REVIEWS

Side effects – a bitter pill

Ganesh Singh

DOI: https://doi.org/10.20529/IJME.2015.068


Side effects, Endgame Entertainment-Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Gregory Jacobs, Scott Z Burns, Director:Steven Soderbergh, English, 106 minutes, 2013

This is one of the few films that are not only examples of mastery over the craft of film-making, but also show that a movie on medical and psychiatric themes can be as entertaining and thought-provoking as other films.

Side Effects, which the famous director, Steven Soderbergh, proclaimed would be his last movie, has been highly anticipated since the time of its making. In this film, the acclaimed director, successful both commercially and critically, captures the viewers’ attention with his portrayal of the unseen underbelly of the pharmaceutical world. The film is a perfect potpourri of deceit, betrayal and professional misconduct, held together by a stirring and crisp script. The performances are equally laudable, with the main actors playing to perfection parts with which they are not familiar.

Jonathan Banks, the hero of the film who is aptly played by Jude Law, is a successful psychiatrist with a flourishing practice. He lives peacefully in a suburb with his sweet family. One of his many clients is Emily Taylor, a lady who has recently married her long-time boyfriend but is now having a hard time keeping her mental equilibrium intact. Banks is treating her for depressive disorder and prescribes a new drug, Ablixa (a fictional drug), in accordance with his study protocol. The drug promises better results than the others. Emily seems to respond and feel better, and asks the doctor to stick to this treatment. In the course of the treatment, she makes a couple of suicide attempts and there are also a few episodes of sleepwalking, of which she is unaware. One day, she accidentally kills her husband with a kitchen knife, and is completely unaware of what she has done. The doctor is blamed for prescribing the wrong drug and wilful neglect. As the news spreads in the media, the number of patients visiting him falls and his practice is badly hit. The colleagues who used to stand by him desert him and he has to prepare to face legal proceedings.

This story of the comeback and redemption of the hero is exciting till the very last scene. Banks unearths the dirty, dark secrets of the professional misconduct and treachery that he has been at the receiving end of. The sheer pace and tight script add to this gripping tale of life inside an ethical labyrinth and a search for meaning amidst mayhem.

The film has snippets depicting how pharmaceutical bigwigs sponsor everything for doctors to boost the sales of their products. The scene in which doctors are talking about their respective freebies and other offerings made to them is meticulously crafted. There are patients being offered free treatment and drugs by their doctor, including the hero, if they consent to participate in a study related to a particular drug. It is not ethical for a patient to have to succumb to this practice merely because of the high cost of healthcare.

The film depicts how vital information is concealed to help colleagues or warn them about other psychiatrists. As the other female psychiatrist had published a report about suicidal tendencies following the treatment with a particular drug, withholding this information was an act of omission and contradicts professional etiquettes.

The hero finally takes his sweet revenge and the culprits get their deserved punishment. The film leaves the medical fraternity with plenty of questions to ponder over. The director has ventured into uncharted territory and the film, which teaches, warns and asks the medical fraternity to introspect, is worthy of acclaim. The film got rave reviews and also turned out to be a commercial success, despite the fact that it is a noir psychological thriller. The tactful revenge taken by the hero reaffirms our faith in the dictum that a bad and unethical act ultimately backfires on its doer. The film underlines the importance of adhering to ethical values and emphasises how a small mistake in this regard can play havoc with one’s career. The situation portrayed in this film has a parallel in today’s scenario, in which cut-throat competition and consumerism may lure someone to gain leverage through moral and ethical assassination. However, unethical behaviour may ultimately turn out to be a Frankenstein that destroys its own master.