August 03, 2013

Mexican Vacation Day 3: The SIDE EFFECTS Of Turtle Watching

"It doesn't make you anything you're not.  It just makes it easier to be you."
Knowing that we had some late night activities planned, I opted to start the day with a movie rather than end it with one.  I've been on a real Soderbergh kick recently, mostly due to the spectre of his apparent retirement from filmmaking.  Assuming he maintains his inactive status,* Soderbergh actually ended up with a sort of double swan song; while Behind The Candelabra is his last film, the fact that it was made for HBO means that his final theatrical release is the psycho-pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects.  The trailers went pretty far out of their way not to reveal a lot of specifics about the plot mechanics, but it's essentially about a depressed, potentially suicidal woman who stands accused of murder but claims that one of the side effects of her anti-depressants rendered her completely unaware of her own actions.  Her shrink (Jude Law) is held responsible in the court of public opinion and launches his own investigation in order to clear his reputation, which leads to the revelation of either a criminal conspiracy or his own psychosis.

I'm not a big fan of the thriller genre, as I feel it's been largely watered down by a glut of generic, boring films (mostly starring Ashley Judd) around the turn of the century.  But I have to admit that Side Effects is actually pretty cleverly constructed; whereas most thrillers are built around some specific lack of information, thus forcing the audience to guess at what happened off screen during a key scene, Soderbergh instead goes the other way, showing us everything as it happens until the viewer is sure of what's going on and then pulling the rug out and revealing that was what it seemed.  It's a very strong choice, essentially forcing you to empathize with Jude Law even as you begin to question his sanity.  The film also has a lot to say about our cultural dependence on medication to solve all our problems as well as some curious double standards in terms of gender in the doctor/patient relationship.  While the final few turns of the plot felt a bit murky, it's still thoroughly engrossing.  Over the course of watching Side Effects, Candelabra and Magic Mike, I've come to seriously fall in love with Soderbergh's camera work and visual style.  If the man really does stop directing films, I think it's a pretty crushing blow to the community at large.

Once Jamie woke up and we'd had breakfast, we decided to return to the northern beaches of Tulum, but this time we'd learned our lesson.  We drove instead of walking and we settled into a more secluded spot, complete with shady lounge chairs, purple hammocks and many, many grande caipirinhas delivered right to the beach.  We basically had the place to ourselves for the day, a gorgeous little inlet that stayed largely shallow until you reached some decent sized waves out past the rocks.  Eventually we went back to Charlie's for a late lunch/early dinner, opting this time for a chorizo quesadilla (my favorite) and chille rellenos.

We took a brief siesta and then drove back out to Akumal to observe sea turtles climbing out of the ocean to lay their eggs up on the shore.  The turtles are afraid of white light, so we brought headlamps with red bulbs in order to see in the dark.  We were a little worried that the turtles might be a no show due to the bright glow of the an almost full moon and the frequent flash of lightning bolts all along the horizon.  But not only did we see multiple tortugas crawling in and out of the surf, but we saw multiple nests and even a little hatchling that Jamie got to hold in the palm of her hand.  Apparently the number of turtle nests rises and falls on alternating years, but this year has seen a record high despite being a scheduled low year.

After walking about a kilometer down the beach to see all the nests, we decided it was time to head back around 10:30.  We got halfway back to our starting point when suddenly the skies opened up and we were caught in a torrential downpour.  The wind whipped the water at us from every angle and the lightning struck so close that it momentarily bleached out my entire field of vision, as if someone had set off a camera flash an inch from my eyeballs.  I saw one guy on the beach calling out for his daughter and I could barely hear him over the wind, despite the fact that the was only standing about three feet away.  We ducked under a thatched roof mean to provide shade for a couple of lounge chairs until the wind died down and made the remainder of our walk bearable.  It was still raining but by then we were soaked to the bone anyway, so we didn't really mind.

But it did make for a soggy drive home and a musty smelling car the next day.

*Turns out we may have little to fear.  Since I first wrote this, Soderbergh has already announced that he'll be producing and directing all 10 episodes of Cinemax's new Clive Owen series The Knick, about the Knickerbocker Hospital in downtown New York in the year 1900, before the advent of antibiotics.  

Title: Side Effects
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vinessa Shaw, Ann Dowd
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Redbox DVD

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