Unravelling Bandersnatch

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch includes user-interactive features

In late December 2018, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a full-length interactive movie directed by David Slade, that is part of the Black Mirror series. Throughout this movie, the viewer needs to make choices that will affect the outcome of the story. Sugar Puffs or Frosties? Bite nails or pull earlobe? Kill him or let him go? In total, there are five main endings, with dozens of possible variations, 150 minutes of footage, and 250 individual film segments involved in the latest installment in the Black Mirror series. I spent a lot of my holiday break trying to get the different endings. I won’t spoil the endings I got in the three times I tried because the whole fun of the movie is finding out what ending your choices will lead you to.

The story begins in 1984 where Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), a video game programmer is working on a new game based on the choose-your-own-adventure book he is currently reading called Bandersnatch. He designs the game so the player has to make choices along the way that results in various outcomes and endings, just like the movie itself. Stefan gets an offer to work on his game at gaming company Tuckersoft, since his boss, Mohan Thakur (Asim Choudhry) likes the game and wants to publish it in time for Christmas. Here, the viewer can choose to accept or refuse the offer, which is one of the first critical choices.

Stefan works on his game for the next several months, fighting with the software and coding bugs and fighting with his dad, who is worried about him. During this time, Stefan also sees his therapist Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe). We learn that Stefan’s mother died in a train accident when he was five years old. Haynes ups his dosage of antidepressants, which the viewer can then choose to flush or take, another critical choice. There are also alternative pathways in which Stefan receives drugs based on previous, less critical choices but either way we still learn about the death of Stefan’s mother and that he is struggling with depression.

As the movie progresses and Stefan’s deadline to submit his game to Thakur approaches, Stefan gets the feeling that he is not fully in control of his actions, the feeling that someone else is controlling him. Which in fact, is true as the viewer is controlling his actions. When the viewer chooses whether Stefan bites his nails or pulls on his earlobe, he resists. It’s a weird moment when Stefan becomes aware of that fact, almost breaking the fourth wall.

From there, as the movie comes to an end, the viewer becomes more in control of the story and has to make more decisions in order to wrap up the story in whatever way the viewer’s choices lead to.

Like other episodes of Black Mirror, this film examines society in relation to technology, in this case, video games. It also stands on its own with a new cast, new characters, new set, and a new story that is completely independent from other episodes. It’s dark, satirical, and a little bit anxiety-inducing, especially since there’s no way to know or predict the ending before you get there.

In almost all movies, books, and TV shows, the creator gets to decide the fate of our favourite characters. In Bandersnatch, the viewer gets to decide the fate of the characters and the story arcs, and the endings can be as bloody, twisted, confusing, happy, or sad as we choose, which is what makes this fun and different than other movies and even other episodes of Black Mirror. Knowing there’s no set ending and how every choice the viewer makes leads to a different outcome is reminiscent of real life in which the choices we make affect our future and we don’t know what our ending will be.