“Side Effects” is a Steven Sodenberg film featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jude Law, and Channing Tatum. In the film our protagonist kills her husband, supposedly as a side effect to a popular new anti-depressant, the fictional Ablixa, the latest drug of the newest generation of SSRI antidepressants designed to inhibit the flow of serotonin. Toward the end of the film, we find out that the protagonist, while not crazy by her definition, needs to be institutionalized because she is suffering from emotional issues she has not completely owned up to.
The film explores legal, emotional, and analytic issues with the field of psychiatry such as transference , the mental and emotional condition of the psychiatrists that treat patients for mental conditions, the means through which pharmaceutical corporations utilize psychiatrists to administer and “push” new drugs onto the population, and other ethical issues surrounding the practice. While not necessarily sitting in judgement of psychiatry or SSRI anti-depressants, it does bring into question the willingness of a new psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), to exploit a patient already represented by another psychiatrist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones), by introducing her to a new drug, Ablixa, when other SSRI anti-depressants are ineffective.
The problem Jonathan Banks has in treating Emily Taylor is an ethical one. Upon the realization that his treatment did not cause Emily Taylor to kill her husband, he continues to push her to tell the truth, even going as far as to administer a truth serum after she has been found innocent of the crime of killing her husband, while still hospitalized under his care in a psychiatric ward. Ultimately, he has to use Emily Taylor to entrap Victoria, to clear his own name as a psychiatrist; in doing so he plays the psychiatrist and patient off of each other and ends up retaining Emily Taylor as a patient under his care against her own will.
There are a few different ways of looking at this. Jonathan Banks should have minded his own business and found another patient that really is depressed to administer his drugs too. After all, taking Emily Taylor on as a patient cost him his consulting job, and he lost whatever patients he would have were he focused on what he should be doing as a respectable psychiatrist. But he is up against the wall, desperate to maintain his decadent lifestyle, and has found a way to manipulate his profession to enrich himself. Neither psychiatrist is respectable or above the fray; Victoria’s illicit affair with Emily Taylor is part of the reason she killed her husband, and Emily provided financial information to Victoria to help her cheat the stock market. In the end, everyone is guilty, and no one wins; how long can Jonathan Banks keep Emily Taylor in the psychiatric ward, when she isn’t crazy to begin with?