A Bandersnatch is a character cooked up by Lewis Carroll and is never explicitly detailed but it is meant to be a ferocious creature with snapping jaws. This Black Mirror film definitely reflects those fierce jaws with a snappy interactive feature carefully woven into the disturbing tapestry, of which you come to expect from Charlie Brooker’s dark look at technology.
July 1984 and Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is desperately hoping to program a video game based around a choose your own adventure book which he owns. He calls his creation ‘Bandersnatch’ and it’s modelled after the many different paths the user can take in building their own story through the game. As he works, Stefan has to deal with anxiety, past trauma, a deadline and the inescapable feeling that he’s not in control.
The ‘Black Mirror’ series is a crackling anthology; one with little in the way of weaknesses, only to be found in the later seasons. This is the first full length film to come out of the world mastered by Brooker. This time around he’s upped the anti and taken inspiration from those choose your adventure stories and during this movie you are presented with 2 options, what you pick could determine Stefan’s fate. It’s a movie with so many directions that your chosen film experience could last 40-90 minutes, as there are around 150 minutes of footage that could be selected depending on your choices.
This easily could have been a cheap gimmick with no substance but this built-in interactive design works because the 80’s set story is interesting enough to sustain interest. Granted it does take a while to get into the film and with choices being fired at you quite quickly it can feel a little bit longer to get going but in the latter stages, of course depending on where your story goes, it gets twisted and fuelled with worrying paranoia.
As a film it doesn’t quite work, there’s something missing because of the choices offered up. You can’t quite get lost in the plot, the immersion factor is lost because you have those stressful 10 seconds to mull over what you want the character to say/do. In terms of a psychological test though it is exceptional. The complicity of us an audience is greatly utilised; our participation in Stefan’s life becomes a game and it isn’t long until you could be gleefully making deadly actions occur. The films talk of free will and the paths you can go down in life is greatly scripted, so either from choosing a cereal or whether to fight your therapist, this interactive design greatly says more about its user than the film.
Though there are times when the film shuttles backwards because a decision you made leaves you with no option but to revisit the past. This kind of works because it happens in choose your own adventure books but after a while of being presented with just one option, because your earlier choice was wrong, it starts making you lose interest.
So whilst ‘Bandersnatch’ may not be the most smooth running narrative to get lost in, there’s enough bleak humour and game-inspired tricks to choose from and re-choose again.