WARNING: this article contains spoilers to the film. Read at your own discretion.
Black Mirror’s new stand-alone film called Bandersnatch (2019) takes storytelling to a whole new level. It is about a 1980s young game programmer named, Stefan Butler who sets out on creating a choose-your-own-adventure game, adapting it from a book by the same name by Jerome F. Davies. This may sound like a typical storyline, until he loses himself in the process upon seemingly permeating from the grounds of his world to that of the viewers’. The internet has been buzzing about this new film day in and day out, talking about its interactive features, and how even in reality, some may start to question if they actually have their own “Netflix User” who controls their lives. With this given premise, why did Bandersnatch (2019) become popular?
Presents a new mode of narration
The internet has been hyping this unique mode of storytelling available on a streaming site called Netflix. The film incorporates the viewers’ agency on what the actor shall do next. It requires the viewers to choose between the options provided by the film, enabling the viewers to choose how they wish the film would turn. The choices range from what cereal Stefan chooses to eat, to asking what he should do to the corpse of his father.
Aside from its spectacle, it is created by Black Mirror! Black Mirror is famous for depicting dark satirical takes on where this age of technology may turn. After watching its episode Shut up and Dance, many people started applying band-aids on their laptops, for fear of the surveillance suffered by the protagonist in the episode. Now that Black Mirror gives the viewers free reins on where the narrative should take, what exactly are they up to?
There are five possible endings, and all these endings will be up to you!
Ruminates free will, or does it?
Do you believe in aliens? Do you think that déjà vu moments are proof that there is actually a different you who is living in different space and time? These questions basically hit on the concept of a parallel universe, where a different “you”, or a different reality is existing in another time and space. In line with this, one is compelled to ask, what is the truth?
Meta-fictions like Bandersnatch (2019) borrow from this same idea. Basically, meta-fiction is when the narrator is conscious that it only exists within a narrative – like Stefan eventually becoming conscious that a certain Netflix user – meaning YOU – is controlling him, even to the point of putting his fate on the hands of that user. In this setting, the reality becomes blurred that the viewers become responsible for Stefan’s fate
What makes Bandersnatch (2019) popular? Given this, viewers are left wondering if Stefan’s situation is the same as theirs. Stefan believes that he has free will but actually, he doesn’t. You believe to be controlling your life, and Stefan’s when you began to tap that N icon, but are you really free to do as you will?
Just like any other Black Mirror episode, this gives you an afterthought if it can happen in real life, or is it already happening.
Narrative vs. Spectacle
Now, Bandersnatch (2019) is up to the verdict. It surely does succeed in providing a spectacle to the audiences. But what about its narration – the actual purpose of watching a film? We may have applauded on the spectacle brought by Bandersnatch (2019), but we are left thirsty with regard to its narrative – how it strings different sequences together. Spectacle-wise, it is successful but narrative-wise? We can say it’s a bit anaemic, since the spectacle has taken all of what is left for how and what the film should convey.
Bandersnatch (2019) and digital marketing
With the hype of the film due to its spectacle, and this spectacle being strategically exclusive to Netflix users, more people are compelled to subscribe to Netflix to try this new film everyone’s been raving about. There are reports that those who tried to pirate the film lost its interactive spectacle, leaving the people with no choice but to subscribe to Netflix.
Novelty, or not really?
Since many people believe this to be a first, is Bandersnatch (2019) really the first interactive film? Maybe as a film, it may be first, but there are also other narratives that have the same mode, but are already packaged as games. One example is Minecraft: Story Mode (2015).
Bandersnatch (2019) became popular because it is a Black Mirror film that has a unique way of storytelling. It give you the agency of being part of its dark satire spectacle about the turns the digital age may take. In this age which they call post-modern, a cultural movement (mostly in arts) where the truth is fluid, where the truth is what you believe it to be, everything becomes questionable, at the same time possible. Is this a scapegoat to the conditions today?