Maniac Portrays Life with a Mental Illness

Writer Patrick Somerville and director Cary Foji Fukanaga have worked with Netflix to bring viewers the Black Mirror-esque, ten episode sci-fi/dark comedy mini-series: Maniac. Somerville and Fukanaga were actually inspired by a Norwegian television program of the same name which follows a psychiatric ward patient living in a fantasy world within his own mind. Netflix’s rendition of Maniac aims to target mental illness stigmas when two strangers are brought together for an experimental pharmaceutical drug trial.

The show begins by introducing the viewers to the two main characters, Annie Landsberg (portrayed by Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (portrayed by Jonah Hill). Annie is a troubled individual who struggles to deal with her relationships with her family members and is suffering from an addiction to a pill that is central to the show’s pharmaceutical trial. Owen, the son of a wealthy family, is recovering from a recent mental breakdown and is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Viewers see him experience the world around him start shaking violently and for him, it is extremely real. Owen is also visited by a never-born brother who is instructing Owen on his current “mission.” The two eventually meet at the aforementioned pharmaceutical drug trial when Owen approaches Annie, as his “brother” told him that she was his contact for the mission. The drug in question is manufactured by Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech (NPB) and promises to effectively heal any mental ailment that one might have.

The pharmaceutical trial consists of three stages, each with its own specific pill, and is meant to replace all other forms of therapy. The whole process is run by a supercomputer , GRTA, built by Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux), and works to remap the brain throughout the trial.

After taking each pill, the subjects of the trial are subjected to a dream state where they will experience induced “visions” specific to each pill. The first pill, “Pill A”, forces them to relive the worst day of their life, effectively revealing the root of their trauma. The second pill, and perhaps the most compelling is “Pill B”, and forces the subjects into a dream state where they each experience different lives and is an effort to discover a mental illness. The show capitalizes on Owen’s infatuation with Annie when GRTA becomes depressed and causes the two to become a part of each others’ “dream worlds.” The final pill, “Pill C”, delivers a sense of acceptance to the subjects.

Throughout the course of the show, Annie and Owen discuss their dreams with Dr. Mantleray, allowing them, and the rest of the subjects, to start to become aware of their issues and how to resolve them. Maniac is one of the few shows that show what it is like to live with mental illness and a constant yearning to get better, which is in the end, aside from the pill, aided by the budding friendship between Owen and Annie.