By Nora Lowe
Disclaimer: the following article contains spoilers about Netflix’s recent Black Mirror – Bandersnatch
Like the majority of BHHS students, I enjoy a good show on Netflix, which often serves as a refuge from unrelenting schoolwork, a pass-time, and something that, frankly, we all make time for. On this aficionado’s Netflix repertoire (yes, I am a Netflix aficionado) are some fan-favorites such as The Office and Parks and Recreation, but the thing that each series has in common is that they are humorous. I don’t normally watch shows such as Black Mirror, which tend to skew towards the darker side. I recently watched Bandersnatch because my friends were raving about it, and I resolved to discover: What specifically makes this particular episode of Black Mirror a must-watch phenomenon?
The first question that I found myself asking was “What or who is a ‘Bandersnatch’?” A Bandersnatch is a fictional creature from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. It vaguely resembles a bat, with a long neck, and snapping jaw. This discovery only raised more questions for me. Before embarking on the long journey of watching Bandersnatch, I decided that I should watch the trailer, and familiarize myself so that I could fully understand the context of the movie. I soon discovered what makes this movie so unique: in a way, there is no plot. Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch is an interactive video-game-like movie in which the viewer makes numerous decisions that impact the plot and outcome. According to The Guardian, there are over three trillion combinations of choices that the viewer can make! I soon discovered an extremely helpful flowchart that I continued to refer to throughout the whole movie.
Bandersnatch is easily accessible through Netflix, and for the purpose of this article, I will describe the scenario that I chose while watching Bandersnatch. Part of the appeal, though, is that the characters remain the same as does the general idea that the movie centers around a young programmer who adapts a novel into a video game as he questions reality. What does change, are the actions taken by the characters.
In addition to deciding which choice to select, the viewer has a limited time to do so. Personally, I found this factor stressful, but it does increase the dark anticipation of the movie. When asked about how he feels in regard to the decision making factor, Byram Hills High School freshman, Sammy Hadiano, shares that “having the viewer make their own decisions really gave each individual an ending based on their personality and a sense of control.”
The irony is hard to miss: the viewer makes decisions in a constantly evolving storyline about the protagonist, Stephen, who collaborates with a programmer from the Tuckersoft company, Collin, to create a video game in which the player is presented with choices about how they desire the game to progress. This idea was inspired by a novel Stephen read in which the reader can select and alter the character’s actions. I can guarantee the viewer will appreciate this complex and clever cycle.
There are trivial decisions included that don’t affect the overall plot, but others are pivotal, such as whether or not to accept Tuckersoft’s offer to create Stephen’s new and fantastical video game. I first chose to accept the offer, and then later restarted and declined the offer. Even though the plot was the same between these two moments there were some clever and subtle differences, in that they alluded to their previous interaction. In fact, after they meet for what the viewer perceives as the second time, Collin inquires, “Have we met before?” Collin addresses Stephen when he says, “It was ahead of its time. As much as time exists,” in regard to the Bandersnatch novel. This prompt directs the reader to the overall theme of the movie which questions: What is time? Is it existent, or simply an abstract concept?
The plot quickly begins to descend into a dark and complex state. As Stephen becomes more aware of the choices the viewer is making, he discovers that his actions parallel that of the Bandersnatch novel’s author as he watches a documentary about him. The author ultimately goes insane and kills his wife. Stephen becomes unsettled as he discovers that he and the author have both been drawing a demon-like character, which I can only assume is the infamous Bandersnatch, hence the title. One combination of decisions the viewer can make results in Stephen murdering his father, and in that scenario, it would be as if Stephen completely repeated the author’s actions, furthermore playing with the factors of repetition and time. The documentary also reveals that after the author committed this murder, he attributed his “innocence” to the fact that we don’t have control over our actions and that we are all just fate’s puppets. When asked what message of the movie he found most powerful, BHHS freshman, Gabe Bogart, said that he felt the quote, “You are just a puppet. You are not in control,” truly captured the movie’s message.
Because I did not wish to witness a murder scene, I used the plot chart to direct Stephen to a scenario in which he doesn’t kill his father, and does not follow in the footsteps of the author. After Stephen resists the next decision, he begs nobody in particular for an explanation as to why he feels such a lack of control, and I choose the option of explaining to him that he is being controlled through Netflix. This part is almost comical and blatantly reveals the truth in a far-fetched manner. This part of the movie is the only part that I thought seemed forced. Stephen is also not equipped to understand this explanation since the movie takes place before the invention of Netflix, yet another way Bandersnatch toys with the concept of time. Stephen realizes that he is being controlled by someone from the future. It is revealed that Stephen is indeed an actor, from our time, being controlled by the script. Yet Stephen is still unaware of this and he is unable to comprehend it.
It is essential to remember that the ending I stumbled upon is one of many. Bandersnatch is a game within a game which is extremely clever. I can guarantee that after watching Bandersnatch you will find yourself wondering about details as more questions arise even after the movie has ended. The most prominent theme, or question, rather, is whether or not your destiny is decided by your free will, or whether there is some greater force at play, manipulating your every move. In addition, the movie constantly plays with the theory of time and whether it is abstract or solid. It tests time’s limitations, provoking the viewer to witness both past, present, and future, all of which are intertwined. It also addresses the butterfly effect, which is illustrated through the connection of minor decisions to major plot events. The only question left is whether you are ready to experience Bandersnatch yourself. It’s your decision. Or is it?