The Lesbian Storyline of Side Effects: A Threat to Good Men Everywhere



Throughout the history of film many female antagonists have emerged to spoil the male protagonists life. Many of us watch a film and search for a character to which we can relate to but what happens when the character we relate to becomes the villain do you still side with them or do we shut out the thought of connecting to the film. In the movie “ Side Effects” we begin to connect with Rooney Mara’s character Emily as her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) returns from prison and she struggles to find the right medication for her depression as seen in the trailer below. However, later In the movie she switches from a likeable protagonist trying to manager her life to a manipulative possibly bisexual, greedy woman attempting to ruin the now psychiatrist Dr. Banks( Jude Law). The issue that arises from this film when viewing with the oppositional gaze lies within the poor use of lesbian representation in the relationship between Emily and Dr. Siebert.

Dominant View

The dominant view of this film starts with the female audience connecting with Emily on a realistic level as she struggles to manage the release of her husband from prison and her depression. She has a wonderful husband Martin who has made mistakes but is attempting to right his wrongs. Emily begins seeing the kind Dr. Banks, after a suicide attempt and begins taking a medication with some adverse side effects. Emily in a medicated haze ends up killing her great husband and ends up on trial for murder.

Here is where the plot twists, Emily claims that the drugs made her do it and puts the blame on the Dr. Banks. Dr. Banks’ life begins to fall apart, he loses his job, his wife and son and almost his mental clarity. He begins to get suspicious and begins investigating Emily further. Through intelligence and clever techniques he figures out that Emily and her former psychiatrist/ lesbian lover Dr. Siebert planned the whole thing in order to play the stock market and become rich. Again Dr. Banks uses his trickery to pit the two women against each other eventually winning the battle and putting Dr. Siebert behind bars and Emily back into a mental hospital. All in all the good Doctor takes down the manipulative lesbians that ruined his life and punishes them the best way he knows how. The lesbian story line in this film is use to further twist the plot and add just one more thing that can be read into the motive.

Why this Dominant Interpretation is flawed?

The flaw that stuck out to me when I watched this film is the unnecessary lesbian story line. As a lesbian I felt as if I should be connected to these characters because they have a similar sexual orientation. I am all for LGBT representation in film but this was jut done very poorly. The first issue is that it is unnecessary, aside from adding a male fantasy into the movie that male viewers can enjoy it serves no more of a purpose than if the two women had just been in the scam for the money. There is no real love in the relationship as is clear when they both rat each other out for a better deal. The second issue I find with this story line is how the two are filmed together. It is clearly two straight actors directed by a straight man. While watching it from my oppositional gaze I picked apart the flaws in each scene between the two and could not find the chemistry or the lesbian viewpoint. It was just in place for the male audience to gawk at, which is clear from the innocent young girl and the older thick rimmed glasses wearing psychiatrist dynamic as seen in the still frames below.


images-2Also there is nothing realistic about the slow motion glasses removal in the scene where Emily reveals the truth even the dialogue in the clip below is disturbingly bad. The dialogue between the two women is scant and right out of a soft-core porn movie. Reaffirming that male viewers would rather see two lesbian characters make out than listen to them have a legitimate conversation about the possibility of getting caught committing a crime.

Another issue I found in this was the issue with creating lesbians as a threat to good men, or the idea that strong intelligent women are out to destroy men. It creates the connection that strong women can create an ingenious yet cruel plan and ultimately forces us to lose the connection to them and we stop rooting for those like us

Lesbians in film are often seen as predatory and this film does not help that stereotype. Janet McCabe (pg. 56) uses a quote from Tasmin Wilton to further expand on this concept stating, “ women who identify as ‘lesbian’ inhabit a particular set of interstices among social notions of gender, desire, deviance, criminality, sin, naturalness’. We can see these notions come in to play as we notice that the lesbian characters in the film display these attributes. Dr. Siebert is overly sexualized in the way she dresses and in the conversations between the two women as well as her conversations with Dr. Banks. Over-sexualization is also seen in the way that Emily seduces Dr. Siebert into her little scheme. Dr. Siebert and Emily also ruin the lives of two men in the film through the use of femininity and playing the role of the victim. They also play off of the male characters need to protect victims or those who are weaker which causes the audience to turn against them for destroying the male “hero” prospective. There is nothing wrong with lesbian villains the trouble is when we applaud Dr. Bank’s voyeurism in the final scene when he punishes Emily for her wrong doing in his own messed up way. We are expected to be proud of him for taking his life back but underneath he is exploiting his power over her.

Describe how you employed an oppositional gaze to challenge the media text.

At first I attempted to view this film through the dominant view and simple watched the film without reading into the context too much. I tried to focus on the form and how the movie itself was based on the evils of big pharma and tried to put myself in the place of Dr. Banks and how I would attempt to fight back against someone trying to take what I had worked so hard for. When viewing it the second time I took an oppositional gaze and focused on the flaws that I had tried to ignore the first time. The oppositional gaze I took was that from the lesbian viewer’s perspective. I watched the film and instead of trying to relate to the male characters point of view I took the side of the female characters within the lesbian storyline. However, this is where most of the flaws I found came from. Putting myself in their shoes brought up too many issues because the storyline is not believable. Bell Hooks (pg. 117) in her presentation of the Black female spectator states, “ black viewers of movies and television experienced visual pleasure in a context where looking was also about contestation and confrontation. “ I have to say that I felt the same way, I experienced more pleasure in watching the film with a critical lens and contesting the plot and characters than I did trying to take the dominant viewpoint.

Viewing the film allowed me to see the film in a new light. Instead of getting a little bit of enjoyment from the basic elements of the film, I found enjoyment in contesting the point of the film that did not quite sit right with me.


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