The world of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Maniac is uncanny, dystopian, but undeniably beautiful in its surrealism. Jonah Hill plays the wary schizophrenic Owen Milgrim with a strange grace, inviting us in at the same time as remaining utterly unpredictable, while Emma Stone as Annie Landsberg is likewise both endearing and unlikeable in brilliant alternation.
We are instantly thrust into Owen’s subjective world, where the question “Do you know what’s real?” has no immediate answer, and the only reasonable viewpoint comes to us from Grimsson, Owen’s imagined guardian, who confirms that no, “it doesn’t make sense,” despite every other character’s affirmations to the contrary.
Fukunaga draws on both his Japanese and American heritage to depict a fabulous future-past-present world, aesthetically somewhere between Spike Jonze’s Her, Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, Black Mirror, and every Wes Anderson film ever made. Justin Theroux’s deliberately shaky performance as Dr James Mantleray, and the murky relationships between him, Sonoya Mizuno as Dr Fujita, and Sally Fields as Dr Greta Mantleray, portray human weakness with an alarming amount of exaggerated honesty.
Picking up the baton from Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine, Maniac showcases our cultural paranoia surrounding personal data, advertising, loneliness, and the commodification of everything that makes us human in a way that is both unnerving, and at the same time completely expected.
At the heart of this confusing and engaging reality lies a critique of capitalist culture: there is a reason the only affection and community we see is within Owen’s wealthy family, a reason Annie and Owen meet at a high-risk, highly paid drug trial that claims to fix everything about you and let you start again. Whether these reasons add up to a pattern, and whether the pattern, or anything else about the world of Maniac, is real, still remains to be seen, but you should certainly be watching.
-Words by Chloe Crowther