On June 17, Netflix released "Spiderhead," a joint endeavor with The New Yorker loosely based on the 2010 George Saunders short story, "Escape from Spiderhead.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski (of "Top Gun: Maverick") and adapted for the screen by "Deadpool" writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the film stars Miles Teller and Marvel's Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor).
In both its finale and ultimate message, the film differs wildly from its source material, but the general premise is the same.
In "Spiderhead," a researcher named Steve Abnesti (Hemsworth) attempts to confirm and make use of the malleability of the mind by testing a variety of brain chemical enhancing or depleting drugs on inmates.
For example, think of any number of SSRIs, but multiplied by about a thousand; think, too, of what the reverse of such a drug might do to a person.
Abnesti's test subjects have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison, so acting as guinea pigs is a small price to pay, as he reminds them constantly, in exchange for the facility's homey accommodations.
In the film, Teller's Jeff — an inmate who killed his girlfriend and best friend in a drunk driving accident — eventually discovers that Abnesti owns the pharmaceutical company,
and his intentions are not to change the world by creating a drug that (to paraphrase) "allows people to love," but by creating a "Soma"-esque substance that elicits absolute obedience from its taker.
An obedient world, he reasons, is a happy one. When Jeff discovers the mad scientist's true motivations, he finally rebels,
and the ending that follows asks us to think about the value of negative emotions such as regret, guilt, and shame.