Side Effects: the movie plot & ending explained

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Side Effects is a movie released in 2013, available on Netflix US starting in 2022. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, among others, it’s a psychological thriller with several plot twists that could make the story hard to follow. After watching the movie, you may need to read a deeper analysis, having the plot and the ending explained. In this article, we will provide all answers.

You can watch the official trailer for Side Effects here on Youtube.

Side Effects, the plot: is Emily a victim of a medical error?

For the first half of Side Effects, the plot seems relatively easy to follow: Emily is a woman who suffers from depression; her husband got out of jail recently (he was convicted for insider trading), and she feels overwhelmed by the situation and the financial struggle. She has several breakdowns in public, so many people are aware of her condition. One day, she drives her car against the wall, trying to kill herself. She gets checked by Dr. Jonathan Banks, who agrees to see her regularly.

Dr. Banks also contacts Emily’s old psychiatrist, Dr. Siebert, who suggests he prescribe Emily a new experimental drug, Ablixa (for the most curious: no, it doesn’t exist in real life). Some days later, Emily meets Dr. Banks and tells him that her colleague Julia used Ablixa and felt much better. A bit reluctant, Dr. Banks prescribes Emily the drug Ablixa.

Emily claims to feel immediately better but has some sleepwalking episodes. Her husband, Martin, is worried and asks Dr. Banks to stop the therapy, but Emily convinces him to keep going. After that, we watch another sleepwalking episode, during which Emily kills her husband.

At the trial, the judge declares Emily not guilty of voluntary murder but a victim of Ablixa’s side effects. She’s kept in a psychiatric institute and followed by Dr. Banks. Up to now, the plot seems clear: Emily’s husband is dead, she’s not in jail, and she will spend a temporary period at the psychiatric hospital; meanwhile, Dr. Banks’ career and reputation are destroyed, and they fire him from all his jobs. Everybody tries to convince Dr. Banks to move on, but he gets obsessed with what happened and wants to understand better if Emily was really a victim of Ablixa’s side effects or if there is something more. Here is where the truth behind the events starts to emerge, which is where the movie Side Effects needs to be explained. Let’s see it together.

The plot twists and Emily’s confession

Dr. Banks starts suspecting that Emily didn’t tell him the truth. He sees in her office many ads about car crashes; there is no Julia among her colleagues. Besides, he discovers that someone is making a lot of money by investing against Ablixa before Emily’s case came up publicly (a typical case of insider trading, someone knew what was going to happen and speculated on it). He creates a trap for Emily: he tells her that he will give her a serum that will make her tired, and she falls asleep almost instantly. But we discover later that the doctor gave her just saline water: Emily is lying, faking her symptoms, and Dr. Banks understands that she’s a criminal whose behavior ruined his life. He starts planning how to fix it.

Dr. Banks discovers that Dr. Siebert wrote an essay about sleepwalking as a side effect of Ablixa, and he starts suspecting that she’s also involved. He meets Dr. Siebert and tells her that Emily “told him everything.” Dr. Siebert reacts vigorously, then sends Dr. Banks’ wife photos of the meetings between him and Emily, including some sexy pics of Emily. His wife leaves him, but this way, Dr. Banks is sure that Emily and Dr. Siebert are together in this situation. He wants revenge against both for ruining his life and comes up with a plan.

First, he meets Dr. Siebert again and convinces him to plot against Emily, simulating her paying him under Emily’s window. That makes Emily panic, and in these conditions, Dr. Banks manages to have a full confession from Emily: she has an affair with Dr. Siebert, and while Emily’s husband is in jail, the two plan everything. Emily taught Dr. Siebert about insider trading, and Siebert explained to her how to fake depression symptoms. When Emily’s husband got released, Emily started to fake suicide attempts and depression. She manages to get the prescription for Ablixa, which was necessary for the insider trading operation made by Dr. Siebert. Then she killed her husband, simulating Ablixa’s sleepwalking side effects.

Dr. Banks gets the necessary confession, but his life is still upside down. Emily comes up with a proposal that could fix everything, bringing us to the movie’s ending: let’s see Side Effects ending, explained.

Side Effects: the movie ending explained

Emily makes an agreement with Dr. Banks: if he gives medical advice to release her, she will meet Dr. Siebert and record proof of her involvement, to get her arrested. This is what we see at the movie’s ending, after Emily leaves the psychiatric institute. Emily meets Dr. Siebert and makes her talk about their foreign accounts, where she stored the gains from insider trading activities. Dr. Siebert gets arrested.

Is it over? Not yet, because Dr. Banks still has the chance to get his revenge against Emily. He cannot accuse her of murder because a trial has already declared her innocent of that crime. But he can use his power as his psychiatrist to create another trap: he prescribes her a mix of drugs with serious side effects, triggering her violent reaction while witnesses are outside his door. Then he declares Emily reluctant to collaborate according to the law, which leads Emily again inside a psychiatric institute.

At the ending of Side Effects, we see Emily watching outside through the bars at the window of the psychiatric institute, and we realize that Dr. Banks took his complete revenge: Dr. Siebert is in jail, Emily is isolated in the institute, his reputation is restored, and his life is back to normality. And the movie’s final moments have explained Dr. Banks’ final goals in Side Effects.

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