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Now streaming on Hulu, Castle Rock is a re-imagining of characters and settings by Stephen King, with a twist of J.J. Abrams' absurdity and suspense. It’s no secret that Stephen King focuses on religion and spirituality in his various novels, like Revival and The Green Mile, but Castle Rock does something entirely different. There are multiple levels of spiritual ‘containment,’ serving to reveal that religion cannot adequately begin to explain or contain the larger metaphysical realm at play. One of the main characters, a seemingly psychopathic John Doe is found in a cage, down in a sealed off area of the prison in the town of Castle Rock. The town itself is not on any map and you can gather that it is a conservative, rural town with a dark history.
What starts out as a classic horror story begins to be infiltrated by metaphysical phenomena and questions about the nature of reality, parallel timelines, and the blurring between good and evil. As the series progresses, you begin to question the common sense “universal truths” about the nature of reality. Time and space don’t seem to function in a linear way. Boundaries between human experience are blurred. Though there are moments of disbelief, and times where you feel a little overwhelmed by how many threads are at play, the ending doesn’t disappoint. Castle Rock successfully leaves you questioning everything you thought you knew about the human experience.
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With a lot of recent talk in the news and social media about mental health, it’s about time a series addressed some of the stigmas surrounding mental health diagnosis, trauma, and the isolating nature of post-consumerist capitalist culture. With an over-stimulating futuristic setting and direct throwbacks to retro 80s and 90s technology, Maniac is stylistically profound in it’s art design. With outlandish, but also eerily believable services, such as Ad Buddy, which allows you to pay for necessary items by enduring an in-person advertiser who travels with you and tells you about targeted products and services—this futuristic setting combines new and old pairings that speaks to the stark disconnect and isolationism that a technological society heralds.
Two distinctly different characters with different backgrounds emerge. Their journey begins when they both are lead to a Pharma test that makes claims to cure participants of traumatic experiences and mental illness. Owen, who is chronically depressed and experiencing daylight hallucinations, believes that there is pattern to the universe and that somehow he needs to save the world. Annie, on the other hand is in denial and is addicted to one of the Pharmaceutical company’s pills. What ensues in the following episodes can only be described as surrealistic and bizarre. As a viewer, you might be compelled to think that there is no rhyme or reason to any of it, but as you continue watching, each seemingly insignificant detail returns with meaning and each character’s psyche is examined with unparalleled cinematic genius. By exposing the illusion that mental health professionals and pharmaceutical companies are the ones who are “well” and patients are the ones who are “sick,” Maniac provides a truer look into what happens in these hierarchical systems of power. The ones in charge are not as mentally or emotionally “well” as they first appear, and are drawn to these psychological investigations to uncover their own trauma, blindspots, and defense mechanisms. Ultimately, human error cannot be hidden by illusions of control and the A.I. fall prey to the same limitations of their creators. The questions that emerge are endless and self-reflexive, showing that Maniac is a smart, funny, ingenious commentary that addresses the most relevant topics facing humanity today.