Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

Bandersnatch-NetflixThere’s a moment in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a film Netflix is touting as ‘an interactive film’ where young computer programmer Stefan (Finn Whitehead) in a moment of PKD insight becomes convinced he isn’t in control of his own actions and shouts out to The Big Unknown. That’s when a choice is offered to the film viewer and I opted for Netflix as my answer, and lo, a text message appeared on Stefan’s computer that he was being controlled by a viewer watching Netflix, an online streaming service. Of course from Stefan’s vantage point of 1984, this didn’t mean a hell of a lot, but for me it was a strange meta-reality commentary on all things PKD and The Matrix and the nature of reality and what films are now and possibly might be in the future.

How well Bandersnatch functions as a dramatic work is open to debate, but as an interactive experience and nod to PKD and 1980s culture its something of a marvel. The old-style WHSmith stores (crikey, those old carrier bags even more of a nostalgic nod than possibly intended with recent news of Government intent over here), 2000AD, Tomita’s The Bermuda Triangle on vinyl, the Thompson Twins and the grand finale (at least the one I experienced, as there are supposed to be five endings to Bandersnatch) of Laurie Anderson’s sublime O Superman, a song that sums up that whole era for me- so many moments had me cooing ‘awww….’ at the screen. Possibly the best was the Ubik poster coming alive. That would have blown poor Philip K Dick’s mind had he seen it, I think.

I’m curious to rewatch Bandersnatch and choose a different path/s to really put the test to its ‘interactive/multiple branches’ credentials but on first viewing it was damned impressive. Quite how Netflix managed the branching streams without incurring pauses for buffering etc is something of a mystery and, yeah, to be honest, one I’d actually like to avoid learning about, as if part of some unquantifiable magic.

It was quite apt, I suppose, as Black Mirror itself tends to comment upon and extrapolate on modern technology in dark and devious ways that the series used this interactive experience to tell its story of choice/freewill and the nature of its technology. Making the viewer a cog in the machine was quite ingenious. Whether in 2028 we’ll see a MI:9 that puts the viewer in charge of a (possibly CGI/virtual by then) Tom Cruise as he weaves through multiple paths of espionage and various twists of fate, and whether that would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing is open for some other debate, but it’s possibly a insight into eventual possibilities.

Well, on the bleak side, there’s another nail in the coffin of good honest storytelling, maybe. We may have seen a glimpse of the future, and it’s something to do with keeping our hands on the remote, but not regards switching channels etc…



7 thoughts on “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

      1. Ha, ha, nevermind Tom I blame myself for putting the initials up instead of re-typing his full name again. Actually it’s odd how ‘PKD’ has become a Thing just as HPL as (for Lovecraft). Its my geek revenge for being confounded by my nephews use of LOL etc.

  1. As I saw someone on Twitter put it, “interactive films will surely kill off regular films, in the same way choose your own adventure books killed off the novel”.

    I watched this expecting to be all cynical and aloof about it, especially as it was being hyped up all over Twitter when I did, but I bloody loved it. By making its story about its interactive format, it feels like it’s already scuppered the chances of any future interactive films.

    Also, Netflix have said they won’t release stats on people’s choices, but I’d love to know what percentage of viewers chose that “Netflix” option.

    1. I know it was wholly intentional by the creatives behind it, but that ‘Netflix’ option was such a weird thing, choosing it and breaking the fourth wall from my end rather than from the usual ‘behind the screen’ way that, say, Deadpool does.

      1. It was quite bold of them, but well done I thought — it kept the episode reaching out to affect the viewer/player as much as the characters. And I’m sure a lot of people would’ve wanted to say “I’m watching you on Netflix” in that situation, so it was well tapped into its viewers. I was quite glad it quickly led to ‘funny’ endings though, because it might’ve got a bit too close to home if he’d kept investigating ‘us’!

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