Bandersnatch Review: A gamechanger that leaves you spoilt for choice
Right from the beginning, the film lets us make decisions for the protagonist, thanks to which a sense of connection is established with the otherwise one-dimensional character
Black Mirror's latest release, Bandersnatch is a first in many ways. It's actually the series' first full-length film and is also its first interactive film -- where, in certain sections, the viewers are allowed to make decisions for the characters which will eventually change the course of the film itself. While this isn't the first interactive film, the interactive experience hasn't been explored much in films. It was the gaming industry which, in a bid to make the gaming experience more realistic, revolutionalised this form of storytelling, and that makes Bandersnatch all the more intriguing since it's a film on video games.
Director: David Slade
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Craig Parkinson
Knowing how crucial this film is for the series, Black Mirror's creator Charlie Brooker has himself written Bandersnatch. And it's directed by David Slade, who has previously directed episodes of Breaking Bad, Awake and Hannibal. Right from the first minute, the film lets us make decisions for the main character, a video-game designer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), who's on the verge of creating a video game with multiple endings which will be a revelation in the industry (the story is set in 1984). Though it starts with making simple choices such as the kind of cereal Stefan has for breakfast, the stakes get higher as the plot thickens and before you know it, you're making life and death decisions. Whatever decision you make, it reels back to Stefan confronting his issues surrounding his mother's death, his over-caring father and deadlines for his work that takes a toll on his mental health.
Thanks to the fact that we are making Stefan's choices, a sense of connection is established with the otherwise one-dimensional character. In one of the lighter moments which escalates into something else pretty quickly, Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) hands over a hallucinogen to Stefan, who ends up in a drug-induced haze and hallucinates that he is manipulating the swirls in a painting. It's interesting to note that irrespective of what the viewer choses, the ending has already been decided and we don't really have control over everything as we're made to believe -- which is also what Stefan realises closer to the end. A flashback to a pivotal moment in Stefan's childhood has a spot where we're cleverly given only one option to choose as any changes there will alter the rest of Stefan's life and naturally the flow of the entire film.
The various 'levels' these choices lead down to is mind-blowing and often reminds us of Inception's dream within a dream concept. Speaking about references, there are many to the fictional creature Bandersnatch in Lewis Carroll's 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass. While the novel's name itself a major giveaway for one of the multiple endings, the creature was mentioned in A New Alice in the Old Wonderland too. While we have Alice looking for a white rabbit in the classic, we also have Stefan searching for a toy rabbit here. There's also a lot of pop-culture references one can expect in a film based in the 80s, and if that's not enough, the makers have dropped several allusions to previous Black Mirror episodes. There are also sequences where Stefan breaks the fourth wall.
However, the film doesn't really embrace the concept of the Black Mirror series itself, which is about technology and how it affects mankind, and hence there's no takeaway that the rest of the episodes gave. Though Bandersnatch is 90 mins long, the multiple endings can increase the time we spend on it to almost five hours, and while some of the alternate endings are shocking, most of them are pretty simple and make you wonder if sitting through some of the same scenes is worth it. If choices aren't made by the viewer, the film chooses its own, and if sometimes the viewer makes a bad choice, similar to video games, the film nudges them, asking if that's the choice they really want to make. But these are minor nitpicks for what is an ambitious experiment that has proven to be quite successful for Netflix.