Bears in Black Mirror

Photo credit: Netflix

Just like seemingly everyone else who has access to the internet, my Christmas holiday was spent gripped by Black Mirror’s ground-breaking Bandersnatch, an interactive online drama launched by Netflix as part of Charlie Brooker’s dystopic universe. Critics have sung praise for the originality and complexity of Bandersnatch, a story in which the viewer dictates the actions of 19 year old Stefan as he attempts to design the titular video game. Every decision the viewer makes influences which “path” Stefan goes down, which ultimately culminates with how “Bandersnatch” the video game is rated. I’m sure you’re all aware of this given the attention that Bandersnatch has received across the last few weeks, but one crucial character in the story really stuck with me: Rabbit. 

Major spoiler alert: Rabbit is Stefan’s favourite stuffed toy, made by his mum when he was a toddler. In a flashback revealing the cause of his mother’s death, an assertion of toxic masculinity makes his dad hide Rabbit from five year old Stefan in the middle of the night. A frantic Stefan spends all morning trying to find Rabbit, causing his mother to miss her 8.30am train and instead get the later 8.45am train, which derails and kills her. Stefan, who was meant to get the train with her but refused in order to stay and find Rabbit, is plagued for the rest of his life knowing that by delaying his mother he sent her to her death. This feeds into his resentment for his dad, who he also blames for hiding Rabbit. 

So essentially, Rabbit is the reason Stefan’s mother died, and why Stefan ends up creating “Bandersnatch” and spiralling out of control. But this isn’t the first time a teddy bear has been so central to a Black Mirror plot and, interestingly, all of these teddy bear themed episodes are directly referenced in Bandersnatch. Most glaringly obvious is White Bear, which references the bear owned by a young girl murdered by her mother. The symbol in White Bear is the same symbol seen in Bandersnatch, which is used to show an action can be boiled down to two choices. When Stefan is imprisoned (this happens in multiple different endings) he is seen to be etching the glyph on the walls, clearly driven mad. 

The other referenced episodes are games made by the eccentric Colin. He releases two games, “Metl Hedd” and “Nohzdyve” which both reference episodes which also feature important teddy bears. Metalhead sees a woman fleeing a deadly robot and risking her life to steal a bear for a sick child, whereas Nosedive features a teddy bear called “Mr Rags” which, when photographed and posted online, brings together the protagonist and her old best friend which leads her to “nose dive”. 

For a series as thought-provoking and detailed as Black Mirror, the tying together of bears cannot be purely coincidental. So why are bears so frequently used in Black Mirror? What is the deeper meaning? The importance of a child’s attachment to their teddy is a point Brooker repeatedly tries to make, which makes me think of an old bleak cover photo on Black Mirror’s Facebook page: a toddler in the dark staring at an iPad screen captioned “The Future is Bright”. Is it a statement regarding the loss of connection with toys and bears in exchange for technology? Is it a cry for a simpler time when we found entertainment and love for things that were completely useless, whereas now we’re all hooked on technology and its utility?  

Overall, I think Brooker is making a point about how people can form a bond with inanimate objects, and the love and connections we feel are what fundamentally makes us human. This was definitely the moral of Metalhead, with the final reveal that a team of people would risk their lives and die for the sake of a teddy demonstrating how humanity differs to Artificial Intelligence. As technology develops and becomes a more integral part of our lives, we might be losing a sense of direct connection which is so nicely demonstrated by a child’s care for its teddy. Whatever the meaning is, it’s certainly thought-provoking, and has an oddly nice sentiment that no matter how far we develop technology, ultimately humanity will always retain the ability to connect and love.  

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