Black Mirror: Bandersnatch review Fionn Whitehead

Year: 2018
Director(s): David Slade
Writer(s): Charlie Brooker
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
Rating: n/a
Color, +-90 mins

Synopsis: A young programmer makes a fantasy novel into a game for a big company. Trying to keep his mind into making it right, his own reality becomes weirdly disoriented. (Source)

What is the true nature of choice? Is it something we decide for ourselves or the product of something bigger than us? This is the heart of Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. As the sci-fi series’ latest chapter, this feature length interactive experience is the next logical step in the world of streaming. It cleverly breaks the narrative boundaries we’re used to while questioning the nature of our very existence. Finally, this isn’t a film we merely watch, but one we take part in. The implications of it are deep and limitless. Anchored by the slick, atmospheric direction of David Slade and branching possibilities from writer Charlie Brooker, this is the beginning of a new era. It’s a can’t miss event that’s sure to galvanize the landscape. 

In 1984, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is a budding computer programmer. He’s attempting to adapt a fantasy novel named Bandersnatch into a choose-your-own adventure video game. When the story kicks off, Stefan has been given the opportunity to pitch the game to a company named Tuckersoft. It’s here where Stefan’s idol, Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), cranks out his word-famous games, and the company’s prestige would give his effort some serious reach. From here, both Stefan and the viewer are thrust into a series of choices. Each one determines where the story goes next, splintering into a myriad of possibilities and levels of psychological intrigue. There are a lot of ways the film can end and what it can encapsulate, and each one tows the line between psychological nightmare and exhilarating fun. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch review Fionn Whitehead choice

As something that can literally transform and be tailored (to a degree) to those watching it, what’s really mind-blowing is the film’s perfect synergy between story, immersion and technological trickery. These fully-formed elements make for a fluid, seamless experience that are nothing less than addicting. Perfectly weaved into the film’s nightmarish exploration of choice, is a high concept and execution that truly meshes with the themes at its core. Above all, this experience is about a fleeting feeling that choice is may be nothing but an illusion. Naturally, the true answer to this question is what both Stefan and the viewer wrestle with each decision. In the best way, the film is constantly questioning the nature of our reality, or the reality that we create for ourselves with each decision.

To make sure that the experience isn’t too short or unsatisfactory, the film forces us into a few bad decisions early on. Each time we hit a dead end, a sped-up recap brings us back to the same fork in order to take a different route. Of course, when we do, there are some cheeky references to call out that this isn’t our first go-around, keeping things fresh and us on our toes. In a way, the film subtly guides us just like the intangible forces that begin to overtake Stefan’s life. This creates a somewhat unsettling feeling that leaves us thrilled but also engaged. When things reach a logical end, we’re given the opportunity to return to various decisions until we decide to end. The idea of repetition only enforces the story’s ideas in a dark, complex way.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch review Will Poulter

Another thing that helps the experience, are the performances. Sources on the net say that there could by upwards of five hours of footage for the film. Each time we take a new route, the performances shift sometimes subtly, sometimes in big ways. The ensemble here is paramount in keeping us invested and dialing the tension up in ways that are sometimes unbearable. Fionn Whitehead tows a very fine line with Stefan, alternating between an existential puppet and a tortured character with his own agency. Will Poulter’s Colin feels somewhat like the mad hatter, taking our hand and throwing us deeper into an unknown abyss. Asim Chaudhry, Alice Lowe and Craig Parkinson add shifting constants who flesh out the world. Overall, the ensemble brings humanity to what could be a cold experience, providing performances as impressive as the film’s techno wizardry.

Bottom line, this is the antidote to those who’ve grown accustomed to watching movies at home while checking their cell phone every two minutes. Bandersnatch forces us to connect, to become involved, to interact. Of course, this isn’t a new idea, but it’s an idea that makes sense in the streaming climate, something to differentiate the home experience from the theatrical. At a time when games are trying to emulate films and vice versa, this takes the narrative full circle. As a Black Mirror installment, the show’s hyper-critical worldview and critique of the way we consume technology is on full display, but this time in labyrinthian meta excess. Like the best art, Bandersnatch is going to get a lot of people talking. We’re going to pour over the nuance in each scene, the choices we make and what it all means. This is what art should do – challenge us, inspire and even point us toward the right questions, no matter how illusive those answers may be. 

SG