It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since Black Mirror’s fourth season — which gave us gems like Hang The DJ and USS Callister — arrived on Netflix. One year on, and the streaming service has delivered us a gift in the form of another Charlie Brooker-penned adventure to sink our teeth into, as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch hits Netflix today.
While every episode of Black Mirror is unique, Bandersnatch is quite different from its predecessors, as it’s also an interactive instalment — the first of its kind — which puts the power in the viewers’ hand, and encourages them to make decisions for the protagonist. This means that we’re ultimately responsible for all of the horrible things that’ll happen to the central character throughout the feature-length instalment. Uh, thanks for that Charlie.
According to the Netflix, the film is approximately 90 minutes long, but rumour has it that a total of 312 minutes of footage was recorded to allow for all possible story decisions that could’ve been made by the viewer.
The narrative of Bandersnatch is as unsettling as any Black Mirror episode, and it feels oh-so-good to be back in Brooker’s messed up universe. Set during the 1980s, the feature-length episode centres around a troubled youth called Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) who, after reading Jerome F. Davies’ Bandersnatch novel, decides to create a choose-your-own-adventure video game inspired by said novel (see where this is going?). Things start getting weird for our main character as, after having a few words with games developer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), Stefan begins to believe that there are a number of possible realities, all of which are determined by the decisions we make. Colin also convinces him that human beings are controlled by a higher power, which in a sense is true considering we’re determining Stefan’s every move. One possible story avenue even sees Stefan come to us for advice, which gives us plenty of opportunity to screw things up for the disturbed individual.
The concept in itself is pretty genius, and you’ve got to hand it to Brooker, as he continues to revolutionise the already revolutionary Black Mirror each and every year. Having an interactive adventure, a la Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game, could’ve been an absolute disaster had the accompanying narrative not been up to scratch, but it really pays off here — because it’s all very meta. We’re making decisions for the gamer, who’s then using our instruction to make decisions for the protagonist in his own video game.
Had the storyline not been, in a sense, self-referential, then the decision-making could’ve grown tiresome — especially for those who got up especially early to watch Bandersnatch. The interactivity of the episode also makes it the perfect one to re-watch (or is it replay?), because, with so many story avenues, we’ll likely discover something new with each and every viewing. It’s also important to note that the intensity of Stefan makes him the perfect conduit for this adventure, because — knowing the full scale of his personality — the decision-making is an intense process for the viewer/player, and as a result, these decisions are not taken lightly on their part. It’s pretty cool because such interactivity is something you’d have thought Black Mirror would highlight the dangers of and, in a way, it does so through Bandersnatch, which is what makes the whole thing pretty ironic.
Speaking of Stefan, such a character is likely not an easy one to portray, which is why I’m at a loss for words in describing Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead, who delivers an award-worthy performance as the troubled protagonist.
Interactive television is certainly a gamble, and one that could’ve gone very wrong given the popularity of Black Mirror, but Charlie Brooker accomplished something near-impossible yet again. I don’t know why I’m surprised; I mean, the man has proven himself to be a genius on several occasions before, but Bandersnatch really is on a whole new level. And while we’re on the topic, the name Bandersnatch is a reference to the fictional creature in Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, which is significant in that this Black Mirror instalment teaches us that mirrors are significant in moving between timelines. Clever, or what?
Bandersnatch is one of Black Mirror’s greatest offerings to date and, considering just how revolutionary it is, I cannot wait to see what Brooker has up his sleeve next. Give it a watch. Or, should I say, give it a play? Who knows? You decide.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now streaming on Netflix.