Side Effects, the new film from Steven Soderbergh that’s now in theaters, is a twisty thriller, more gris than noir, in which almost every character is taking mood-adjusting prescription drugs. Beta blockers, Adderall, Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, Zoloft, Wellbutrin—in the film, these real-world drugs are casually discussed at cocktail parties and liberally dispensed by doctors for pre-interview jitters, anxiety, the blues, you name it. (Another recent release, Silver Linings Playbook, also features a memorable conversation about name-brand meds. Is this the dawn of Cinema Pharma?)
The pivotal pill in Side Effects, however, is an invented one. “Ablixa” (generic name “alipazone”) is introduced as an antidepressant with an upbeat slogan—“Take Back Tomorrow”—and some worrisome side effects that include confusion, suicidal thoughts, and sleepwalking (and also, as it turns out, sleep-table-setting, sleep-loud-music-playing, and sleep-vegetable-slicing).
To say anything more about the plot would spoil the pleasures of this grim yet exhilarating movie, so I’ll stick to the Ablixa story, which contains some surprises of its own.