Maniac Director Cary Fukunaga Talks Charlie Kaufman Influence

Netflix's Maniac feels both familiar and utterly unique. Director and showrunner Cary Fukunaga confirms that's by design.

The comparisons between Netflix’s trippy new mind drama, Maniac, and the works of prolific screenwriter Charlie Kaufman are inescapable.

Like Kaufman’s 2004 romance classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Maniac features plenty of scenes within the architecture of the human brain and even deals with a man and woman whose consciousnesses just can’t seem to be separated. In an interview with Den of Geek, Maniac director/showrunner and future Bond director Cary Fukunaga confirmed that these Kaufman influences were very much intentional. 

Interestingly it’s not Eternal Sunshine that Fukunaga brings up but another Kaufman film (and the first he directed), Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York is what we would have preferred to have as a budget and a timeline of the show to explore until everyone grew old,” Fukunaga says.

That’s interesting as Synecdoche, New York wasn’t necessarily an ultra expensive film with a budget around $20 million. Surely, Maniac with its high profile cast, striking visuals, and 10 episodes has to have a budget around there. Unless…wait a minute. “Until everyone grew old.” Fukunaga wishes he had the budget of the play within Synecdoche, New York! In the movie Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) puts on a play within an enormous warehouse that recreates New York City to scale and occurs throughout the entirety of his life. Netflix is doing well but I don’t know if anyone has that kind of movie. 

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Other interesting tidbits from Fukunaga include that the character of Annie didn’t really come to life until they brought Emma Stone aboard. 

The director also describes the unsettling nature of Maniac‘s reality. Yes, the show deals with the unconscious and augmented realities but the show’s baseline reality is rather strange to begin with. 

“It was important that baseline reality wasn’t comfortable,” Fukunaga says. “It needed to have an settling feeling to it.” 

Mission accomplished then.