Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Review)
If you've ever wondered what a Black Mirror episode would look if it threw all caution to the wind and went full blown meta? Bandersnatch is the answer and it's a tragic, disturbing, hilarious and fascinating episode.
Plot without spoilers...
Fionn Whitehead playing Stefan Butler
This latest instalment of Black Mirror is something completely different - an interactive film where the viewer's decision decides the direction of the movie's plot. Not the first of it's kind, but the first to be streamed on Netflix and to move with such cohesiveness without any annoying loading screens or huge pauses.
Bandersnatch sees our protagonist Stefan Butler (played by Fionn Whitehead) trying to his favourite book into a game. This it the titular Bandersnatch, written by the fictional tragic and insane writer Jerome F. Davies (played by Jeff Minter). Typically for Black Mirror, insanity is catching and Stefan starts to question his reality and the very concept of free will. As he designs the choose your own adventure game, we as viewers are choosing Stefan's actions and decisions.
Five endings (plus a secret ending)
There's a limit to how much I want to reveal because this is truly something you need to experience without too much known ahead of time. So avoid those websites giving breakdowns of the different endings! Needless to say, there are ten endings and you'll need around five hours to watch it all.
There is, of course, one ending that feels very Black Mirror and is described by most reviews as the True Ending - for me, it felt really Donnie Darko, but that might just be me.
Then, of course, there's a full-on meta ending which had me in complete snitches. You know which one. It's the one that ends with Stefan shouting about his 21st century friend.
In fact, to explore all the content created for this game, you'll need a ZX Spectrum emulator to download the Nohzdyve game off the Tuckersoft website. Serious meta-ness going on.
A few brief shout outs to previous Black Mirror episodes. The most obvious two are the games Colin is working on “Nohzdyve” and “Metl Hedd” - obvious after the episodes Nosedive and Metal Head.
Also, if you get the Pearl Ritman ending, the scrolling text at the bottom references several Black Mirror episodes including USS Callister, Hated in the Nation and Crocodile.
In another interesting nod, the glyph shown throughout the episode, created by Jerome F. Davies in his insanity, is also the symbol used in White Bear for the Justice Park.
This isn't uncommon as there are many episodes which have 'Easter eggs' in the background referring to other episodes. While Charlie Brooker has confirmed in the past that all these stories take place in the same world, they're not necessarily connected. But who knows.
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Isn't this just a gimmick?
Many have described this interactive element as a gimmick. Well, of course, it is. I sincerely doubt this will become the way all mainstream television is delivered, but for heaven's sake - it's good for a laugh!
It's also the reason I love Black Mirror. Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones are willing to try things. Something, anything. They take the gamble, the risk and they to blow us away. To challenge us. And sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don't. Personally, I choose to devote myself to creators who shoot for the stars and miss nine times out of ten. I prefer that to what we seem to currently have in abundance; creators who are so concerned with the numbers they mass produce mediocrity and banality until I feel like I'm receiving my entertainment through a food processer and feeding tube.
Will Poulter playing Colin Ritman
Is the interactive element gimmicky? Yes. Is it pointless? No, they use it in a way that makes this fascinating to think about. The meta aspects, the idea of gameplay and reality and how those lines blur.
This is an amazing Black Mirror episode. Has it made it into my top five? No. Charlie Brooker is going to have to write something pretty amazing to dethrone USS Callister, Hated in the Nation, White Christmas, Nosedive and San Juniperio.
However, I have a suspicion it's made it into my top ten. A second viewing will decide it, but Bandersnatch addresses so many of my personal niggles - identity, the nature of reality and the agony of creation.
If you're a Black Mirror fan, Bandersnatch is a must. If you're not, I would say this wasn't the best Black Mirror to start with, but still well worth the watch.
More Black Mirror!
I'm sure you're all aware that I'm a massive Black Mirror fan and I even went to a Guardian Talk with the two Executive Producers Charlie Booker and Annabel Jones. If you are too, you should absolutely get the book Inside Black Mirror, recently published, which goes into huge depth into each episode with interviews with the Executive Producers, cast and crew.
So what's coming up for Black Mirror? Charlie Brooker is already considering another interactive story.
Season Five is definitely coming our way, but there doesn't seem to be a date yet. I honestly can't wait. I find the bleak outlook of Black Mirror to be rather soothing at times like this. As Charlie Brooker says:
It turns out that f****** lunacy is the new norm