Black Mirror is a british based TV show that ran for two seasons in the UK before it was picked up by Netflix in 2015. Since then, it has produced two more seasons, a film, and announced a fifth season coming soon. When it began streaming on Netflix, it immediately became an international hit. The show is presented as an anthology, with every episode containing a new plot, characters, and time frame. This allows viewers to skip around in watching episodes and provides an array of themes and plots that it is almost guaranteed that everyone will enjoy at least a few. That being said, there is one general theme that every episode centers around: the consequences of technologies.
For example, one episode takes place a near future where there is an app that you rate your interactions with every person you meet. This showed how humanity was no longer having authentic interactions with one another and instead was constantly trying to earn the highest rating by being ‘fake nice’ to everyone around them. Another example is the pilot episode takes place in present day with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live television. While some episodes seem more realistic than others, all fall under this general subject.
The creator of the show, Charlie Brooker, said they want to depict stories that show “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” However, the film made by Black Mirror called, “Bandersnatch” could potentially do just that. It introduces a new way to consume TV and could shape the way entertainment is viewed in the future.
For those of you who have not seen “Bandersnatch,” the Black Mirror film that was released in December 2018, I will provide a little background. “Bandersnatch” is the first ever interactive movie for adults, it is presented as a choose your own adventure film where a two option decision will present itself and the viewer has 10 seconds to decide which the character will choose. Once the choice is made the film will direct towards that narrative. There are five endings to the narrative with multiple ways to get to each as well as a few more vague endings or “easter eggs” as director David Slade puts it, in addition to the main endings. The quickest path ends in roughly 40 minutes, but the average viewing time is about 90 minutes, which is also how long it took me to finish it and find four of the five endings.
The film takes place in 1984 and follows a young programmer, Stefan, attempting to turn his favorite book, Bandersnatch, into a choose your own adventure game. Along the way, you gather background on the character, which I will not spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it, as well as his trials and hardships while trying to build a first of its kind videogame. The decisions the viewer get to make start off simple. For example, the first one gives you a choice of which cereal Stefan will eat that morning, which takes about two seconds to pick. However, the questions the viewer has to answer get progressively harder and more important which if there wasn’t a ten second limit on choosing, would result in the viewer sitting there for an extended period of time surveying their options.
The process of watching this can be confusing and frustrating at times. At first, I wasn’t clear on the exact rules of the game were, if I made a wrong decision, would I have the opportunity to go back and fix it (the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, which only makes it more confusing). Depending on the choices you make, it may ask if you would like to go back and try this section again, or you could make a decision and the movie will push you into the opposing answer regardless. Other times you could get stuck in a loop of making the same or similar decisions over and over again until you finally find the specific path the film is guiding you to make. The most confusing thing about it though was the endings themselves, it was not always clear when you reached some, as once you find one ending, the film will sometimes bump you back so you can find another. This was not clear to me until after I had finished it, and read an article outlining the endings, making the whole experience make a lot more sense.
One of the most interesting part of “Bandersnatch,” however, isn’t the content or plot of the film. It is instead its connection back to Black Mirror. Like I mentioned previously, the overarching theme of all Black Mirror episodes is the consequences of technologies. And while this theme is very much apparent in “Bandersnatch”, the way the film is constructed has the possibility to have many, positive and negative consequences on the future of how we watch and consume television, film and media as a whole. For instance, this could lead to reality TV where viewers choose what the people do in real time, which of course could be fun, but could also be dangerous. This kind of content also has the potential to make consumers much more instant gratification driven, which could hurt the overall quality of TV and film.
The whole idea of making “Bandersnatch” feels very ironic to me especially considering the quote from the shows creator Brooker, it seemed like he was using the show as a way for societies to check themselves to be sure we don’t lead ourselves into one of the many versions he provided as examples. However, by creating this interactive film, he may have done just what he set out to prevent.