Black Mirror fans got a nice Boxing Week surprise this past Christmas. No, it wasn’t a new season of the provocative Netflix series. Apparently, Season 4 is just around the corner in 2019. Instead series creator Charlie Brooker surprised fans with Bandersnatch, an interactive feature length movie. More specifically, Brooker has created a ‘choose-your-own’ adventure movie that asks the question – Who is in control?
In 1984, young programmer Stefan Butler approaches video game company Tuckersoft with his dream project. Butler hopes to adopt author Jerome F. Davies’ novel, Bandersnatch, into a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ game. In a bizarre twist of fate, Davies went mad while writing his novel, murdering and decapitating his wife. As Stefan increasingly immerses himself into his game, he begins to question whether an unseen force is controlling his actions.
Bandersnatch An Innovative Step Forward in Cinematic Storytelling
Like most elementary school kids in the ‘80’s, I loved ‘choose-your-own’ adventure books. But if you had told me I’d be watching a functional movie using the very same approach, even a few years ago, I would have been skeptical. Perhaps it’s fitting that we can thank Brooker and Netflix for bringing us the experience. But does it actually work?
Bandersnatch isn’t much different from falling down the same “rabbit hole” from Lewis Carroll’s novel.
The short answer – yes. With potentially countless permutations, Bandersnatch isn’t much different from falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ from Lewis Carroll’s novel. Initially, the choices you’re asked to make are pretty benign. However, Bandersnatch quickly ups its stakes and, from that point onwards, you’re immersed in a fascinating experience. The smooth transitions that follow decisions and quick recaps when taken back to critical points are almost unbelievable. After a few hours, I finally stopped watching with the feeling that I had only scratched the surface. Arguably, the movie’s Imost impressive accomplishment is the number of different story paths that still somehow adhere to an overarching theme.
Are You In Control?
In addition to pushing the envelope of movie story-telling, Brooker has crafted one of the more interesting commentaries on free will since The Matrix. Over the last few year, Black Mirror has challenged audiences like no series in recent memory. Bandersnatch faithfully continues this tradition. Regardless of specific paths, free will and control are consistent thematic threads holding everything together. If meta-commentary in movies was getting tiresome, Bandersnatch makes it feel clever and fresh again.
Never As Emotionally As It Is Intellectually Immersive
On one hand, Bandersnatch impresses with its boundary-pushing approach to movie-watching. After nearly a week since first watching it, Black Mirror’s first feature movie is still blowing me away. But as immersive as Bandersnatch is intellectually, it doesn’t engage viewers emotionally. By virtue of its ‘choose-your-own’ adventure format, you’re never truly invested in Stefan or his plight. Other characters in the movie are devices solely intended to drive the various stories forward. In contrast to how you watch most movies, you’ll spend more time obsessing over story choices than feeling suspense, sadness, or fear.
Set Aside a Few Hours For Bandersnatch
Bandersnatch is a tricky movie to review. Unmistakably, Black Mirror and Netflix have accomplished something significant. Years from now, we may look back and mark Bandersnatch as one of the movie that changed how we engaged with art. Nevertheless, Bandersnatch neither thrills nor keeps one on the edge of their seat in a traditional sense. Ultimately, it’s an impressive but somewhat cold experience.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+