Maniac Nails What Its Like Living with Mental Illness

The drug trial in Maniac is like ayahuasca on steroids, mixed with LSD experiments from the 70s. It captures the extremes people are willing to go to ...

Maniac Nails What Its Like Living with Mental Illness

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Maniac Nails What Its Like Living with Mental Illness

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Maniac on Netflix. The best part of Netflix’s new series, Maniac, isn’t Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in 1980s Long Island cosplay, or the show’s superb retro-futuristic imagining of New York. No, the best part of the 10-episode limited series created and written by Patrick Somerville and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga comes midway through the season, when Annie, Owen, and the other subjects of a mysterious pharmaceutical trial talk through their drug-fueled hallucinations, or “Reflections” as they’re called in the show, with the scientist in charge of their study, Dr

James K. Mantleray. A wall of monitors behind them magnifies every expression and eye twitch while Dr

Mantleray quizzes his patients on their latest medically-induced drug trip. The drug trial in Maniac is like ayahuasca on steroids, mixed with LSD experiments from the 70s. It captures the extremes people are willing to go to exorcise their psychological demons, even if it means puking your brains out in the Brazilian rainforest or spending three days trapped in a lab that looks like the set of a Stanley Kubrick film

Of course, Maniac wouldn’t be a TV show if everything went as intended. Anyone with imagination and a cross-genre love of storytelling will get a kick out of watching the cast and crew of Maniac play pretend. I found Maniac entrancing, because I’m drawn to the kind of skillful sci-fi world-building of Spike Jonze’s film Her or George Saunders’s short stories

In Maniac’s parallel New York City, there’s a Statue of Extra Liberty and the advertising is more insidious. Yes, Maniac is aesthetically gorgeous, with its IBM-meets-Kubrick bathed in neon production design and hauntingly beautiful musical score. What really made me love this show-what propelled me through all ten episodes in the span of several days and left me weeping on the couch next to my roommate’s cat-is the way it tackled mental illness

We’ve yet to get many stories that grapple with the experience of living with mental illness and trying to fix yourself. I don’t mean to trivialize mental illness-Hill’s character Owen is schizophrenic and has stopped taking his meds; Stone’s character Annie is self-medicating her depression by abusing the A pill from the clinical trial. Maniac is being compared to films like Melancholia and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I was reminded of Girl, Interrupted especially during Maniac’s final scene. Watching Annie break Owen out of a psychiatric ward, the two of them peeling away in an old truck, reminded me of the scenes where Lisa, Susanna, and the other girls gleefully sneak out of their hospital rooms at night. I’m not sure whether Maniac is an ultimately triumphant story-the series leaves its ending pretty vague

As his subjects leave the clinical trial, Dr. Mantleray congratulates them, despite the chaos that has ensued. As Dr

Fujita points out, the GTRA was modeled on psychological therapies pioneered by Dr. Mantleray’s mother, Greta, during her doctoral studies. Maniac works because, one way or another, we’ve witnessed our protagonists battle something really scary and come out the other side better for it.

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