Side Effects

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I managed to slip the surly bonds of domesticity last night and settle into the 9:10 screening of Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s new (and apparently last) film about the psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.  I don’t really know why he’s bowing out of the film industry – maybe he needs some Zoloft to cheer him up…

Anyway, Side Effects is definitely a film of two halves.  The first half is part Michael Moore’s Sicko (American health care system bad) and Girl Interrupted (psychiatry and girls don’t mix).  It combines introducing one of the protagonists, a depressed girl searching for the right pill, with intimating that not only do most Americans take psychoactive drugs, but are willing to talk about their prescriptions to complete strangers, much to the glee of psychiatrists and big pharma.

The film then takes a decidedly dark turn, which reminded me of Black Swan, but kind of in reverse – I won’t explain, since I wouldn’t want to spoil anything – in which Jude Law, the other protagonist, a psychiatrist, rails against the pharmacological machine with gusto.  He’s great, actually, a fine and dandy performance, which is part Dr. Frasier Crane and part Dr. Bob Newhart, which can’t be anything but a good thing.

It’s an entertaining film, and one that I’ll use in teaching the history of psychiatry, but it is nowhere as subtle or moving as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is not only my favourite film of all time (along with It’s a Wonderful Life – don’t know what that says about my own psychology), but a more insightful with respect to both psychiatry and mental illness.  Nevertheless Side Effects will spark some debate about mental illness, drugs and psychiatry and that can’t be anything but a good thing also.  Two thumbs up (and nothing Freudian intended).