With a highly-expected expected fifth season anticipated, instead, last week Netflix released a trailer for a standalone Black Mirror film called Bandersnatch. It was touted as an interactive movie with many different potential endings, and even endings-within-endings, based on a series of multiple choice options the watcher makes during its duration. In Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, young games developer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) is developing a video game based on a choose-your-own-adventure book, but the more he works on the game the more his life emulates the choice based narrative and he loses control over his decisions, of course the ending of this plot is completely dependent on your own choices.
Because of the multiple narrative paths that one can follow through Bandersnatch, and the role of the viewer in shaping the film they’re watching, it’s very unlikely you’ll watch the same film as your friends, therefore making it nigh-impossible to review properly. However, with the majority of movie-watching for the population taking place on streaming services, it seems that these interactive movies may become more commonplace in the future. Given the immediate popularity of Bandersnatch it’s important to consider whether interactive films are the future of cinema, and whether they should even be considered movies, or video games.
Watching Bandersnatch (/playing Bandersnatch?), I found myself only wishing the best for Stefan and continually accepting his job offer from Mohan (Asim Chaudhry), only, like Sisyphus, to be stuck in a seemingly infinite loop of failure. This involved Colin (Will Poulter, somehow being a more grating actor than ever), repeatedly telling me I had taken the “wrong path”. The ending to my viewing was also lackluster, but this is an unfair assessment as many of my friends enjoyed their ending. Perhaps the lackluster narrative of Bandersnatch is a failure on my own behalf of not being able to pull together an interesting narrative myself as I shape my protagonists decisions. However, I think it’s the former; I may have had control over Stefan but it’s limited: I can choose whether he wants Sugar Puffs or Frosties, but I can’t refuse breakfast. It’s a dense, multi-layered experience, but in trying to be a movie and a video game, fails to be either well.
Rather paradoxically, I found that by controlling aspects of the protagonists journey I felt more detached and distant from the film, not caring overly for the characters by its conclusion, or even Stefan’s success, which I became nearly completely apathetic about. This is strange considering that the film may be interactive and gets you actively involved, it’s not immersive or nearly as emotionally investing as some of Black Mirror’s previous high-points (15 Million Merits and San Junipero strike me as very moving highlights of the television series). No part of Bandersnatch felt like a fully fleshed out film, or much less even a sub-par television episode. Whilst Netflix may have outsourced much of the decision-making of film narrative to the film viewer, I can’t help but hate the tedium of it all. It’s an impressive feat from director David Slade and series creator Charlie Brooker, and certainly gets people talking about and considering narrative in real terms, it’s just such a shame I care so little about what they’ve made as entertainment to look forward to.
Is Bandersnatch the future of cinema?
YES / NO / DON’T CARE