By KATIE LIU
Arts & Entertainment Section Editor
Netflix’s standalone Black Mirror film, Bandersnatch, is an ambitious and unprecedented choose-your-own-adventure movie, released on December 28. Directed by David Slade, with the screenplay written by the creator of the original Black Mirror series Charlie Brooker, this film has received mixed reviews from both audience members and critics. It currently is rated 7.6/10 on IMDb, 61% on Metacritic, and 4/5 on Common Sense Media.
Bandersnatch follows the slow mental descent of young game programmer Stefan Butler, played by Fionn Whitehead, who is known for his role in Dunkirk. Stefan tries to program an ambitious choose-your-own-adventure video game, based on a deranged author’s fantasy novel by the same name. He befriends Colin Ritman, played by The Maze Runner star Will Poulter, another famous programmer who tries to aid Stefan in his creative process. In the process, Stefan tragically begins to lose his touch with reality, questioning the concepts of free will and self-control in his life.
The genius of Bandersnatch is that it puts the viewer into the actual film. Several times throughout the film, a character will “break the fourth wall” or directly address the viewer. Being able to have the option to choose one thing or another turns a passive spectator into an active audience member. There is a certain element of mystery to Bandersnatch, which is that viewers are left with questions of what ending they might have gotten had they chosen a different option. Overall, Bandersnatch has five main endings.
Bandersnatch also had multiple compelling performances. While the minor characters were drier and less interesting, Whitehead delivered an authentic performance of Stefan, making him a sympathetic and strong character. Poulter also deserves praise for his portrayal of Colin, as he created arguably the most self-aware and intriguing character in the film. Through his rants on government conspiracies and spying to the possibility of having multiple lifetimes for one individual, Poulter established Colin as the classic eccentric, cynical artist, a trope that works well in this film’s case.
While it has been praised for its groundbreaking technological achievement of incorporating the viewer into the story, Bandersnatch has been also criticized for its cynicism and depressing, sometimes repetitive, plot. Its mother series, Black Mirror, is a British television series that takes an often dark and even satirical look at society and humanity. Bandersnatch does no different. The film examines the concept and validity of free will through Stefan’s struggles, and this is reflected in the way Bandersnatch itself is coded. Even though we as an audience may feel we have a say in how it ends, in reality, the endings have already been decided by the writers. In fact, some of the choices given to viewers don’t actually match the things the characters do. Pessimism aside, that is the most brilliant aspect of Bandersnatch. One of the endings involves Stefan adjusting his game so that he leaves his viewers with just enough choices to create the illusion of free will, when in reality, the ending was already coded by him. We watch and sympathize with Stefan during this entire process, when reality, we as viewers are going through the same exact thing.
Many of the questions raised throughout Bandersnatch do remain unanswered, however. Many of the endings are unsatisfying and unhappy, something that many fans of Black Mirror would be used to. It does get repetitive once viewers have been watching and playing it for hours, trying to search for a better ending for Stefan. However, it still stays true to its roots in its dark examination of the human experience, with multiple easter eggs and nods to previous Black Mirror episodes.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch will ultimately leave invested viewers with the lingering question: who really is in control of us? Are we truly the masters of ourselves? These questions may seem pointlessly existential or even foolish, but in today’s advanced society, they are things worth thinking about.