a fierce mythical creature immune to bribery and capable of moving very fast
Meta isn’t the word for Charlie Brooker’s newest Black Mirror creation: Bandersnatch is the interactive story of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), a coder who attempts to adapt his favourite book (also Bandersnatch) into a game. Set in the 1980s, this nostalgia filled flick is a collision of flashbacks and turning points, all of which we see in quick succession when it is revealed we have picked the wrong option, and have to go back to point A, or B, or C.
Until Brooker releases a tell all interview about Bandersnatch, there is really no way of telling how many twists and turns there are. In the beginning Brooker lulls us into a false sense of security by asking us to choose between two cereals. The difficulty increases from there on out.
At first the nail-biting wait to see what effect my choices would have on Stefan’s life added some tension to Bandersnatch, but the resulting brutal violence wore away at the suspense. The audience can only watch Stefan beat his father (Craig Parkinson) to death so many times before a sense of deja vu sets in.
The consensus appears to be that there are five alternate endings, which range from prison for Stefan to tekkenesque fight scenes. The ending does not mean you are finished. When you have reached an ending or chosen the ‘wrong’ choice you can circle back and discover a new ending. Bandersnatch is about the illusion of freewill, both for Stefan and the viewer.
Bandersnatch cannot be compared to any of Brooker’s other Black Mirror creations. Unlike the vibrant colours in the U. S. S. Callister, Bandersnatch paints a pallid picture. Far from the undeserved sympathy that the murderer Mia evokes in Crocodile, in Bandersnatch we see Stefan under a microscope, which means we cannot step back and see the bigger picture. Bandersnatch is a bit too much of everything at once. How can we sympathise with Stefan when we have seen it all played out before? And unlike the protagonist in Crocodile, whose motivations are laid bare, the Bandersnatch book that began Stefan’s decent into insanity is hovering somewhere off in our peripheral vision, a bit too blurry to make out.
The Bandersnatch book separates this movie from the Black Mirror theme: while Stefan’s deterioration is linked to the stress of creating his multi-choice game, Bandersnatch is much more widely linked to mental health, trauma, and obsession than it is tech. The latter is incidental to the overwhelming idea that free will is just that, an idea.
Blink and you might miss it, but Bandersnatch is also about legacy. After we have experienced each ending, we watch a game reviewer gives his verdict on Stefan’s creation. In one variation he gives it 0/5. For me, the reviewer only gave Bandersnatch 5/5 when Stefan murdered his father and chopped him into little pieces. In this timeline Stefan later told his therapist that his father was away visiting friends, and that with the house to himself he finally feels free to focus on coding. Like the murderers who want to make their mark, we go back in time and find the ending that makes Bandersnatch a critical success.
Bandersnatch breaks the fourth wall for me a bit too much. One option is to tell Stefan we are watching him on Netflix and admit that we are choosing his next move. Although this was no doubt a tongue in cheek choice meant to stir up conversation more than anything else, I still find it unnerving.
With Netflix being the perfect medium for your average couch potato, hopefully the interactive format will stay within the realm of subversive programmes like Black Mirror, and will not be rolled out across whole genres.While Bandersnatch is a masterpiece of planning and editing, I do not want to interact with the characters, and I am looking forward to the next season of Black Mirror, which I will have absolutely no input in.