Netflix’s BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018) gives you the illusion of choice
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes the form of a choose-your-own-adventure film, an experiment by Netflix that allows the viewer to make storyline choices for the protagonist leading to a range of possible endings… But is this experiment successful?
In terms of an experiment in crafting an ‘interactive film’ I’d say Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a definitive success. The fact that they have managed to pull off the choose-your-own-adventure approach in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s forcing you in a certain direction or like you are replaying the same sections over and over is impressive to say the least. Decisions mostly feel like they mean something and make a difference towards the ending or endings that you uncover. If you are taken back to a certain point to re-evaluate your decision you don’t feel like you’re simply rewatching the same scenes tediously. There are some minor differences in the scenes you replay to create some added intrigue and you can also unlock alternate hidden scenes through replaying sections in various orders.
The depth in the functionality of this experimental film is very impressive with all of the various decisions you can make and how much you can influence the story. The one downside of the interactive functionality is that it at times can feel a little more like a video game than a film but I guess since the subject of the story is the creation of a video game it seems like that was an intended meta impression from the creators. Now this experiment may be successful, but is this a successful story?
This question is a hard one to answer as everyone who watches this film will have a potentially vastly different experience in terms of how long they spend exploring the various options and how many endings they uncover. So in saying that I’m not quite sure Bandersnatch works as well in terms of creating a successful story. Once you hit a roadblock due to a wrong decision or you are thrown back to a core decision point after reaching one possible ending you do lose a bit of where you are in the story. It’s easy to keep track of early on, but once you keep going back things in the story change, characters are in places they weren’t, and it can be slightly overwhelming. These changes are good in making finding new endings less tedious as I mentioned but it adds to the overall confusion of what is going on.
Then where the film’s story I believe falls apart is with the endings as none of the various endings you can get feel like they’re “the end”. They’re all an ending and the credits roll but none of them really deliver a wholly satisfying conclusion to the story. Some endings are better than others and give you the feeling of completion but you can never really end it satisfyingly. I know this fact connects to the subject material within the story itself but it still doesn’t make it much less disappointing almost. The acting is good I have to say, the lead performance from Fionn Whitehead is the only one with enough screen-time to really make an impact but there is also Will Poulter who also makes a decent impression on the story.
In the end, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is something unique and original for sure and is an experiment I can see Netflix producing more of at some point in the future. From a technical standpoint and creating a film that feels ‘interactive’ it’s a resounding success, but in terms of building a great story there is still room for improvement. There are great elements of the story and some intriguing directions it goes in but the lack of a definitive conclusion makes the whole thing feel like it’s missing something. It’s definitely one to check out for the experience alone but I wouldn’t say it’s anything spectacular.