Interactive media has been a generally disappointing experience thus far. Most of my experience with it involves choices being made that don’t affect a story much. When it does have a major impact, the entire section has to be replayed from the start to change the decision. “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” provides an entertaining experience with plenty of dark and humorous twists, clever dialogue and a user-friendly experience to create a memorable event.
The plot surrounds Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) in 1984 as he attempts to make the choose-your-own-adventure novel “Bandersnatch” into a video game. He meets Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), his video-game creating idol, when he’s hired by Tuckersoft to finish developing the game. As Butler’s mental stability degrades throughout the elaborate process of developing the many branches and choices, the audience begins to make drastic and important choices for him. These choices affect how Butler responds to his father (Craig Parkinson) and his therapist Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe) during troubling moments for himself.
While decisions made may sometimes feel inconsequential, every choice is accounted for — even what cereal to have for breakfast. As the decisions become more extreme and macabre, the 10-second timer makes it difficult to choose between the two given options. Certain storylines can be completely skipped depending on the choices made. A frustrating part of some of these missable stories is that some seem inconsequential and aren’t alluded to after the scene. To see every possible outcome and the gravity of your choices, the film requires a second viewing. This is bothersome considering at least one of these side stories could’ve resulted in a very different and exciting story from the rest of what occurs.
Due to its multiple endings, the film makes it easier for the audience to go back to certain parts. Instead of an ending forcing one to start at the beginning every time, a screen appears with a point to start back from, depending on the viewer's place in the story. This makes it easier to change certain decisions and alter the conclusion to the film. To prevent repetition, the film also rewinds scenes to only a few seconds before decisions are made to avoid repeating too much.
In classic “Black Mirror” style, the deeper into the story one gets, the darker things become. As Butler breaks down, he seems to have some awareness of the audience affecting his choices, causing the fourth wall to break. Ritman talks about some choices not mattering, which sometimes occurs in the film to emphasize the concept that decisions made can’t always prevent certain outcomes from occurring and that not everything can be controlled.
With a focus on the idea of obsessing over technological breakthroughs, “Bandersnatch” explores what can happen when someone gets too deep into something to get out of it. Obsession leads to Butler’s madness surrounding his video game, but his realization of being influenced by someone else and the irony of decision trees affecting him is the fascinating aspect of this element. Despite the revelation, it’s hardly explored and instead switched out for what seem like multiple endings that seem sudden without proper explanation.
“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” is a self-aware movie that leads to plenty of exciting stories, but sometimes heads nowhere. By giving the audience the power to decide most outcomes, it gives the experience desired while simultaneously leaving plenty of room to replay the movie and have entirely different experiences. The power is in the audience’s hands whether they enjoy this movie, but no matter what, its variability is certainly memorable.
Contact Caleb Barbachem at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.