What a Pill

By Butterworth, Trevor | Newsweek, February 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

What a Pill


Butterworth, Trevor, Newsweek


Byline: Trevor Butterworth

How do you escape the mind's 'poisonous fog bank'?

In Side Effects, an intense and subversive new thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, Rooney Mara and Jude Law look set to do for psychiatry what Glenn Close and Michael Douglas did for infidelity in Fatal Attraction: make you think twice about brief encounters that end in an endorphin rush.

But what's even more remarkable is that depression can be portrayed dramatically on screen while being played medically straight. "Rooney's depression, as it's depicted, is incredibly realistic," says forensic psychiatrist Sasha Bardey, one of the movie's coproducers. "She really captured the complaints of someone who is depressed, the change in physical appearance, the change in nonverbal communication, the way she holds her head, her body."

Nothing seems to free Mara's character from the "poisonous fog bank," as she calls it, slowly suffocating her as she cycles through different antidepressants and struggles with suicidal thoughts. Out of options, her overworked psychiatrist (Jude Law) tries a new drug on her: the entirely fictional Ablixa, which promises "to take back tomorrow." And Ablixa really does seem to fix Mara, but it takes a lot more in the process. "We built a roller-coaster ride in someone's medicine chest," says Scott Burns, who wrote the movie's screenplay.

What makes this ride so gripping is that Mara's fate is the nightmare of every patient, psychiatrist, and drug manufacturer. "We spend a lot of time on the boundaries between professional and unprofessional behavior," says Bardey. "The ethical issues are what make this movie interesting."

Even levelheaded Law ends up begging a former colleague for a prescription for Adderall, so overwhelmed is he by the scale of disaster, the cascade of second-guessing, and his need for focus to solve a mystery that threatens to engulf and destroy his life.

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