Is this 80s period piece a step into the future for Netflix?
Charlie Brooker’s latest feature-length episode from the anthology series Black Mirror places power and sanity in the hands of the viewer. Within the first couple of minutes you’re asked to make decisions on what you have for breakfast and the music you listen to, but don’t worry, your choices become more important and less mundane quite quickly. Our protagonist, Stefan (played by Fionn Whitehead), is a computer programmer still living at home. You’re able to take the episode in the expected dark, twisted direction that Brooker is now famous for. The only other character I wish to make you aware of before you watch is Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) who portrays a very philosophical character that serves as a metanarrative exposition machine. Of course, Brooker’s writing makes this feel natural, adding to the sense of insanity that you’ve come to expect.
The multitude of paths leads to contrasting conclusions. However, I encourage you to then choose to ‘go back’ and take other routes to different endings. Many only watch through once, which at best plays out as an average episode, but by exploring other decisions the story gets far darker. Small details become far more glaring and, in some respects, creepy. To truly experience Netflix’s interactive show, you need to keep selecting ‘choices’ until it will no longer let you – then it plays the full credits and you’ll truly be unnerved.
With the success and attention that Bandersnatch has achieved, we could see more ‘interactive’ Netflix features, perhaps even a series. It is, however, surprising that Netflix approached Brooker on such a project considering a company that had been working alongside Netflix, Telltale Games, went bankrupt in November 2018. Telltale produced games that functioned in a near-identical fashion to Bandersnatch with players/viewers choosing what the character does in between animated videos. The contract that was on the table at the end of last year was for a Stranger Things interactive game; other properties that Telltale have produced for include The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and even Law & Order. With Netflix having shown previous interest in user-controlled television, it’s highly likely that they’ll be giving us more of this whether we want it or not. Only time will tell if this is a gimmick or a genuine development in how we experience visual entertainment.
The rhetoric over more interactive television does fall through when you watch Bandersnatch, in which the plot quickly becomes enveloped in the concept of choice and predetermination. The interlocking of the ‘gimmick’ with the plot suggests it was something that Brooker dreamt up especially. Without the clever writing it would be rather unoriginal to essentially place a game on Netflix, however, Black Mirror seeks to question the frightening capabilities of technology, and Bandersnatch certainly does that.