Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Gender Roles - Women: 3.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Although Emily plays the part of someone who is weak and frail for most of the film, audiences eventually come to learn that there's a lot more to this subdued woman than depression and pills. Even when she is masquerading as someone who is bowed by depression, Emily shows us that it takes an incredible amount of strength and endurance to fight this sort of internal battle. And when we start to see the ways in which Emily has twisted the truth to gain the upper hand, the passive victim disappears to reveal a clever and seasoned con artist. By the end of the film it hardly matters whether Emily is triumphant or not in her ruthless deception, both sides of her disturbed character demand some respect for the way she carries herself and fights for control of her future.
Emily's prior therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert, displays the same sort of mettle and drive. She's an educated woman with clear opinions of her own on Emily's condition and treatment regimen. She's clever and bold and demanding when she needs to be, and definitely leaves a lasting mark on the trajectory of this story.
Gender Roles - Men: 3 Stars
Dr. Banks is exactly the sort of nurturing and dependable man one would hope to find in the role of a mental health professional. He shows genuine concern and compassion for his patients, but also respects them as individuals. From the very beginning, he trusts Emily's instincts regarding her own condition and treatment. He never belittles her or otherwise suggests that she doesn't know her own mind and her own abilities. He shares his knowledge and expertise with her in a way that encourages her independence and recovery.
In addition, Dr. Banks seems to be supportive of his wife's career and takes a genuine interest in being a positive role model to her young son. There are only a few occasions on which he becomes unusually aggressive or demanding with those who cross his path, and in most cases, these responses appear rationale and even justified considering the circumstances.
Supporting Characters: 3 Stars
Side Effects includes a few minor characters who effectively balance their vulnerabilities and their strengths. Dr. Banks' wife, Dierdre, is a smart woman and dedicated mother. She struggles between supporting her husband in the midst of a very confusing media frenzy, and protecting herself and her young son from a series of lies and distortions. She does an impressive job of being emotional when she needs to be emotional, and being strong when she needs to be strong, without ever coming across as empty or irrational.
In addition, Emily's boss shows us an impressive example of what a woman can achieve despite ongoing battles with depression. Emily's boss is a motivated director of an ad agency who isn't ashamed to admit to her own afflictions or the fact that she too has relied on medication to get her through the day. But despite these very real vulnerabilities, she's able to function at a high level and to demand the same of those around her. She mixes compassion with competence in a way that should be encouraging to anyone out there, man or woman, who has suffered with some form of depression.
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
It's difficult to say whether Emily has a real sense of self-esteem - because the depression drowns out all other aspects of her personality. She walks about in a dreary fog that will easily earn the sympathy of anyone who's ever struggled with depression, but we never get more than a glimpse of the bright person that might exist beneath her subdued exterior.
At times Emily does a remarkable job of dressing up and putting on a beautiful healthy face in front of those around her. But overall, the film shows us a hauntingly accurate portrayal of a woman struggling with depression. Someone who can't find the energy to put on make-up or do her hair on routine basis - and when she does it's a courageous effort. As a result Emily never gives audiences an unrealistic beauty ideal to chase after, but rather shows us how draining it can be to try to meet the world's unforgiving expectations.
Plot: 1.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Although the film initially centers on Emily and her struggles with depression, it isn't long before Dr. Banks takes over as the film's principal protagonist. After Emily kills her husband and is brought up on murder charges, she fades into the background as Dr. Banks struggles to learn the truth about Emily's condition. As secrets are unraveled, audiences begin to see another side of Emily through Dr. Banks' eyes. We come to understand that she never truly suffered from depression, and that her manufactured symptoms were nothing more than a ruse to cover up a selfish and brutal act of homicide. And while we can appreciate the fact that this makes Emily a bit more clever and resourceful than we originally might have guessed, it also transforms her from a potential heroine into a clear and unjustified villain.
By the end of the film, both Emily and her secret lover prove to be clever, determined women who are capable of bending the world around them to better suit their needs. But even this unexpected depiction of powerful, engaged women is a bit watered-down based on the fact that we don't know their intentions or see their capabilities until the very end - as they're on the verge of being discovered by a more savvy male lead. In truth, there's nothing unusual about powerful female villains. It's frequently the case that strong women are viewed as threatening, rather than heroic, and depicted in a way that makes us celebrate their downfall. In Side Effects, as in so many other films, these determined women have chosen to use their prowess for evil rather than for good, which only seems to support the idea that women as a whole are too emotional and self-serving to be trusted with any real version of authority.
Character Development: 2 Stars (Spoilers)
Side Effects splits Emily's character into two distinct personalities - the admirable character that she appears to be when the film opens, and the devious woman she turns out to be in the end. Most films that play this game tend to sacrifice any meaningful character development in favor of a cheap plot twist. Because all of the work that was dedicated to their protagonist's false persona is erased when the truth is revealed, and audiences are left with an empty shell of a person. And there's very little time left to truly establish who this new person is, or why they've done the things they've done.
Through Emily's ruse we learn a lot about depression and come to empathize and connect with the person we think she is. Had Side Effects continued along these lines, audiences might have walked away with the feeling that they'd truly met and come to understand someone with depression. But when the truth is revealed, Emily starts to look less and less like a real person and more and more like a prop. She is a riddle for the male lead to solve and turn himself into a hero - but she isn't a fully developed character with clear motives and intentions of her own. In the end, we don't even know if Emily was ever truly in love with her husband, or what finally drove her to kill him. We can only speculate as to whether she was motivated by money or revenge. If Side Effects had dedicated the entire film to either the depressed Emily or to the devious Emily, it would have made her into a far more entertaining character. But the mixture of the two leaves both sides of her personality slightly hollow and unsatisfying.
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
Side Effects shows us the complicated nature of women's sex drives - from the emotionally detached encounter between Emily and her husband at the height of her depression, to the drug-induced highs that follow, to the unexpected forays with Dr. Siebert near the end. Unfortunately, we never really know what's driving Emily's desires or whether her pleasure is real - but at the very least, Side Effects shows us the wide array of ways that women can use their sexuality. Whether used as an expression of love and healing, or simply a means of leverage, it can take as many forms as the imagination will allow.
Family: 1 Star
Emily's marriage comes across as both stifling and restrictive. Her husband's career is clearly struggling in the aftermath of his incarceration, but Emily's ambitions still take a back seat to his - to the point that she is expected to leave her job and follow him to Houston based on nothing more than a speculative business opportunity. She relies on him to be her breadwinner and her protector, and there is even some suggestion that Emily's depression stems from losing the support and comfort that she'd found in him. The moment he is hauled off to prison her luxurious and pampered life disappears, and she is suddenly expected to support herself. Rather than rising to the occasion and pursing her own talents in a healthy way, she slips into a deep and intractable depression, appearing to lose all sense of self. Emily's husband clearly wants her to recover and supports whatever treatment options will get her there, but he isn't the sort of man to encourage her dreams or to welcome her equal participation in their lopsided relationship.
Emily Taylor is struggling to get her life back together. Her husband has just been released from prison, following a conviction for insider trading, and Emily herself is battling severe depression. She finds herself in the care of a new therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks, who prescribes her a new anti-depressant called Ablixa. The drug makes a marked improvement in Emily's condition, but also results in some unmanageable side effects. Emily insists on continuing her treatment despite the dangers, until she finds herself in the aftermath of a violent encounter with her husband.
Kelly is a labor law