When we thought that the British series BlackMirror had already shown us everything, there comes Bandersnatch, the Netflix interactive movie that seems to be driving the users of the platform crazy. Black Mirror is known for raising issues that invite reflection on the present, new technologies and the impact they have on our own lives.
It involves us in dystopias that could be real in a few years. However, with Bandersnatch, it has taken a step further, breaking the barrier of the viewer as we usually know it. Introducing us in his film, forcing us to make decisions that will change the destiny of the character.
It is true that, as a movie, it may not be as attractive as one might expect, limping in some places. Nor stands out in what is Black Mirror and, surely, when the novelty happens, is not seen as one of the great successes of the series. However, what is beyond doubt is the enormous interest that has awakened.
The debate is already open, Black Mirror has done it again, is again in the spotlight and, this time, has decided, in a way, to reinvent itself. After four seasons (with few episodes, yes), there were those who thought: what now? Will it keep its freshness? Just for all that Bandersnatch has said, the answer to this question is yes, Black Mirror is still very much alive.
WARNING: The article contains spoilers.
What is an interactive movie?
Before delving into the issues raised by Bandersnatch, the first thing to do is to understand how it works and why we are talking about interactive film. When we talk about something interactive, we understand that a dialogue must take place and that, in some way, the receiver can give an answer. If we think of books, as readers, our interaction is somewhat limited by the format itself and the same would happen with cinema.
It is true that there are certain literary or cinematographic works that, in one way or another, surround the recipient and make him a participant in it. An example of this we see in some films like Annie Hall by Woody Allen, the novel Niebla by Miguel de Unamuno or in plays like El Tragaluz by Buero Vallejo. In the previous examples, the fourth wall is broken, that is, directly appeals to the viewer or reader.
A really novel novel in this aspect is Rayuela by Julio Cortázar, in which we take a step further, the reader will be fundamental even when deciding what order you want to read. Cortázar proposes to follow a traditional order, in other words, linear, starting from the first chapter until the last; or, on the contrary, follow a “disorder” that would begin in chapter 72 and for which the author provides us with a guide.
Cortázar was totally groundbreaking when proposing this type of reading that, especially in the 80s, would take a new direction. And it is precisely in the 80s that Bandersnatch is set, showing us a book in the style of “choose your own adventure” in which readers will decide the path that history is going to take. In spite of the futuristic Black Mirror always seems, with Bandersnatch, in fact, it drinks from the past, from the first videogames and from the books that inspired them.
The cinema has also taken some steps towards interaction. Already in its infancy, some filmmakers like George Méliès appeared during one of his screenings to dialogue with the audience. Also, the interaction can also arise spontaneously, as in the case of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The latter is a truly peculiar case and it is the public that, for decades, decided to dress up and interact with the film during the screenings. Another example would be the 3D cinema that, although it does not provoke dialogue, makes us, in a certain way, participants.
Bandersnatch and decision making
Bandersnatch presents Stefan, a young man whose mission is to develop a video game based on his favorite book, which follows the style of “choose your own adventure”. We discover Stefan little by little and we are the ones who determine what we are going to see next, or that is what, in theory, the film proposes.
And I say in theory because, in reality, the film has a lot of limitations and, sometimes, it makes the decisions for us. And that’s where he limps and, at the same time, hits Bandersnatch. He limps because, at some points, it is tedious to have to go back to the starting point, but he succeeds in sending a clear and direct message to the spectator.
The decisions go from choosing Stefan’s breakfast to deciding whether or not to kill his father, that is, they go from the simplest to the most complex. The speech is novel because the decisions are taken on the fly, following the rhythm of the movie, something that reminds us enormously of videogames (do not forget that the video game is the plot thread).
Some of our decisions do not depend on us. This happens, for example, when Stefan meets Colin and he offers him LSD. If we decide not to use the drug, Colin will introduce it into our drink and look at the camera saying that he has decided for us.
Are our decisions limited? This doubt is solved again by Colin during the LSD hallucination, telling us that the government controls us, that everything is absolutely manipulated and that, in short, we are nothing but slaves. Despite the discouragement of Colin’s speech, the truth is that he has connected with us and is making us doubt both the film and our own daily decisions.
Bandersnatch: we are the future
The really interesting thing comes when Stefan begins to be aware that someone external to him is controlling his actions, that is, us, the viewers of Netflix. At this moment, the rupture with the fourth wall occurs, Stefan asks us what is happening, who is controlling him and we, of course, decide the answer.
One of the answer options that can appear is: Netflix, something that is really interesting. By being conscious, Stefan will try to disobey us. Genius appears when he tells his psychologist that someone from the future is controlling his actions through something called Netflix. It is interesting because it breaks with traditional dystopia, the one in which the future is terrifying. This time, the dystopia Stefan lives and the future is us.
Dystopia is already here, it is our present, we have reached that horrible future that we thought we would never reach. This game with the spectator, besides being entertaining, supposes an important discourse and reflection. Again, Black Mirror uses our present for us to think about it.
Somehow, this scene (especially when you ask what Netflix is) reminds us a lot of Matrix, a film in which reality is simulated by a program, making us doubt “the real thing” .It also refers to the aforementioned Fog , work in which Unamuno gets the reader to question their own reality. After seeing Bandersnatch and trying different endings, countless questions open up before us.
Bandersnatch is a truly interesting experiment, the way of consumption has changed and Black Mirror has wanted to take advantage of experimenting. Have we played with Bandersnatch or has it been the movie itself that has played with us? At the same time, it proposes a new narrative and cinematographic form, a new way of being spectators.
Although Bandersnatch is not cinematographically a jewel and is somewhere between film and video games, it is an entertaining experience that, if we understand and enjoy, will leave us with a strange feeling. And, as is customary in Black Mirror, Bandersnatch will invite us to reflect.
“What is Netflix?”