Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Netflix, now you’ve gone and done it.

The latest outing for the Netflix original, Black Mirror, has come in the form of an interactive movie.  “What does that mean?”, you may ask.  Well, the entire film is set up like a “choose your own adventure” story, as the plot centers around a game programmer in the mid-80’s who is making a new game based on one of those books.  This is such a unique and ambitious project.  Allowing the watcher the opportunity to dictate their viewing experience is something we’ve only dreamed of, but somehow Netflix and the people from Black Mirror were able to pull it off.

The film is set in 1984 and follows a young programmer named Stefan as he embarks on a journey to turn a book, titled “Bandersnatch”, an obvious allusion to the creature from "Through The Looking-Glass" (Looking-Glass - Mirror - Black Mirror... coincidence? I think not), into the next hot video game.  As he works toward adapting this dark fantasy novel, he begins to question reality and whether or not the choices he is making are actually his own.  This wild ride takes you through multiple scenarios and several different endings.  Which one you end up with is entirely up to you... or is it?

This 90-minute film is littered with twists and turns, reinterpreted versions of already-viewed scenes, and alternate endings galore.  There’s so much to unpack that as soon as I finished it, I instantly replayed it and went through the story in a completely different way.  On my first time around, it told a tale of someone who was losing their mind.  But what I found even more interesting was that as Stefan came to realize that he was no longer in control of his own actions, it became clearer that, in a way, neither was I.  I began to see that certain situations, no matter what choices I made, were destined to happen, leading me to the same conclusion.  

Now, obviously this isn’t completely true, as there are several key choices that take you on wildly different paths from the one I initially took.  However, the thought that, as the audience member who is supposed to be in control, I actually wasn’t, was a haunting comparison to what Stefan was living through, and proved to be a stroke of genius on the filmmakers part.  It managed to succeed in many ways due to the superb direction by David Slade (Hannibal, American Gods) and the insanely impressive writing skills of Black Mirror scribe Charlie Brooker.  These two managed to pull off a seemingly impossible task.

However, all the writing and directing in the world wouldn’t be much good without a fantastic cast to bring the story to life, and Bandersnatch had that in spades.  Leading the film was Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) as Stefan Butler.  His ability to tap into the mania and psychosis of this character was incredible.  He created such an enthralling character, something necessary for the lead in a film like this.  He gives the audience something to grab onto during this crazy trip through different timelines and alternate events.  But my favorite performance of this entire film was from the very talented Will Poulter (We're The Millers, Maze Runner) in the role of wunderkind programmer Colin Ritman.  This is one of, if not THE best performance I have seen from him.  He stole every single scene he was in, and I hope to see more like this from him in the future.

Bandersnatch isn’t without its flaws, though.  Even though my first viewing was gripping and fantastically powerful, the subsequent viewing caused it to lose a bit of its luster.  Going through the multiple versions and different endings was interesting, but not nearly as poignant.  And there’s even one particular scene that, although funny and entertaining, throws the whole thing off with its extreme meta nature.

This film has opened up a door to a fascinating new way of storytelling.  Director David Slade even shared how, in addition to the several endings and other interesting snippets of footage, there are a number of “golden eggs” that are so hard to find, they may never actually be seen.  He even joked how there was a scene that so well hidden, he couldn’t even access it for them.  This style of filmmaking is something I would love to see branch out into different genres, particularly “sword & sorcery”, as many choose-your-own-adventure stories have been set within that genre.  It would almost feel like you’re playing D&D and getting to see it play out on the screen, which would be so awesome.

Overall, Bandersnatch is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone looking for something new and interesting.  I just hope you wind up with the satisfying first experience that I walked away with.

The Merc’s Score: 8/10

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