Review: Netflix’s ‘Bandersnatch’

The premiere show features options for more than one ending — an effect with a multitude of advantages and disadvantages

BY AMANDA SHORT

At the end of 2018, Netflix premiered Bandersnatch, an extension of the popular British dystopian TV show Black Mirror, creating a new dynamic of media that allows the audience to make decisions for the main character. Bandersnatch has a multitude of endings the viewer could encounter; however, all the endings do have a set of commonalities.  

No matter what path one takes in the movie, the general premise of the film is still the same. Bandersnatch is set in 1984 and focuses on the main character: a video game designer named Stefan Butler. Throughout the movie, Stefan becomes immersed in his new game (named eponymously) and slowly uncovers disturbing secrets about his reality. If one has watched the original Black Mirror series, they would be aware of the common theme throughout all the episodes: in a dystopian society nothing is what it appears to be. This theme carries over in the interactive aspect of the movie. The audience may feel like they are making decisions for Stefan, but actually a fair amount of their choices are arbitrary or are not actually a choice. Such decisions manifest a feeling of dissatisfaction for the power one is supposed to feel  in a “choose your own adventure” style show is slowly diminished. This effect is quite disappointing when the interactivity is what primarily drew the viewers in.     

The earliest choices the audience makes are overall useless to the story line. For example, the first interactive choices the audience makes for Stefan is what cereal he should have for breakfast and what cassette he should listen to. Whatever you choose of these options does not affect the story in the long run. They are simply fillers that are disguised to appear as substantial choices. To a certain extent, this tactic is advantageous in making the movie experience longer and leaving the audience with a fair amount of choices to make. However, for those who look beyond the interactive aspects of the movie, they are left puzzled why these choices were present to begin with as they prove to become miniscule in developing the story. After all, when Stefan becomes aware that the audience is acting as his brain, he never freaks out that they picked out his cereal or music taste, proving that such decisions are insignificant in the end.  

In addition, some points of the story seem like choices when really the viewer is required to make a certain decision to continue the journey. For example, Stefan is offered to collaborate on Bandersnatch with a large video game executive and the viewer is prompted to accept or decline the offer. However, this is not truly a choice as if you accept the offer you are outrightly informed it was the incorrect path. Essentially, the viewer has to refuse the offer or they cannot continue through the story. This is frustrating as this does not constitute a choice of free will like the audience is lead to believe they are making. In the attempt to venture into new outlets of media, the creators forget a core importance of entertainment: the ability to captivate an audience and entrench them in a new reality. When one frequently has to try and guess the “right” choice it takes away from simply enjoying the show. When most of us live in a society where we are constantly told what to do it seems bothersome that Netflix is indirectly trying to do the same thing.    

Despite the issues with Bandersnatch’s interactivity, the construction of the film itself does not fall as short. If one is a Black Mirror fan, they will most likely enjoy the mysterious and slightly creepy turns the movie takes. Stefan feels a loss of self as a result of the audience hijacking his brain channeling upon the popular human fear: that we are not in control of our own being. In the end, preying upon the fears of society is what the Black Mirror franchise does best and their attempt to expand into new realms is estimable.   

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