Nick Olson’s unpacks Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Side Effects:
Soderbergh describes his approach as, in a sense, mathematical in a recent interview with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, and Vishnevetsky does well to identify a few recurring Soderberghian interests that, in my opinion, enable a kind of quantified space for his craft: therapeutic psychiatry, economic/market forces, and the secret plans of con-men/con-women–all of which, notably, are in play here. But these sort of contexts not only give a distinct narrative shape; they also provide the impetus for narrative conflict–a playful space for missing, manipulated, and/or generally disorienting narrative variables. That is, we can become unaware of the side effects of antidepressants, or that the reason we’re prescribed a particular pill has unseen economic implications, or that we are being conned. This allows Soderbergh the ability to deceive us, but in such a way that we’re invested in the baseline way of seeing the math add up.
Millman feels that “best thing about the film is the way in which Soderbergh builds his trap for us”:
For much of the earlier part of the film, we’re “with” Mara, and both the way it is shot and the way it is scored encourage us to believe the story we are being told, about a woman with terrible depression. It’s not just a matter of tricking us about her character – it’s also a matter of tricking us about what genre of film we’re in, which is to say, in part, what kind of moral universe we are in: a world in which intentionality and fault are fuzzy concepts because we understand too well their chemical origins, and in which medical professionals elide easily into repositories for our discarded moral sense, the people who are ultimately responsible for our actions, though they are, in reality, just human beings like ourselves.
But the shift of genre upends this world.