Follow TV Tropes


Film / Side Effects

Go To

Side Effects is a 2013 drama/thriller movie directed by Steven Soderbergh. It stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The film is initially about Emily's (Mara) struggle with depression following her husband's four-year imprisonment for insider trading. Having been "swept off her feet" by the rich and charming Martin (Tatum) at only twenty-three, Emily found out the hard way where his money came from when he was imprisoned just a year after their marriage. Enter Dr. Banks (Law), a psychiatrist who seems to be able to help Emily with a new anti-depressant drug, Ablixa. But as it turns out, Ablixa has powerful and dangerous side effects...


  • Arc Words: "Exit" during Emily's part of the story and "poisonous fog" during Dr. Banks'. They're both red herrings.
  • Bait the Dog: Banks and the viewing audience are made to feel sad for Emily and her becoming a victim of prescription medicine after she killed her husband. Then you find out the truth that Emily is a Devil in Plain Sight.
  • Batman Gambit: Played straight and then subverted. Emily and Siebert's plan involved a lot of things they could hope would happen, but not guarantee. To wit, they had to get Banks to both prescribe Ablixa to Emily (despite the fact it was a drug he wasn't very familiar with) and not take her off it when she seemingly started sleepwalking (not necessarily the best medical course of action). They also assumed that they would be successful in being able to get Emily a plea deal from the prosecutor, but this is incredibly risky and betting that A) the lawyer that Martin's mother chose and hired would be up to the task, and B) that Banks, who was only Emily's psychiatrist through bad luck, would be a good enough expert witness to potentially sway the jury. This all goes exactly as planned without hiccups. However, it's then subverted and comes crashing down when something they couldn't plan for occurs: that Banks, the randomly chosen psychiatrist, is actually a devious Magnificent Bastard who could beat them at their own game.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Emily and Siebert. Each think they're the other's Dragon. Emily is the one who backstabs first.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Emily, who appears to be an innocent, fragile young woman who is struggling with her husband's return from prison. It turns out she's actually a vicious, sociopathic Gold Digger.
  • Bland-Name Product: Averted with the medication discussed during the film, except for Ablixa.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Averted. Emily's two biggest mistakes (not knowing the truth serum was fake, and not knowing about the Loophole Abuse that Banks uses to lock her up again) are things she could not have anticipated, given her specific background of learning insider trading from Martin and acting from Siebert.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a helicopter shot zooming in to the window of Emily's apartment, and ends with a helicopter shot zooming out of the window of Emily's new residence.
  • Bungled Suicide: Emily attempts suicide early on by driving straight into a wall, but survives with only minor injuries. Subverted when it's discovered she staged it simply to take a new antidepressant in a plot for another purpose, and kept her seat belt on specifically to survive.
  • Clear My Name: Part of Banks's motivation following the incident with Emily.
  • Color Wash: Many scenes have a warm yellow tint, especially in the first half of the film.
  • Crying Wolf: At the end of the film Emily realizes that Banks plans to send her back to the psychiatric ward and keep her doped up on Thorazine and Depakote. She tries to flee and when she's restrained is frantically protesting that she's not sick — but due to her previous scheming, while Banks and a select few know the truth, no one else believes her.
  • Dead Star Walking: The trailer, poster and other promotional materials of the film lead you you believe that Channing Tatum plays a major role in the plot, only for his character to get killed thirty minutes into it.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Of the Clear My Name storyline. Banks obsesses over the case, following false leads and becoming more disheveled in his quest for Revenge, losing his wife and child in the process. But by the end, he is proven right, the bad guys either go to prison or are recommitted/incarcerated, and he gets his family back.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The story focuses on Emily's struggle with depression until about a third of the way in, where it switches to Banks' point of view and Emily is revealed as part of a Big Bad Duumvirate.
  • Depraved Bisexual: While it's not clear how genuine the attraction is, Emily slept with and married Martin for his money, and had an affair with Siebert in order to make millions.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: How Emily manages to activate the police tracker on Siebert.
  • Electric Torture: Threatened. After Dr Banks's suspicions about Emily start to harden, he takes her to see an electro-convulsive therapy session in the secure hospital. He tells her that it's a very effective treatment for depression, "but who knows what it could do if there's nothing wrong with you?"
  • Establishing Character Moment: Banks is introduced having a conversation in French with a new patient and identifying that the man's delusion of seeing his dead father is a fairly normal part of mourning for Haitians. This establishes him as a very intelligent man and a skilled psychiatrist who is not quick to simply dismiss a patient's problems as them being crazy.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Early in the film, Banks gets hired by a pharmaceutical company to help conduct a drug trial. After the murder trial, Banks meets with the pharma rep who explains that she has to let him go because of the negative publicity surrounding the case. Offhand, the rep mentions that her company has made an unexpected windfall after the stock of the pharma company which manufactures Ablixa took a nosedive. It occurs to Banks that someone may have financially profited from the murder.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Rooney Mara is a beautiful woman, but Emily was apparently able to seduce both Martin and Siebert instantly with her immense beauty.
  • Insanity Defense: Suicidal Emily takes various antidepressants before taking a new experimental drug called Ablixa, which appears to be working until she murders her husband while sleepwalking. At the trial, her current psychiatrist Dr. Banks argues that the drug is to blame, and the defense ends up offering an insanity plea. The trope is subverted in that it's specifically mentioned how low the percentage of success for this type of defense is. Emily is only acquitted by reason of insanity in a plea deal, since the prosecutor realizes that he can't win here, and she must remain in a hospital over a set period. Subverted in that she knew precisely what she was doing and had planned the whole thing with her former psychiatrist Dr. Sieber in order to kill her husband and cash in on the pharmaceutical company's stock plunge. At the end, Dr. Banks figures it out and puts her back into the mental hospital.
  • Instant Seduction: Emily was apparently able to seduce Dr Siebert simply by masturbating on her couch in their first session.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Banks gets Emily readmitted to the psychiatric hospital in almost exactly the same way that Emily back-stabbed Siebert just one scene earlier. He also deliberately prescribes medication for her that genuinely has terrible side-effects, and she ends the film drugged into a zombie-like state; plus it's implied that Banks will use his discretion as her doctor to keep her committed for life.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Dr. Siebert is a feminine woman who's revealed to have been in a relationship with Emily. The latter might also count, or at least be bisexual, as she's equally feminine.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: At the end of the film Banks double-crosses Emily; he prescribes medication that would render her catatonic, and when she refuses the treatment he gets her sent back to the psychiatric ward, where she's heavily medicated anyway. It's immensely grim, but since double jeopardy meant Emily wouldn't face jailtime for murdering her husband and nearly ruining Banks' life, Banks is likely going to make sure she stays committed for a very long time, if not the rest of her life, to make her pay for what she did.
  • Magic Feather/Spotting the Thread: The truth serum Banks gives Emily was a placebo, but she acts as though she were given an actual dose.
  • Morton's Fork: Emily could have taken the medication that left her a zombie, or she could be placed on psychiatric hold for refusing to take her medication that would leave her in Banks' care.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rooney Mara as Emily shows explicit nudity in a sex scene, and is also shown masturbating in front of, then kissing Dr. Siebert.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer plays up the medical drama aspect of the movie, emphasizing the idea of Emily dealing with her medicine's side effects and mentioning that it was made by the folks behind Contagion (2011). While the side-effects are relevant, there is a LOT more going on in the movie.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Emily was able to fix it so everyone got punished for their role in Martin's death. She backstabbed Siebert without a second thought, and then by scamming Banks by pretending to be insane, he was able to turn the tables on her, turn her own con back on itself, and leave her a drugged-up zombie for refusing to take her "medication" that inflicted horrible side effects on her.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Emily, it turns. out faked her insanity, with Dr. Siebert advising her on how to do this. It's all part of a plan to kill Emily's husband, blame it on the drug she was taking, and make money by short-selling the manufacturer's stock due to the negative publicity driving down the price.
  • Predatory Big Pharma: Every which way. At first, this appears to be a more straightforward story about the severely depressed Emily, who is put on Ablixa by Banks, a haughty doctor who has taken money from pharmaceutical companies, only for her to kill her husband while under its effects. It's then revealed that while Banks is taking money from Big Pharma, Emily is conspiring with her former therapist Dr Siebert to drive down and then inflate the price of Ablixa in order for them to make millions together. She killed her husband and frames multiple people for this scheme. However, at the end, Banks proves he's Not So Above It All by placing Emily in an essential permanent coma of emotional torture for framing him, scheming against him, and killing Martin all for money.
  • Product Placement: Dr. Banks drinks Red Bull, uses Apple laptops and Blackberry phones, and drives a BMW. Crazy people drive Volkswagen.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Dr. Banks interviews an agitated Haitian in untranslated French, but then summarises the conversation for the cop who brought him in.
  • Red Herring:
    • The movie knows you're watching a thriller with a massive Chekhov's Armory, and drops as many clues as it can about the makers of Ablixa being behind Martin's murder without following through on any of it.
    • There's also a lot of Subtext suggesting that Banks will be the actual villain, especially given the accusation of sexual impropriety that he kept from his wife. Again, this isn't the case.
    • The exit signs prominent during Emily's first two episodes could be a subversion. On the one hand, they have no relevance to the plot, but they could also be symbolic of Emily's plan to leave ("exit") with the money she got from Siebert.
  • The Reveal: A big, long one towards the end. Emily and Siebert began sleeping together after Emily saw her for the first time. They taught each other their respective skillsets (Siebert showing Emily how to act depressed and Emily explaining what Martin had taught her about financial markets) and orchestrated the whole deal with Ablixa to get rich off the stock market. Banks was just a random casualty of the scheme.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Banks goes on this as the film progresses. Ditto for Emily.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Sleepwalking had already been established as odd but harmless, but in its second appearance there's a rather literal Gut Punch.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Banks starts off as a polite, well-meaning, and competent psychiatrist. After Emily and Siebert ruin his life he becomes a ruthless, full-blown Magnificent Bastard in the course of exacting his vengeance.
  • White-Collar Crime: Why Emily's husband was in jail. Also, it is possible to make money on the stock exchange by betting that a company's shares will go down, rather than up. If you know that a pharmaceutical company's new anti-depressant is going to get some very bad publicity for its side effects, then it's a pretty safe bet.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Emily's favorite technique. She pretends to be depressed in order to kill her husband and get away with it; she pretends that Banks seduced her in order to paint herself as a rape victim, and she plays vulnerable throughout it all.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Banks spends the second half of the film trying to convince people of his theory, but no one helps him until he has a smoking gun. He then turns the tables on Emily, meaning she's forcibly returned to the psychiatric ward even as she's screaming that she's not sick.