Netflix dropped their latest installment in their series “Black Mirror.” Their first ever interactive movie “Bandersnatch” is set in 1984 and follows a young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). Mimicking a “choose your own adventure” game, the viewer makes decisions on Stefan’s behalf and attempts to guide Stefan to create a five-star video game called “Bandersnatch” — hence the film’s title.
Disclaimer: this review delves into the endings of the plot. Read spoilers at your own risk.
Netflix’s “Black Mirror” series is four seasons of episodes known for their dark themes and satirical commentary on society. Created by Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade, this stand-alone film addresses the grim topics of free will, mental health, and reality.
The numerous pathways and intricacies of the storyline were very ambitious of the Netflix creators. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix invested in the creation of a new algorithm, the Branch Manager, to organize the elaborate plot for their impressive movie since each user interaction must update the direction of the plot differently. In fact, there are five entirely different endings and a mammoth amount of permutations. Despite over five hours of film for possible pathways, the runtime to reach a single ending is about ninety minutes.
The driving message of the plot focuses on Stefan’s realization of the futility of his existence; he believes he is not in control of any of his actions, at one point even stating that “[he] feel[s] like [he’s] not guiding these decisions, like someone else is” which is ironically true.
Although viewers are given the semblance of ultimate control over Stefan, more often than not, Netflix presents choices between a rock and a hard place, and sometimes gives its viewers the choice between “No” and “No.” This hauntingly reflects on the reality behind “Bandersnatch.” Maybe we are not in entire control of our lives. But it’s really up to us to decide…. or is it.
Despite all of the viewer’s attempts to salvage Stefan’s crumbling life, the only way to truly achieve a five-star rating on his video game is to commit a cruel murder. Here, “Black Mirror” darkly hints at the true price that comes with success, and the futility of Stefan’s quest. Each ending is miserable, so no matter what decisions are made, they all result in relatively the same, tragic endings.
The thrilling science fiction genre was a clever introduction for this new Netflix algorithm, but to see it possibly implemented into other genres would be phenomenal. Imagine interactive romantic comedies where you can dictate which suitor receives the protagonist’s affection or an interactive adventure where you lead your character through his or her quest.
Overall, “Bandersnatch” was inventive and a creative push on behalf of the Netflix executives. Whether interactive cinematography becomes the future of entertainment is up to how it is applied next. But for now, “Bandersnatch” makes an excellent debut of this new technology.