“Maniac”focuses on human minds, complex emotions

Fantastic, weird, fragmented and beautiful are all words one could use to describe “Maniac,” Netflix’s new show released on Sept. 21. The complex mini-series was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and it analyzes the mind using a unique plot format. 

The series consists of 10 episodes throughout which Owen Milgrim—played by Jonah Hill—and Annie Landsberg—Emma Stone—find themselves taking part in a pharmaceutical trial for a drug that promises to heal people from all of their psychological pain. The episodes in the series take place over a three-day period in New York City of some distant future or alternate universe.

The series opens with a narrator reflecting on how the universe formed, the possible existence of parallel universes and the infinite connections that can exist between us and the world around us. It then comically moves to a scene where Annie jams a newspaper dispenser to get enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes. 

Owen is first introduced to the audience as he prepares a testimony to absolve his brother from allegations of sexual assault. Here, the audience learns that Owen is hiding some form of psychosis from his family; his “brother” named Jed—Billy Magnussen—is really just a hallucination of a person who tells him that he will save the world. 

As the episodes progress, the audience accompanies the characters through various pill consumptions that make them relive a memory or cause their minds to create a kind of dream sequence. While the audience recognizes different people or events, the characters themselves experience these scenes as new people with different relationships and lives. 

This fragmented storytelling has received criticism from some viewers while it has been lauded by others.

Once the audience learns how the series focuses on the human mind as the last great frontier, this fragmented storytelling makes sense. The show becomes an interesting analysis of the ways in which our minds craft stories to help us understand our lives and the emotions we experience.

Both Hill and Stone’s characters are complex and sympathetic as they both try to escape pain from their pasts and make sense of their futures for themselves. As their characters grow closer throughout the series and appear in each other’s pill-induced fantasies, it becomes clear that “Maniac” is about much more than the ways that our minds process our experiences. 

This series comments on the symptoms of the disconnection human beings feel despite living in the technologically-advanced and socially-connected world. It’s about the false patterns that our minds create so we understand various experiences and how those false connections impact the ways that we interact with each other and ourselves. 

“Maniac” also focuses on humanity’s relationship to robots and technology. The show examines the boundaries of a computer’s “feelings” and the ways that robots can and can’t replace other humans in our lives. 

This complex mini-series is worth time and attention; if not for these examinations, then for the impressive world-building that each episode boasts, and for the interesting depictions of our brain’s natural processes.