world outside of Big Pharma. It could be plopped down in the world of Wall Street speculation. It could be set in the Pentagon, dealing with the military-industrial complex. It could be set in Hollywood. Who knows? But, in fact, it was set in the world of psychiatry and its collusion with Big Pharma, and I would just really like to know why it was set there if not for the ostensible social commentary that you’d think a director would want to make with a feature film starring major Hollywood celebrities. Either the point is too subtle for me to get (I am sometimes pretty dumb), or the point is simply: the pharmaceutical-industrial complex sometimes benefits petty, self-serving people, compelling them to commit evil deeds for their own gain, and it remains unchallenged and the bad guys basically get away with murder. Or, in the words of Fred Durst: “everything is fucked/ everybody sucks.” And I just expect more from a guy as intelligent as Steven Soderbergh. Maybe I’m just missing something. Any thoughts?

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One response to “Side Effects (USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: Trance (UK/USA/France, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

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