I was pissed off, in the American sense of the word “pissed,” meaning angry, when Bandersnatch aired. I thought that a new series of Black Mirror was coming out, and I had been looking forward to it. Instead, we got a “Black Mirror presents . . .” movie, and that wasn’t what I wanted.
Then, I tried to watch Bandersnatch on my television, and it balked. It didn’t want to let me view this work in the manner it was intended to be viewed. This, as you might imagine, made me angrier.
Eventually, I watched the program on my computer.
Keep in mind that I was already predisposed to dislike this movie. I’m sure that this, in some way, colored my reaction to Bandersnatch. Truth to tell: I didn’t like it a lot. I didn’t hate it, by any means, but I can’t give it a glowing recommendation. Let me tell you what I liked and didn’t like about it.
As an episode of Black Mirror, the plot of this movie is rather thin and unfocused.
However, the idea beyond the episode is pure genius. The viewer is an active participant in the outcome of the episode. Every episode of Black Mirror is tied to modern technology in some fashion. In this one, the technology is the computer itself, and the ability of the viewer to make real-time choices while watching the episode. Very meta. In fact, in my playthrough, I reached a point where I had to let the actors in the episode know that I was watching this drama unfold on something called “Netflix.” That is some surreal stuff right there. Like I said, genius.
The story itself is set in the 1980s, and the protagonist is a computer programmer who is creating a video game based on one of those Choose Your Own Adventure-type books. This is the same way the episode is structured. The viewer gets the chance to make binary decisions, some of which (like breakfast cereal choices) seem to have little influence on the outcome of the story, others that have major influence on what happens.
The story itself never seems to be that important in Bandersnatch. The mechanism of the story is the important part, and that is a thing of beauty. The story itself seems to devolve into something bloody and pointless in many of the potential pathways you are offered as viewer.
I have to admit that I was never a fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I recall reading a couple as a child, but I appreciate the tie-in to computer game logic and modern RPGs. For that alone, I recommend this show.
But, as a fan of story, I have to add that this one is lacking. The packaging is wonderful and interesting, but the gift inside is something I didn’t want.
I recommend Bandersnatch to fans of Black Mirror, but offer this caveat: Keep an open mind.