Soderbergh’s Side Effects: Rooney Mara, Social Class and Same Sex Relations

Soderbergh’s Side Effects: Rooney Mara, Social Class and Lesbian Sex


Where I argue that Side Effects is about a man’s quest to expose a lesbian couple that has framed him for a multi-million dollar insider trading scheme. Why is it interesting? Because Rooney Mara is very beautiful, and she plays a bisexual character. We are tricked not once, but twice into believing this unlikely story. But because Rooney Mara is a beautiful star, it makes for an even more astute story about the appearances of seduction.


Electricity howling in the bones of her face.

1. The Set-Up

This part of the movie is entirely fake. What we see is Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) going through a depression (in a strangely attractive doomed lover kind of way) but what she’s really plotting is the preparation of each step leading up to her husband’s premeditated murder.

2. The Detecting
The murder case is attracting media attention which gets Jude Law, Emily’s psychologist, pushed out of his partnership at the clinic because of “bad publicity”. Bad publicity, or, the media’s reduction of his own story, is what sets him out to conduct his own investigation. Like the Jimmy Stewart of Vertigo, he traces back the steps of the “The Set-Up” as executed by the beautiful Rooney Mara, and detects all its inconsistencies. He makes the right connections, and puts on a performance of his own to fool the unsuspecting parties involved. In the process, he has a spat with his wife, because detective work, serious detective work, is of course, always a lonely affair.

3. The Truth

Where we are fooled by Jude Law to maximize the effect of our surprise, but also to illustrate the fact that Rooney Mara is an extremely beautiful and talented performer that if given the chance could very well get away with murder, only if Jude Law himself wasn’t such an extraordinary detective, visual thinker,  competent psychologist, and when need be, an expert manipulator, just as equally clever as Rooney Mara’s own murder plot.

4. Emily’s Story

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a beautiful murderous psychopath, a master storyteller, a magnetic performer, and a calculating cold and vicious machine. However she is trapped, literally incarcerated, and force-fed a diet of sedatives. Her psychiatrist needs a confession to save his reputation, and she sketches it out for him beautifully, matching every single one of the clues that he uncovered. She even provides a backstory, a rationale for the plot, about failed love and broken dreams. So rational and yet primitively instinctive and murderous. If Jude Law’s own sense of pride wasn’t in need of remission, both these two would make a wonderfully rich and creative couple, riffing off each other’s narrative mechanics. Emily Taylor finally meets her match. But they are also competitors, so one will have to lose.

5. Double Crossing

With Rooney Mara’s confession in tow, she is promised her freedom if she agrees to wear a wire. She wears the wire, but when she expects to be released, she is put back inside the asylum. Jude Law resumes his normal life ( “normal narrative”) with his not-as-beautiful-as-Rooney Mara wife, and her kid (this is important, it is not his kid, it is his wife’s from a previous marriage). The stability of domesticity trumps the seductive chaos of Rooney Mara’s desperately Machiavellian ploys.

6. The End

There comes a time in every director’s life where he has to prove to himself that he can write an engaging story about the dark side of life. In the process, he pays homage to the heartbreaking beauty that enabled this rite of passage, but he also entraps her, and makes sure she never again jeopardizes his potential to become the architect of his own life, instead of being the hapless actor of someone else’s script. Reverse Vertigo, Scottie gets his revenge.


Categories: female leads, Notes

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