To finish-off an amazing 2018 with a bang, on 28 December Netflix released its first ever video-game. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an interactive film, in which you, the viewer, can create your own story and control the main character across a series of choices which – some more than others – determine which finale you end up with.
But, as amazing as the idea sounds on paper, even just for the massive infrastructure that Netflix had to put in place to pull off such a stunt, Bandersnatch disappoints its viewers for the same reasons that it excites.
If you look at the graph which charts every possible outcome of the film, which went viral on Twitter just before the New Year, you will see that most of the choices in Bandersnatch are dead ends. There is always a right choice to be made, which ironically is always the left button, the one that is automatically pressed if you do not decide for yourself before time runs out.
Some people have interpreted this as a metaphor for what happens to the main character during the story: we believe to have free will but actually there is a force behind all events that decides for us and which we cannot escape. In this case, the force is Netflix. You might have found an excuse for your relentless procrastination during exam season, but this message doesn’t really hold up to the societal insight that previous seasons of the show had.
Yet while this criticism has already been made multiple times before, the one thing that nobody seems to have noticed is that Netflix was definitely not the first to have translated the choose-your-own-adventure novel to the screen. In the golden days when YouTube still had annotations, there were plenty of pyramid structured choose-your-own-finale sketches. I am sure everyone who was a YouTube fan in 2012 remembers going on an “interactive date” with Crabstickz. And even that had 10 different finales.
Bandersnatch is still an enjoyable film, very much grounded in the Black Mirror universe. It is set over the immersive background of 1980s England. Performances by Fionn Whitehead (whom you might remember from Dunkirk) and Will Poulter are astounding though understated.
This stand-alone piece seems like a single released unexpectedly to announce a new album, and with season 5 of Black Mirror having been announced almost 10 months ago, the only purpose of Bandersnatch might be to create hype. But, if this is the tone that the series will be going for from now on, we might just have lost one of the best things in television since The Sopranos.
Image credit: Movie DB