Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
*Spoilers after Second paragraph*
“Free will is an illusion, you are being controlled”. This is the running theme in Black Mirror’s adaptation of the popular Goosebumps’ choose your own ending books. Our protagonist, Stefan, is stuck in a scenario where he is destined to finish creating his computer game masterpiece. But along the way, as the audience is beginning to make choices for Stefan, we notice he starts to pull back; as if aware of his loss of free will. This is a very interesting way to break the 4th wall, by explicitly addressing the dramatic irony taking place. As viewers we begin to enjoy the power we hold over this kid’s everyday actions as he is just trying to create a video game. Expectedly soon Stefan’s mental state begins to deteriorate as he bobbles his normal life with this impeding demise of free will. In summation, Bandersnatch is a brilliantly captured “first take” at a choose-your-path Netflix movie. With genuine Black Mirror sets, wardrobes, acting and tones in dialogue, there is no good reason not to experience this movie.
Bandersnatch is an experience that you can’t rewind. Once you make a decision you must finish that story line. Only at the very end can you restart the movie and try again. This is a great move by Netflix to add weight to seemingly inane choices like which cereal should Stefan eat. What I will do is describe the choices I made my first time around and my thoughts during this experience. I will try not to spoil much but I suggest you watch it before reading further.
Bandersnatch gave too much away in the first scene of the show. Immediate tension between Stefan and his dad was obvious as well as Stefan’s subtle fixation on the ash tray; the father was also mysteriously leaving a locked room. All of these things got addressed in the movie but it was too obvious of a set up for my liking. We get to make a few first choices like which cereal he eats or what song he listens to. Another issue: Once a small choice like this is made, they barely show it in subsequent scenes, its always close up camera shots of our choices so that the scenes with real acting don’t have to precisely remake the same scene but with different props…. I get it, i’m not upset about it but it would’ve been a nice touch.
Many subtle nods are made to previous Black Mirror episodes and themes which is a great technique. Our story is in 1984, predating many black mirror timelines. Excitedly we get to see the concept design behind the supposed-to-be video game Metl Head but previous episodes show that they end up killing everyone on earth pretty much. We meet Colin, a badass video game creator. They cloak him in a bright red jacket while everyone else is in cool blues, not so subtle Netflix; now I know he dies or kills someone. *Side note Colin smokes cigs indoors*. Stefan is offered a chance to make his game with the help of a company and I chose “hell yeah” since i’m looking out for our man Stefan. In a great piece of writing Colin walks over and says “Wrong choice.” We then are hit with quick flashes of the future where the game is a flop and Stefan determinedly says “I’m doing it again.” Brilliantly we flash through all the scenes up until I chose “hell yeah” and we get to chose again. But not before they added brilliantly quick quips such as, “I’ve seen you before right.” I love dramatic irony! Right here is where I realized the real theme of the show; We are not necessarily being controlled, it is that the choices we make are meaningless, our destiny is already decided. Dope, now the show will make sense.
More and more choices lead to a darker and darker pit of despair for Stefan, he begins to lose all hope that he has control of his life. I decide for Stefan to seek medical help, hoping that a clear mind will help his career. Our choices begin to vastly affect the story line as characters begin saying things and knowing things that they didn’t in the scenes leading up to our first choice mistake. Uh oh did we change everything?! We decline the outside help from the original company and Colin says a new line, “As much as time exists.” Another great ode to the sentiment of the show, keeping us on edge. Another quick thing I noticed was a Game Reviewer on TV who says, “Nothing’s perfect.” We’ll see this trumped or glorified by the end I bet.
In the office of the therapist I decide to bring up Stefan’s mother who died in a train accident, ended up being the father’s fault (duh). Another fourth wall break when the therapist says, “We can’t change the past even with the gift of hindsight.” Lol bitch yea we can, this is Netflix. Weeks into Stefan’s game coding he keeps running into problems, and Netflix wants us to destroy Stefan’s computer, we decline but after a couple minutes we end up in the same spot, like we must destroy this computer. That is when Stefan loses all hope and realizes he is being controlled; I chose to display a message on his computer after he calls out looking for answers. This kid’s about to snap. A huge change in plot happens again when I revisit the therapist instead of meeting up with badass Colin. We decide to not take more pills and make the game. Game flops, Colin says we’ve been making wrong choices this whole time, fuck off Colin.
Then the big tamale. Stefan, out of psychotic rage, murders his father and dismembers his body. With a crazy clear head he is able to finish and make the perfect 5/5 video game his been dreaming of. Stefan says in closing to his therapist, “I made it simpler, the players believe they have free will but I already chose the ending.” Flash forward to modern times, a woman is working on a similar coding project, we notice that she is the Netflix developer making this movie we just watched, after an issue arises we get to force the developer to destroy her computer, in one last brilliant attempt to cement the idea that free will is an illusion.
Once the movie ends we are finally allowed to go back and change some of our previous choices, seeing all the possible outcomes. I highly suggest doing it. One involves an Acid trip and the other involves a martial arts brawl between Stefan and his therapist. It’s bomb.
I know this was a long read but it is solely to persuade you to watch black Mirror: Bandersnatch. It has everything you like about classic Black Mirror episodes while organically introducing a chose your own path format. Just watch the dam thing. Plus they smoke cigs indoors….