Quite literally, the fate does lie in your hands for the life of young Stefan Butler and his passion for making a game. Black Mirror releases a season every year with Netflix with mind bending stories, but this year they decided to drop a film on us.
Since this is a Black Mirror production, there is a catch. It may seem like your general one and a half an hour film but it can extend up to 3 hours if you have the curiosity or the patience to do so. Let me explain why; Bandersnatch is the first ever interactive film to be produced on Netflix. The interface allows you, as a viewer, to decide what path the protagonist, Stefan, takes as and when he is faced with options. As groundbreaking as this feature is, it isn’t a simple multiple story lined piece. The movie has its own take on breaking the fourth wall with the viewer making you self aware of being present in the scene without having any connections to the characters, yet playing the role of God or PAX and controlling their every move.
The story starts off with the routine life of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), waking up, taking pills which indicates about his mental state, getting down to the breakfast table where we are presented with our first set of choice:
Sugar Puffs or Frosties?
A simple click in under 10 seconds helps Stefan eat whatever it is for the day. While at breakfast, he plans on making his way to Tuckersoft, a popular gaming company, to present his idea of a game called ‘Bandersnatch’. It is adapted from a “choose your own adventure” book called Bandersnatch by a tragic writer Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter) into what he hopes will be a revolutionary adventure video game. The game involves traversing a graphical maze of corridors while avoiding a creature called the PAX, and at times making choices by an on-screen instruction. Stefan meets the manager at Tuckersoft, Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhary) and his idol, Colin Ritman (Will Poulter),where they make an offer of a lifetime to work on the game in the office itself where we come to the serious choice of accepting or refusing the offer. This choice isn’t as simple as it seems, it leads to the most complicated endings you can ever imagine.
You go ahead in the game, if you choose the right path, and are met with the ever changing storyline with the same characters. You come across Stefan choosing to take drugs with Colin, the death of either Stefan or Colin but just in his head, his psychiatrist Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe) who plays a major role in opening him up or in an alternate ending; just acting to be his mentor. Then his father, Peter (Craig Parkinson) who manages to tip him off to the extent of a murder but maybe if you choose a different path, Stefan dies with his mother at the youngest of his possible age in the film.
The film has multiple endings, all as mind twisting as the previous one if not more. Either his game hits success at the cost of insanity or his game fails at the cost of his well being, if not his game then the future or the past change depending on what you, as the controller, want to pursue for yourself.
It is a phenomenal experience. It isn’t a simple equation of audience x fourth wall = film. It comes down to more as audience = fourth wall = film. Every aspect is a part of one another. Other aspects of the film that were outstanding were:
- Performances: We all know Fionn Whitehead as the young boy from Dunkirk, the kid did a wonderful job then and out here as well. His stature in every scene according to the choices that a third party makes is as realistic as it would be in a general film. On the other hand, Will Poulter plays the role of a mean game maker who also happens to have a family but is the product of drugs and the conspiracies against the simple workings of our society. The way he portrays the character of Colin is magnificent, you almost buy every word he has to say. The performances in this entire film by every actor will immerse you into their lives. You may be the controller of Stefan but every character becomes just as important to you as him and you swing according to the biases you grow to make through the film.
- Presentation: The film is interactive, as already established above. Before the movie even begins, there is a short tutorial that explains your role in the film and asks if you want to proceed or not. This is a great way of introducing a new type of genre in the market. Using a platform such as Netflix and giving the authority to the users is a big step and wonderfully done by Black Mirror. The film also doesn’t rewind or forward past a choice been made. It is a play on time and how you can’t go back to change the history of your decisions or view the future and decide what to do with the present. As much as the choice is yours, the film gives you only 10 seconds to decide and if you don’t, it chooses one for you.
- Production: There is 150 minutes of unique footage divided into 250 segments. There are reportedly 5 different endings. The average viewing is 90 minutes, though the quickest path ends after 40 minutes, and at least one path results in a 2.5 hour viewing experience. The amount of time and efforts put into this one film delayed the fifth season of Black Mirror but it is set to be released sometime in 2019.
- Background Score: Other than the general soundtrack that the film uses, which is obviously amazing and set to the tone in 1984, the film has these 10 second tracks that play every time you have to make a choice. These tracks are a constant rise until the time is up and it increases your thrill for the choice. It is a wonderful mixture of editing, visuals and sound to give you an experience of being there as Stefan, or more so controlling the boy.
Personally, the film was a rollercoaster ride of hopes and dreams to devastation and crime. It plays with your mind and gives you the itch to find out more. For me, I couldn’t watch it all in a single day. I had to take a break before I could figure out the other alternate endings because of how immersed I was in the first 2 endings itself.
The Red Sparrow is constantly on the lookout for such groundbreaking films and it is only fair that Netflix comes up with these great projects under great productions. This isn’t the first interactive film Netflix has done but it is the first one targeted towards an adult audience.
Black Mirror Bandersnatch deserves 4 chirps for the pure originality of concept, the complexity of the plot and the relationship of the audience with the film.