LH Review: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch


Courtesy of Netflix

Jesse Hausknecht-Brown, Reporter

A dark commentary on society and free will, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, is filled with mystery, unexpected plot twists and a variety of bleak endings. While Bandersnatch has many thrilling aspects to it, the choose your own adventure component has left something to be desired. The newest installment of the Black Mirror series, released by Netflix on December 28, is a whole new kind of television. Interactive movies are by no means new to the cinema world, but Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is the first one to truly grab audiences attention. During the movie the viewer has the option to make choices for the protagonist.

Set in 1984, young Stefan Butler, played by Fionn Whitehead, is trying to make it in the world of video game design with his masterpiece game, Bandersnatch, based on a novel written by alleged psychopath, Jerome F. Davies. He meets Colin Butler, played by Will Poulter, a famous video game creator who seems to know things that Stefan doesn’t. Tensions with his worrisome father escalate throughout the film as Stefan character begins to match that of Davies’s. Throughout the movie, the viewer is presented with choices that can control Stefan’s actions. These decisions can be as small as what Stefan eats for breakfast and as big as what he uses to commit a murder. The film has multiple endings which are reached by making a certain set of choices in a specific order. However, the film seems to double back on itself, letting you see the same choice twice and choose a different option.

I found parts of Bandersnatch to be excessively confusing because of all the repetition. It felt like I was working towards something, but didn’t know what. The obvious goal was to have Stefan make a good video game, but I think that the show was playing on the fact that the viewer would try to make moral decisions for Stefan, when in the end he always ended up dead or in prison. Having to watch and rewatch scenes was simultaneously exhausting and exciting, I became increasingly confused as the plot developed and the choices became less clear. The story didn’t move in a linear pattern like most movies, shows and books do, instead it moved in an jagged way which is a different way to tell a story, but it is also unusual concept which made it hard to follow.  

When I worked my way through the Bandersnatch story, I opted not to make a choice during the whole film. My logic was that every time the viewer is presented with two choices, they really have three choices. The two obvious options shown on the bottom of the screen and then there was a third choice, to not make a choice at all. By doing this Stefan got the five stars on his video game at the end.

Bandersnatch was very artistically pleasing. The dark colors and shadows in essentially all of the scenes gave the movie a particularly ominous and eerie feel. There was also a retro 80’s video game theme throughout the film which added a nice touch of nostalgia. Placing TV screens in movies, giving the visual effect of a screen on a screen, is a nice graphic design move and made the choices about going back in time more interesting.

One of the biggest critiques I have about the movie was how the characters were not characters at all, merely plot devices placed in a story to convey a larger message. Stefan’s character was especially shallow, he seemed to be there just to open a conversation about free will. The show is incredibly meta and breaks the fourth and fifth wall over and over again; these aspects make the characters seem even more small and lifeless because the idea behind the show is to think about a greater force, not just the surface level characters.

In all honesty, the latest of chapter of Black Mirror is immensely terrifying at points, because the viewer has to be the one to continuously make terrible decisions for Stefan and watch as whatever they choose ends in death or destruction. Stefan essentially has a conversation with the viewer about Netflix and how he doesn’t have control over his actions. This forces the viewer to think about how Netflix, along with other large cyber corporations may really be taking control of its users. In the end, I think that Bandersnatch is something that everyone should watch, if not for entertainment, at least for the new way of telling a story.