An entertaining movie with unpredictable twists, Side Effects (Soderbergh, 2013) had me thinking. It is certainly representative of our times, when so many people are on medication. It came to mind, then, what others have proposed—that some of our difficulties may be unintended consequences of introducing new technologies into our daily lives, i.e., side effects of civilizing (Cowan, 1983; Brynjolfsson, 1993).
Why do so many people need medication today?
In all areas over the past two centuries, mankind has made mind-blowing advancements—especially in technology and healthcare. Our lives are more convenient than ever before with all that the world has to offer at our fingertips. So, why do so many people need medication Continue reading Side Effects of Civilizing→
In Texas, people usually like to call a spade a spade. But, is a rose still a rose?
You may have heard on the news about a California man who was put under 72-hour psychiatric observation when it was found he owned 100 guns and allegedly had 100,000 rounds of ammunition stored in his home. The house also featured a secret escape tunnel.
By West Coast standards someone like this would be considered ‘mentally unstable.’ What California lacks is the proper perspective—as usual.
In Arkansas, he’d be called ‘a novice gun collector.’
In Utah, he’d be called ‘moderately well prepared,’ but they might reserve judgment until they made sure that he had a corresponding quantity of stored food.
In Kansas, he’d be ‘a guy down the road you would want to have for a friend.’
In Alabama, he’d be called ‘a likely gubernatorial candidate.’
In Georgia, he’d be called ‘an eligible bachelor.’
In North Carolina, Mississippi, and South Carolina, he would be called ‘a deer hunting buddy.’
And in Texas,
he’s just ‘Bubba, who’s a little short on ammo.’
Coming from Texas myself, I get this.
Forwarded to me recently, I thought this email message was funny, but I also considered seriously the fact that people have a wide spectrum of notions about others whose behavior seems to them to be outside accepted social norms. Our movies this fall provide us an opportunity to examine evidence of such viewpoints that may have entered our minds through the work of filmmakers. The following is a comment on the first film in our series, Side Effects:
The depiction of the pharmaceutical industry in the film is accurate—and just because it’s accurate does not mean people will not take offense. But from my perspective as a psychiatrist, I think we should depict things in a realistic way. The only way that we will ultimately deal with the stigma of mental illness is to be more realistic, open and honest about the illness, its treatment and how it all works (Grigoryev, 2013).
The story in Side Effects reveals differences between Great Britain and America in attitudes toward medicine. In America, we want a pill for everything: a pill to lose weight, a pill to ease anxiety, a pill to focus, a pill to sleep, a pill to lower cholesterol, a pill to eradicate pain.
Pills are often talked about among teachers in break rooms, between parents on playgrounds, and among my fellow bridge players. Recently, as I was trying to concentrate on making a bid during an intense game, my playing partner was casually discussing a recent prescription.
Yet, we are all aware how addiction to certain prescription drugs have wrecked havoc on people’s lives. During a family friend’s college years, he received his Adderal medication, prescribed for ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), in the mail on a regular basis, which his mother disguised in mint wrappers. Otherwise, his fellow college students would be scrambling over the elixir of focus.
Members of my family are dependent on pills for various reasons, from ADHD to anxiety. My teenage granddaughter can name which of her friends take medication. Some private schools even mandate medication for enrollment of certain students. This is America, where pills, and the psychiatrists who prescribe them, are embraced with open arms.
British attitudes are different
England is different. The stiff upper lip is not a myth. Generally speaking, the British do not brazenly broadcast what medications they take or what psychiatrist they are currently seeing. While Americans openly seek referrals for psychiatrists to help better themselves, the British consider it more negatively as a sign of sickness.
British society appears to have little tolerance for individuals who fail to maintain their self-control, and there seems to be a tendency to label such individuals sick and in need of treatment. For example, while British psychiatrists seem less likely to label patients “sick” than psychiatrists of other countries, the symptoms that they tend to overemphasize are those that indicate the patient has lost self-control (Payer, 1988, p. 112-113).
This of course affects the career paths of psychiatrists in England as opposed to psychiatrists in America.
Director Steven Soderbergh relied on British actor Jude Law to portray this insane contrast between Brits and Americans in Side Effects, which starts with blood and gore, ends with tears, and jerks the audience in wild directions in between. The brilliant writing on a timely subject matter keeps the viewer intensely intrigued.
Pills required in today’s world?
It is easy to broadly criticize, and shake your head at the sheer number of pills being prescribed in America today. However, there is no denying that these pills are effective, otherwise why are doctors prescribing them left and right? Certain people do need certain pills to function in today’s world, which is not a world for which the human species evolved. (Anthropology speak).
For example, only in recent history of mankind are children expected to sit in a classroom at a desk, focus on the teacher, and learn from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week. Many kids with ADHD are incapable of this. Thus, schools ask that these children be medicated to make the teachers’ jobs easier. This is medicating humans to adapt to today’s world.
Researchers believe that ADHD was actually an advantage hundreds of years ago when human beings needed the energy and easy distractibility to escape from predators and to migrate from place to place in search of food and shelter. There is a theory that the high incidence of ADHD in America stems from those in Europe who were “fiddle-footed” and willing to risk their lives to board a ship and sail across the Atlantic to the unknown. Maybe ADHD is still an advantage today as many high achievers have it and are able to channel it to their benefit. Channing Tatum, one of the stars in this movie is reported to have the condition (Nall, 2016).
It’s the side effects that give people pause
Yet it’s the side effects that give people pause. Watching my husband agonize over leg pain that is a side effect of Lipitor, which is a pill to reduce cholesterol, gives me reason to address health issues with nutrition and exercise, rather than to automatically pop a pill, and cope with side effects. This approach seems similar to what a Brit would do.
However, pills work. Otherwise, why are the doctors who are doing the prescribing also taking the pills themselves? To embody the character Dr. Jonathan Banks in Side Effects, Jude Law studied the field of psychiatry and has respect for what psychiatrists do to help people with real problems. England seems to be catching up with America in acknowledging this. Do you doubt that in the movie Dr. Banks was taking medication himself?
In the year 2013, after releasing the movie Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh decided that directing movies was not fun anymore and announced his retirement. Since Side Effects was to be his last theatrical film, all the actors in that cast felt honored to be included in his last big fling.
Actors like working with director Soderbergh
Actors who have worked with Soderbergh have appreciated the opportunity because he is said to create a great environment, work fast, and doesn’t stop for naps or endless takes. Every actor in Side Effects said that Soderbergh did a lot of the work for them. There weren’t many holes in the script.
For Catherine Zeta-Jones, this was the third time working with him. She was drawn to the Side Effects script because “it gets inside the mind. The audience has to think.”
Channing Tatum had to change his rough and tumble persona to play a white-collar character. Soderbergh also wanted the actor to change the way he spoke, which Tatum found most challenging. An accent would not have been a problem, but normal speech is difficult.
Rooney Mara prepared for her part as a depressed person by talking to people who suffer from depression and by watching YouTube videos on the topic.
Vinessa Shaw, who plays Dierdre Banks in the movie, said she had to battle internal insecurity, and to keep from thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
Soderbergh not really “retired”
Every actor expressed regret that Soderbergh would not direct anymore, but they need not worry. Soderbergh has not been living anywhere near a “retired state” for the past three years. He told GQ, “I want to be there, but I don’t want to be the director. I want to be in the band, but I don’t want to be the front man this time.”
He had his first attempt at the New York stage with his off-Broadway show, “The Library,” which follows the aftermath of a school shooting. “I’m defining the success of this play by how scared I was doing it.”
Other projects included directing 10 episodes of “The Knick,” editing movies that are not his own: Psycho and Heaven’s Gate, importing Bolivian liquor that dates back to 1530, which he learned about while filming Che (2008a, 2008b) in 2007, and tweeting an entire novella. (Remember that’s 140 characters at a time.)
He has a website, Extension 765, which is a place for his random thoughts about film, cable TV, and anything else on his mind. He also posts the movies he’s seen, books he’s read, and TV shows he has watched.
Will he return to directing feature films?
Will Steven Soderbergh go back to directing big time movies? The word is, “Yes.” He may take on The Panama Papers (Fleming, 2016), a movie based on Jake Bernstein’s forthcoming book, Secrecy World, about the biggest data leak in history (Stack, Erlanger, Rousseau, Forsythe, MacFarquhar, & Castle, 2016).
Let’s hope this news is correct. Then maybe from there, he can do Toole’s, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980).
Bernstein, J. (forthcoming in 2017). Secrecy World. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Bickford, L., del Toro, B. (Producers), & Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2008a). Che: The Argentine [Motion Picture]. United States: IFC Films.
Bickford, L., del Toro, B. (Producers), & Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2008b). Che: Guerilla [Motion Picture]. United States: IFC Films.
di Bonaventura, L., Jacobs, G., & Burns, S. (Producers), & Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2013). Side Effects [Motion Picture]. United States: OpenRoad Films.