Late last night (or early this morning, depending on your timezone), Netflix released the fifth installment of the critically-acclaimed anthology series, Black Mirror. A macabre rumination of technology and interpersonal human relationships, Black Mirror is a series that quickly captivated fans around the world with its dark humor and ingenuity. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure interactive ninety-minute special. The viewer controls a series of commands ranging from simple (listen to The Thompson Twins or Now 2) to gruesome (“bury” your father or “chop him up”) as they follow the protagonist through his journey as a game developer in 1984. To avoid major spoilers, I won’t say more than that. Nevertheless, here are the three biggest instant takeaways from Bandersnatch.
Relationship Between Capitalism & Art
The relationship between capitalism and art is a more intuitive and underlying storyline in Bandersnatch. The protagonist, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), is slowly losing his mind while creating Bandersnatch regardless of which permutation you watch in the ninety minutes. The higher-ups at Tuckersoft, the company that eventually distributes Bandersnatch, continue to push Stefan to finish the game by the deadlines. They cite investments in advertising and bookings of copying facilities as reasons why Stefan must turn in the game on time. Their only focus is the potential profit of Bandersnatch regardless of the mental health and well-being of the creator. The thing with art, and creating things in general, is that deadlines become obsolete. In order for the best possible product, an artist must work on their own timeline. Unfortunately, this bumps heads with the fundamental principles of economic capitalism. When the means of production (Stefan) is privately owned, profit trumps quality in terms of importance. Hence, why in the vast majority of the timelines in Bandersnatch, the game is released in varying states of quality.
Theory of Multiple Realities
The crux of Bandersnatch is its exploration of the theory of multiple realities. This isn’t a new school of thought (think the multiverse theory or Jorge Luis Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths). In Bandersnatch, we learn that in this world, what you do in one reality effects what happens in another. Everything you choose effects the future, flashbacks are a way to change or correct choices, and you don’t really have a choice because someone is controlling you. If this all sounds extremely confusing, that’s understandable. It all makes sense as you fumble through the multiple endings of Bandersnatch. Everything hinges on choice and as the movie progresses, Stefan begins to realize that something or someone is controlling him. Netflix gets self-referential and borderline-hellish as the choices intensify, but there is yet another layer. Although this is a choose-your-own-adventure style special, eventually the show forces you into choosing some choices. You can try to avoid certain choices, but eventually, the simulation loops back and forces you to choose those options. Bandersnatch is a metatheatrical game of control and choice. It breaks the fourth wall and flips games like Pac-Man into something politically and emotionally sinister. This particular interpretation of multiple realities/universes/timelines is flawed by the format, but it is one of the most intriguing examples of the theory in modern television/film
Future of Storytelling in Television/Film
Finally, with the release of Bandersnatch, what does the future of storytelling in television/film look like? The choose-your-own-adventure format isn’t new (Netflix explored this in 2017 with Puss in Book), but it is the first major release of its kind for adults. In terms of acting, Will Poulter (Colin Ritman) and Fionn Whitehead (Stefan Butler) are absolutely riveting. The editing of the show is seamless and the writing is great as well. With five main endings, Bandersnatch is enjoyable the first few times, but eventually, the format gets tired and a bit repetitive. With nearly five hours of footage to explore, Bandersnatch initially feels daunting but quickly becomes tiring. It appears that streaming platforms are the best hosts for choose-your-own-adventure content and limited series are the best formats. Allowing the viewer even this much choice would not work in theaters or for traditional television series. Nevertheless, Bandersnatch is a massive and innovative step forward for storytelling. What if we gave viewers more choice? What if we combined interactive storytelling with virtual reality technology? Maybe we’re one step closer to choose-your-own album track lists as well! Then again, as we delve deeper into what storytelling can truly be, current establishments (award shows, entertainment platforms, etc.) will have to evolve with the times. Regardless, I think we’re all excited to see how Netflix, their competitors, and unknown ingenues top the innovation of Bandersnatch.