“Bandersnatch,” the standalone movie from the popular Netflix-original series “Black Mirror,” was released on the movie streaming service on Dec. 28, 2018. “Bandersnatch” follows video game programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) and his struggle with the idea of free will as he adapts a mad-man’s fiction novel of the same name into a game in this 1980s UK alternate-reality.
“Black Mirror,” one of the most popular series of the Netflix original collections, is easily the modern-day “Twilight Zone.” Each episode, set in the future or in an alternate-present, explores different realities in which advanced technology is implemented into human society and how we interact with it, and each other, because of it. Throughout the series, writer Charlie Brooker and director David Slade seek to prompt the viewers to reflect on their own interactions and challenge what they believe in, whether it is religion, war, politics, or love.
In this chilling film, viewers are given 10 seconds to select the actions of Stefan that appear at the bottom of the screens of their phones, tablets, and some TVs. These choices can be fun, like what cereal he has for breakfast, or grim, like whether to chop up or bury his dad’s body (Craig Parkinson). Most choices lead to different paths that branch off until you reach an ending, usually one in which Stefan is dead and the “Bandersnatch” game is released, or until you come across a dead end and are forced to “redo” a previous action to lead you to an ending.
In total, there are five different endings and almost a trillion different combination patterns of actions; the shortest route, without any redo’s, takes 90 minutes to complete, but in order to get through every possible ending, it may take viewers two to three hours to complete. By the end of this adventure, viewers will be left questioning every move they make: inside the movie and outside of it too.
“Bandersnatch,” despite being a part of the “Black Mirror” universe, definitely stands on its own as a well-crafted cinematic piece of the 21st century. When watching the movie, one can see the creators have dedicated enormous time to detail and artistic direction. Everything from the soundtrack to the color palettes screams 80s, and each scene is carefully crafted, from frames so cold you’ll need a sweater, and LSD trips that will make you feel like listening to the Beatles.
The background behind the cultural references of the movie are also highly complex. The lore behind the movie is well mapped out and researched, so that in any of the endings, a different “beast” of power is faced by Stefan. The title itself, “Bandersnatch,” is a monster from C.S. Lewis’s books, said to have also been influenced by hallucinogens and the concept of will, and may represent the beast Pax. It truly takes a great deal of focus to keep track of what is real and what is not, as much of the story are shown through a frame story to show the passage of time and further possibilities of Stefan’s future.
What might be the most exciting about this addition is the numerous callbacks to the other “Black Mirror” episodes. After all, who doesn’t love a good easter egg? Presenting themselves as video games, newspaper headlines, symbols and more, critically-acclaimed episodes such as “Metalhead,” “San Junipero,” “Nosedive,” “White Bear,” “Hated in the Nation,” (and especially “U.S.S. Callister”) sneaked themselves into the film.
Although the movie-game phenomenon was well-received by many Netflix viewers, some have accused “Bandersnatch” of being underwhelming or not fitting of the standard “Black Mirror” style. Critics have deemed the film kitschy and tedious to follow through with all the different endings.
The movie is also currently under scrutiny for the “choose-your-own-adventure” style, deemed overused and overly complicated. Netflix currently faces a lawsuit from Chooseco, the original publisher and owner of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark, who wants Netflix to cease usage of their brand name and is suing for $25 million or the profits from “Bandersnatch.” Nevertheless, “Bandersnatch” is still praised, and rightfully so, for its ground-breaking integration of technology in entertainment.
While some viewers may simply enjoy the film for its complex plot and seamless storytelling, some have delved deeper into the dark message of “Bandersnatch” in the way that was intended to be. Throughout the film and its multiple paths, characters and plot points in Stefan’s struggle with sanity and game developing revolve around the notion of free will. This comes in the form of a government conspiracy route (Program and Control Study), a beast-like god in Jerome F. Davies’ experience called Pax, the constant power of suggestion from Stefan’s therapist and her pills, and even a reality where it is revealed Netflix viewers from the future are controlling his fate for entertainment.
People, especially teenagers, are convinced that they are being manipulated through various forces to behave a certain way. Mass media, politics, and social phenomenon is said to dictate our lives, so perhaps we really aren’t in control. And if we were in control, on what authority do we have to act upon ourselves or others?
Morally-ambiguous questions like this are what make “Black Mirror” so addictive, and also hard to watch. You can see more of this tech-horror action in the upcoming season 5, soon to be released in 2019.