After debuting a teaser trailer heavy on atmosphere and light on plot, Netflix has officially pulled back the curtain on “Maniac” with the release of its official trailer. Created by Patrick Somerville and directed by Cary Fukunaga, “Maniac” reunites Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in the story of pharmaceutical trial gone wrong. The “Superbad” actors are playing two of the trial’s patients, Annie Landsberg (Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Hill), who are inexplicably drawn to one another as they’re put through a series of psychological evaluations.
“Maniac” is adapted from the Norwegian television series of the same name and is set to debut on Netflix this September. The official trailer brings the main storyline into focus and introduces the patients and scientists who factor into the plot. More importantly, it provides an ambitious first look at the story structure, which will likely earn comparisons to “Inception” and “Cloud Atlas.”
Watch the “Maniac” trailer here, and read on for IndieWire’s full breakdown of the footage’s biggest takeaways.
Justin Theroux, Bad Guy
After spending three seasons as the protagonist on HBO’s “The Leftovers,” Theroux returns to television in a more villainous role. The trailer introduces his “Maniac” character, Dr. James K. Mantleray, as the series’ primary antagonist. Mantleray is the scientist in charge of the drug trial, and it appears he’s covering up the program’s main goal and its more lethal side effects. (He responds, “Zero, roughly,” when asked how many people have ended up catatonic from the drug.) Mantleray’s boss is Dr. Greta Mantleray, played by Sally Field, but it’s clear he’s operating behind her back as she is unaware of what’s really going on.
Sonoya Mizuno, Unsung Hero
The main cast of “Maniac” is filled with household names, but the trailer makes it clear viewers should be keeping their eyes glued to Sonoya Mizuno’s Dr. Fujita. Mizuno is best known for playing the robot Kyoto in Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” and in “Maniac” she’s playing the right-hand woman to Theroux’s Dr. Mantleray. The trailer hints that Dr. Fujita’s empathy for Stone and Hill’s characters will result in her jumping ship and turning her back on her boss (we see Mantleray confront her and ask, “Something’s wrong. What did you do?”). Every shady corporation needs one employee with a heart of gold who can help our heroes save the day. Enter Dr. Fujita.
The Steps of the Drug Trial
There will be much to discover about the drug trial at the center of “Maniac’s” plot when the show debuts, but the official trailer provides viewers’ first introduction to how it all works. Before patients are entered into the program, they have a one-on-one interview session with Mantleray in which they are asked about their depression. Stone’s character is aware she is being screened for a drug trial and is willingly signing up, which obviously means the program is not really a drug trial as advertised. Another early test involves a digital Rorschach test.
The main part of the trial uses an “A”-shaped pill and some technological head gear to transport patients into a constructed reality where they are forced to confront manifestations of their psychological issues. Mantleray is heard saying the goal of the program is to “remove pain” from its patients. The set up is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” only instead of people entering the mind to plant an idea, they are doing so to get rid of their pain. Mantleray’s team of scientists seem to be the one designing the dreamscapes and, as it is implied, tampering with them to have specific outcomes.
The Most Important Line of Dialogue
There is one line in the “Maniac” trailer that is the most telling about the plot: “Every time I separate them they find their way back together,” Dr. Fujita says with worry and disbelief about Landsberg and Milgrim. The line makes it clear “Maniac” is both a love story about two people defying order to be with one another and a corporate conspiracy thriller where said order is being manipulated by those in charge. It appears Mantleray is meddling with the constructed realities where he’s sending his patients and forcibly creating narratives where Landsberg and Milgrim are meant to be separated. Dr. Fujita’s line confirms two characters are defying the natural laws and physics of the dream worlds, which will no doubt have repercussions for the program and its patients.
Dream World: Period-Setting Party
The first constructed reality viewers see in the trailer finds Hill driving in a car through the woods and approaching Stone, who is walking alone in the middle of the street. Stone looks like a femme fatale with her blonde hair, fur coat, red lipstick, and steely glance. Both characters are dressed in sophisticated party attire. A quick shot later in the trailer shows the two characters at a party and pressing a mirror that opens a secret door. We’re clearly in the past here, as the aesthetic has a 1950s vibe to it.
Dream World: Political Meeting
One of the constructed realities looks like a political summit where leaders from countries all over the world have gathered. In this world, Hill is sporting a frazzled blonde wig and addressing government leaders about some issue, while Stone is sporting a red business suit and appears interested in whatever Hill has to say. At one point, we see Hill’s character dancing and celebrating in a board meeting room. We also get a quick shot of Stone carrying a gun and luring Hill through a hallway, which implies her role in this world (and maybe every world) is to protect Hill from being killed.
Dream World: Suburban Family
While some of the constructed realities cast Stone and Hill as separate individuals, at least one of them will put their characters in an actual relationship. The trailer shows one of the worlds being a suburban home where Hill and Stone are married with three children.
Dream World: “Lord of the Rings”
One of the more ambitious visuals in the “Maniac” trailer is a shot of Stone and “Ozark” actress Julia Garner in a constructed reality that more or less looks like a “Lord of the Rings” ripoff. Both characters are channeling Legolas with their bows and arrows as they approach what looks like a magical tree.
Pay Attention to the Miniatures
How exactly are Mantleray and his team of scientists creating the program’s constructed realities? The answer is still unknown, but the trailer hints that miniatures are somehow a key to unlocking some answers. One shot shows Hill slamming onto the concrete, but when the shot cuts to a wider image it shows he’s in the middle of a giant metropolis made up of miniature buildings, trees, and cars. While this miniature world could be another constructed reality, it seems far more important than that. A match cut later in the trailer shows one constructed reality where Stone’s character is in a red Jeep and gets into a car crash, which links to Stone in another constructed reality finding a miniature of the same Jeep. The miniature Jeep is seen smoking, which indicates a connection between the crashed Jeep in one reality and the miniature one in another. Are the miniatures the key to connecting the different dream worlds? The trailer makes it clear we should be keeping an eye on this question.
Assassins Are Everywhere
Each world is aesthetically different, but the narratives in each one appear to be somewhat similar: Stone and Hill’s characters find one another, join forces, and have to escape some kind of assassination attempt. One shot in the political meeting world shows Stone with a gun trying to protect Hill from people trying to kill him, while in suburbia it looks like a mobster has been sent to off Stone and Hill’s married couple. There’s also a truck slamming into Stone’s red Jeep as mentioned above. The assassins in each world could be the physical manifestation of the pain the trial is seeking to remove from each patient.
Inexplicable Shots to Obsess Over
The most bizarre shot of the trailer is this one of an animated being seducing Theroux’s character, who appears to be converting into an animated version of himself.
A quick shot of a stuffed animal that appears to be alive doesn’t appear to take place in one of the dream worlds. Perhaps it’s a vision one of the characters is experiencing in the real world.
One of the final shots of the trailer shows a levitating woman standing in front of a wall covered with blood.
“Maniac” premieres September 21 on Netflix.