Christiaan theorizes a bit about Black Mirror‘s latest tale, Bandersnatch.
A few months ago, I explored the reasons behind Telltale Games’ sudden shutdown. One of the few companies that was publicly involved with Telltale Games before its demise was Netflix. With the release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the reason for that partnership has become clear: Netflix wants to step into the realm of interactive storytelling. And while Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is flawed, it stands as a wildly unique flagship that charts the future of Netflix’s directions.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an odd title that straddles both the world of video games and the world of film. Built into its very core is the idea of interactivity, similar to video games, while also delivering a high-quality film that meets Hollywood standards. It’s an ambitious film that saw Netflix making several innovations in its platform, such as reworking its cache memory to store multiple scenes or creating the “Branch Manager” to help Charlie Brooker, the writer, write the script. However, the content itself is muddled.
Brooker created Black Mirror: Bandersnatch as a meta-narrative meditation on choice and free will. Because the viewer, rather than the writer or director, dictates the flow of the narrative, the film is inherently unique for every viewer. With this in mind, Booker takes the branching storylines viewers create while watching the film and turns them into simultaneous realities in the narrative. This a smart solution to allow for individual experiences, but it creates a muddled project thematically. The five core endings don’t gel with each other as a single film, instead each ending feels like a separate movie.
By creating several choices, Brooker made a film at odds with itself. While Booker makes it clear each ending exists at the same time, they fail to find a common theme. For example, in the most common ending the main character kills their father and makes a perfect video game that is later recreated. In this ending, there is no free will for the main characters, but they make the perfect game. In another ending, the main character gets to relive his child and die with his mother. His free will is only questioned in this ending. This causes the two endings, ultimately, to fail to gel and create a cohesive experience.
Compared to video games that also question free will and interaction, such as the Zero Escape series and Undertale, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch comes up short. For example, in Undertale characters will comment upon your actions from previous playthroughs. This helps to make your actions in the game feel important no matter how small. However, interactivity is far from the sole point of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. More than anything, Booker succeeded in telling a story that could only be told on Netflix. With their financial backing, he crafts brilliant acid trip scenes and post-modern surrealism while dipping into what may be the standard format of Netflix’ future.