Becoming A Maniac
A few years ago, when I was doing a book reading, I had the perfect example. I wanted to do what I always want to do, which is say hey! I’m just a guy, completely ordinary, and this weird thing happened because that’s honestly how I feel. I wasn’t supposed to be this guy, to whom these weird things happen.
In this case, I wanted to express how I felt on the morning of August 24, 2006, when I realized I was institutionalized. I’d admitted myself, but still. I’d never been part of any kind of institution; no armed services, no prison, no hospitalizations. And yet here I was, about to spend three weeks hospitalized because I was a drunk and I couldn’t undrunk myself, not without help.
And I thought of this scene from Say Anything, which is a favorite film. In this scene, Lloyd Dobler visits Jim Court, the father of Diane, Lloyd’s girlfriend, in the minimum-security prison he’s been sent to for tax evasion.
Right there? Complete spoiler. It certainly won’t ruin your enjoyment of the movie, not at all or not much, but it’s a plot development that’s important, in a way. I’m not really worried about spoiling a nearly-30-year-old movie, but I think about it. I love this film. I’d love for everyone to see it, but c’mon—it was made in the 80s.
Anyway. At one point during the prison visit, Lloyd asks Jim how he’s doing. “I’m incarcerated, Lloyd,” he says sarcastically. “How do you think I’m doing?”
LEFT: Ione Skye, John Cusack, and John Mahoney from “Say Anything”
It’s the way he says incarcerated. If I showed you the scene, and you knew nothing else, you’d understand that this man never, ever, ever expected to be in jail. For anything.
Me too. That’s how I felt, and why it was a perfect example of how I felt, sitting in the waiting room at the residential treatment facility for chemical dependency. How did you think I’d feel?
But I felt bad about sharing the scene at the book reading, just because of the spoiler nature, and then I realized the solution: I just wouldn’t tell them which movie.
It’s not a perfect solution in every situation, or even most, but it worked for me. If you were familiar with the movie, you might recognize the description of the scene. If not, and if you someday were to see it, you’d never guess until the scene came along that…well, you get it. It was a solution for a problem that probably really didn’t exist, but it’s always fun to find a solution.
All the above just to announce my new blog policy on spoilers, which is: I’m just gonna spoil. If for some reason I see a film in the theater, I’ll be nice if I write something, won’t give anything away, but as far as new TV shows or old stuff? You’re not going to watch it. You don’t have time. None of us do.
I mentioned this the other day on Facebook, the loneliness of the modern television watcher. The fourth season of Better Call Saul just ended, and I watched it as always, fascinated and drawn to it, a great show, and I spoke about it to nobody. I don’t know another soul who watches it. Surely I do and just don’t realize it, but it’s lonely for sure.
I understand the logic, so I won’t mourn for what I know can’t be fixed. I sometimes go to Vulture.com and read recaps, and that’s not a bad way to decompress from a tense television moment. Friends would be better.
So I’ll just spoil if it comes to that and figure, if you’re at all interested, you’ll be grateful for the overview since you’ll never watch it. But I’ll try to minimize.
So I want to write a bit about Maniac, the Netflix “limited” series that premiered last month for ten 30-minute (roughly) episodes.
All of this you could find on Wikipedia, etc., so I’ll be brief. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill play two psychologically damaged people. Hill plays Owen, the son of a wealthy family, who rejects the family business and help and tries to go it alone, without much success, mostly due to what appear to be schizophrenic breaks. We note that he’s been hospitalized, and we see that he no longer takes his medications.
Stone plays Annie, a sullen (both actors rarely smile, which makes sense but is disorienting) young woman who seems to be some sort of junkie (the series is set in a different timeline, technology approximately 1980s or early 90s without cell phones or flat screens, but appearing to be at about the same chronological time when it comes to other things, like clothes and cars). She lives with housemates and seems addicted to a pill, and we see her take the last one and slip into unconsciousness.
It turns out Annie has been getting contraband medication from a pharmaceutical study. After running out of her supply, Annie’s so desperate that she takes aggressive measures to blackmail an employee of the pharmaceutical company to get into the trial, so she can get more pills.
Owen, on the other hand, wants to be in the trial because he wants to be better. This is a bizarre drug trial, where subjects are given three pills over three different days, and then slip into trances or sleep while their brains are irradiated with microwaves.
The three pills produce three different reactions, all designed to heal the mind from within. The first (the “A” pill) recreates the worst trauma in the subject’s life, which apparently is considered the driver of their problems. The B and C pills are complicated to explain, although the B version is mostly fantasy with archetypes and familiar characters from their lives in different roles. The C pill seems designed to confront their trauma and fears, and overcome, finally coming out fixed.
The show is fine. The acting is superb, particularly Stone and Justin Theroux as the head of the project (himself a piece of work), and Sally Field does her usual fascinating work as Theroux’s famous therapist mother, creating a multilayered character who in the end seems actually about the sanest of the bunch, as celebrity-fied as she’s become.
I could nitpick about the lack of profundity in the show’s finale, although I have to admire their restraint, too. Sometimes you just have to live with the pain until it changes into something more manageable.
The drug that Annie is addicted to is the A pill, the one that forces one to relieve their worst trauma. We see Annie’s trauma, which involved a trip taking her younger sister away to college, maybe, or just somewhere else. The two sisters bicker and joke, with Annie being particularly dickish and sarcastic, and then their truck is struck by a drunk driver and the little sister dies.
And Annie relives it on purpose.
We see another A-pill addict, one of the doctors in the study, and it makes sense to me—we can become addicted to pretty much anything, and I can see a certain psychology that enjoys reliving horror and pain, for whatever disturbed reason.
But that’s not Annie. Annie relives her last day with her sister via the drug, because at least she gets to be with her sister again.
So that’s the story. There are all sorts of interesting scenes, particularly the fantasy sequences, and then there are some standard sentient-computer stuff and technicians trying to shut it all down while the computer frustrates their attempts, lifted from any number of sci-fi stories, most notably the termination of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The sets are all over the place, low-tech, high-tech, garish lights and calming colors. I binged it in segments, about three, to get all five hours or so. I enjoyed it, and would watch it again if I somehow manage to live forever.
What interested me, though, was this drive on Annie’s part to suffer on purpose for what she saw as a greater good, which she also understood was holding her back. She achieves what I guess we have to call closure, if not healing, by the end, but I couldn’t help thinking about it.
If your only option to relive your time with a much-loved friend or family member is to also re-experience the worst moment of your life, what do you do?
Not gonna happen, of course, but I’m thinking about it a lot. Unfortunately, I suspect the worst moments of my life had to be with being alone. I’ve lost three beloved teachers in the past few years, along with a cousin and an uncle who was important to me, in his way. I wouldn’t mind reliving a day with any of them, but I can’t find trauma there.
But it made me think there’s trauma, somewhere. It’d be nice to figure out what it was, although I’m be a little long in the tooth for that kind of clarity. Bygones, etc.
I’m thinking about it a lot, too. And I really haven’t spoiled Maniac, as it turns out. If you’re in the mood to get a little disturbed (there’s one scene, very short, very exaggerated and obviously not really happening, that involves a gross act of violence and a lot of blood, although it’s fast and there are worse things out there—I think Game of Thrones would give it some competition.
But this stuff, this trauma stuff, this brain chemistry stuff—I wouldn’t mind some answers. Might take some work. For the rest, I’ve got video so I think I’m good.