Maniac: A hallucinogenic journey through the human mind

This new Netflix original will have you feel like you’re hallucinating


Official Maniac Facebook Page

By Nicole Bates, Collegian Correspondent

New Netflix Original Show “Maniac” takes its viewers on a psychological journey as the two leading characters Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), partake in a psychoactive drug trial for a large pharmaceutical company. The show is set in a futuristic version of New York City where the Statue of Liberty has been replaced with a winged Statue of “Extra Liberty.” The aesthetic of this world could be an alternate, dystopic version of the 1970s, as much as it could be the 2020s. In the world of the show, there are several new technologies including poop bots that clean the streets of dog poop and a new payment option called adbuddy, where you can opt to have advertisement companies pay if you sit and listen to someone reading ads to you later.

The main characters, Annie and Owen, live very bleak lives that lack personal connections. Annie has no family left, besides her dad who lives in an “A-void” pod in his backyard. She has resorted to abusing one of the pharmaceutical drugs, which makes her relive the day she killed her sister in a car accident, just so she can be with her sister again and again. Owen, on the other hand, has a large family; however, as the prosperous inventors of the poop bot, they live a very controlled life in order to avoid damaging the company’s reputation. Owen, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and often has hallucinations, decided to live his own separate life away from his family’s corrupt ways. He faces the moral dilemma of having to testify in a court case about his brother sexually assaulting a woman, where he has to figure out if what he saw was real or part of his psychosis. Both characters end up together in the drug trial for different reasons: Annie is a drug addict that needs a fix and Owen needs money, but they both end up finding comfort in each other.

All the elements of the show work together harmoniously to tell this bizarrely heartwarming story that illuminates the very isolating world the show is set in. The chemistry between Hill and Stone as they transition through different dream-like states while hallucinating on the drug really captures the viewers’ attention. The main characters Owen are not only compelling but also have complex and fascinating storylines. There is romantic tension between Doctor Fujita and Doctor Mantleray that offers an alluring side narrative to the main narrative following Annie and Owen. This secondary storyline offers another dimension to the show, providing more insight into the lives of the doctors running the trials. Additionally, the relationship between Doctor Mantleray and his celebrity psychologist mother, Greta, creates even more tension. It is unsettling for the viewers to watch a son who try to create a machine that will cure mental illness to one up his mother, who is famous for her therapy books. What makes the story more interesting is that the computer running the drug trials, GRTA, was given a consciousness by Doctor Fujita that is supposed to resemble Greta Mantleray. The computer develops feelings and this is when the show gets really exciting.

What makes the show a ‘feel-good’ program to watch is the realization that there is some sort of unbreakable connection between Annie and Owen in the trial. Though the trial is not designed for the subjects to be connected in their hallucinations Annie and Owen are consistently in each other’s dream worlds. The scientists view this as a glitch in the system, however, it could be interpreted that Annie and Owen belong together and their bond is so strong, it is more powerful than the computer. The variety of wild adventures these characters experience together while on the drug also provides a very rich, thrilling experience for viewers.  It is a show that certainly keeps its viewers on their toes as the story is constantly changing with each segment of the drug trial. First, Annie and Owen are in a dream-like hallucination where they are a married couple from Long Island. Annie is Linda and Owen is Bruce, and the two go on a wild chase for a lemur. They then transition into a film noir world where they attend a séance and have to find a “missing chapter” from “Don Quixote”. In their final hallucination together, Owen is an Icelandic representative at the NATO conference for the UN named Snorri and he delivers a hilarious performance with an Austria-Finnish-Swede-Dutch-Italian-Icelandic accent. Annie’s character comes to Snorri’s rescue as his CIA escort as there is an impending mass moving towards earth. This final hallucination is a wild journey where both characters find some sort of relief.  Stone and Hill’s transition wonderfully from character to character as their original characters transition through these hallucinations. Both actors offer stunning performances that are wildly entertaining and thought provoking.

Clocking in at about forty minutes per episode, in a ten-episode series, this show is perfect to add next on your watch list. It is not a big time commitment, but it is a very rich story. If you enjoyed shows like “Black Mirror” or “Westworld,” you are sure to enjoy this whacky, futuristic show. It really makes you think about how mental health is treated in our society and how people are taught to deal with hardships. “Maniac” is a stunning program that definitely starts a conversation about mental health.

Nicole Bates can be reached at [email protected]