Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (dir. David Slade, 2018) – A young programmer attempts to adapt a fantasy novel into a choose-your-own-adventure video game, but loses control over the choices in his own life.
Bearing the hallmarks of a typical Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch pulls us deep into Charlie Brooker’s engaging mind game. The film yet again flaunts the writer’s creative brilliance and dark tendencies.
Named after the creature of the whimsical Wonderland tale, Bandersnatch is itself a monster of a wildly imaginative story. Black Mirror’s first interactive episode has us live and re-live the multiple lives of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), the obsessive creator of his choose-your-own-adventure game. His creation soon starts to warp his own reality.
“I feel like I’m not guiding [my decisions],” he tries to explain his building disorientation. “Someone else is.”
And every time we choose whether to have him destroy a computer or hit a desk, he looks down at his own hands with fear, as if they do not belong to him. His conviction that he is being controlled brings about a tinge of guilt – that we may just be responsible for recklessly manipulating the fate of a sentient digital being (see: USS Callister, Hang the DJ).
These moments leave us hesitant to guide our protagonist deeper into the rabbit hole of madness. But curiosity pushes us on to take a nosedive into the elaborate game of choices and consequences. Be it for sheer entertainment or to be part of Netflix’s grand data experiment, who could resist moving forward if only to know what comes next?
An intricate design of numerous permutations ensures that things never get too repetitive. This yet again shows off the noted ingenuity of storytelling virtuoso Charlie Brooker. Director David Slade, who made the brave albeit divisive episode Metalhead, accomplishes the daunting task of making it work.
Seemingly unimportant choices create ripples in the timeline. Some lead us back to the crossroads for an alternative path, where the events play out with slight variations. The echoes of déjà vu are unsettling. Most endings are dark, while one hides meta-humour in its playful seams.
Conceptually, interactive films have been made before, especially within hugely popular video games such as Until Dawn. But these familiar mechanics of choose-your-own-adventures play exceptionally well in the realms of Black Mirror.
More impressive than the polished and clearly expensive production is the idea behind it. The thoughtful nature of the sci-fi series subsists in its standalone feature film, making the destination(s) worth the ride. Far from a gimmick, us being the main character of the narrative forces introspection into our own relationship with technology.
Clever irony strikes in how Stefan’s loss of free will is reflected in our own black mirrors. No matter what we choose, we end up with the same, finite possibilities that everyone else has. As we manipulate Stefan, Brooker is doing the same to us with his doomed endings, predetermined however many there are. There is just no winning.
Are we then responsible for what unfolds, or are the writers the true makers of Stefan’s fate and ours? How much do our actions play into what happens to him? Intrigue continually compels us to turn every possible page in one sitting. That is no mean feat for the multi-tasking, distraction-ridden generation of today.