Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a choice-driven, interactive movie experience, where your actions determine the course of the story. This is probably the first film of its kind on Netflix that got this kind of attention.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch follows the story of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) a young programmer, who goes to pitch his ideas to his idol, Colin Ritman, a famous game creator. He proposes a video game based on a ‘choose your own adventure’ book by Jerome F. Davies, in which the player traverses a maze to dodge a creature called Pax. He is given the choice to whether work on the game with a team, or by himself (which is the first major decision that the viewer has to take). Anyhow, he gets a narrow window of time to programme the whole game, just in time for Christmas.
To meet the deadline, he goes into overdrive mode, codes for long hours in isolated spaces, and has to battle both physical and mental exhaustion. He meets his therapist because he is still disturbed about his mother’s death; who died years ago.
The film proceeds with Stefan gradually getting the feeling that his actions are being controlled by someone else. (He eventually gets to know that he is being watched by someone, through Netflix- which is us?). He confides to his therapist and his father about this, giving us choices which lead to the different alternate endings.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is pretty clever, and well thought out. All the endings are not as satisfactory as the others and this just makes you watch (or play) it all over again.
The first few choices are trivial- the kind of breakfast and music followed by more serious ones. And these seemingly inconsequential choices are inculcated into the plot as we see further along the way.
The choices can either lead to further forks along the way, or circle back to themselves. Some are not even choices at all, they’re false paths which lead to the whole day being re-lived again. This in turn gives a sense of deja-vu to the characters.
Whatever decisions the viewer makes throughout the film affects the storyline, and leads to one of many (rumour has it, there are 5) endings.
Our objective, in one of the narratives, is to obtain a perfect five-star rating from the critics. Or alternatively, we see that the whole thing is actually a film, with Stefan, his father and his therapist as characters of the film. Or does he die, by going with his mother on her ill-fated train journey? It all depends on what choices you’ve made throughout the film.
There is no running time showing onscreen, and you can’t rewind or fast-forward. You are rooted in the moment. You might finish the movie in 40 minutes, or you might take 90 minutes, depending upon your choices. The decision-making is also timed which puts the player on edge.
As Colin Ritman says, “Time is a construct. People think you cant go back in time and change things, but you can, that’s what flashbacks are, invitations to go back and make different choices. When you make a decision, you think it’s you doing it, but it’s not, it’s the spirit out there that’s connected to our world, that decides what we do.” Colin has a theory that the government is monitoring people, making us do things. This raises some intriguing questions.
Bandersnatch sends us into retrospection; are we the force that is sparking Stefan’s existential crisis? Are we even in control of our own lives?
This brings us to the subject of free will. There is an illusion of our free will during this whole film, that we are the game masters. But in reality, a lot of the choices weren’t really viable. If you chose them, you’d be given the option to either go back to the previous major fork, or to go back to this particular choice. So, you have no option, but to choose what the creator meant for you to choose.