Black Mirror Bandersnatch Review – Black Mirror’s Choose Your Own Adventure Film Is a Brilliant Maze of Madness

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Black Mirror Bandersnatch Review – Black Mirror’s Choose Your Own Adventure Film Is a Brilliant Maze of Madness

Did you jump? Did you take the deal? Did you take the acid? Did choose the Frosties?

With five possible endings and more than a trillion unique versions of the story, the odds are very low that your version of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was exactly like mine. The new Netflix choose your own adventure film puts viewers in control of the fate of Stefan, a troubled young man who is attempting to make his own interactive story computer game called Bandersnatch. But when he realizes he might not be in control of his own fate, things go a little haywire. Or, at least, that’s what happened in my story, where I couldn’t help but follow Colin and do acid with him before he jumped off his balcony (I still feel bad choosing him over Stefan). Here I am, having guided Stefan through a path of madness—where he ended up in jail for killing his dad who was experimenting on his free will—and I want to go back and do it again. Are there versions that end with Stefan jumping off the balcony? Are there versions in which Stefan gets the help he needs and finishes his game? Are there versions that prove the P.A.C. experiments are real and not a paranoid delusion?

The only way to find out is to go back and make a few different choices.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch traps you in a maze of madness, one that tests your notion of free will as you make Stefan’s decisions for him. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a movie, a TV show, on Netflix, or anything else. The user experience is flawless, with viewers making decisions in real time with the story remaining uninterrupted. You’re presented with two options, which play out seamlessly, making for a smooth continuation of the narrative.

And like everything with Black Mirror, the result is an absolute mindfuck. Your decisions begin simply—What to have to breakfast? What to say to dad? I’m still happy I chose Now That’s What I Call Music 2 and heard Eurythmics’s “Here Comes The Rain Again”—but even early on you can see the character wrestling with his own free will as you make decisions for him. It feels invasive, as creator Charlie Brooker must have intended. Eventually, the choices you make lead him into a psychosis that mirrors the fate of the author of a book called Bandersnatch, which Stefan attempts to adapt into a video game (“Bandersnatch” also happens to be the name of a highly anticipated game in 1984 that was never released).

Netflix

The meta layers work to explore the theme of free will throughout the experience. If you, like I did, followed Colin and did acid with him in his apartment, you were treated to this stoned rant, which does a good job of summing up Bandersnatch’s message. In that narrative, Colin discusses the horror of P.A.C. man, which he says stands for “Program and Control.”

“The whole thing is a metaphor … he thinks he has free will but he’s really trapped in a maze,” Colin says. “It’s not a happy game. It’s a fucking nightmare world, and it’s real, and we’re living in it.”

He says this just before you’re tasked with one of your first crazy decisions: Who is going to jump off the balcony? Colin or Stefan? (Poor, poor Colin.)

All of this plays out as a psychological horror, with Stefan and the viewer questioning their own sanity. It’s an immersive thriller that at one point in my story involved me attempting to explain to Stefan what Netflix was. I actually laughed out loud that they were able to pull something like this off.

Sure, the story itself isn’t exactly satisfying with a number of loose ends: Did Colin really die? Was the P.A.C. program real? But with thousands of possible permutations, I’m sure those would have been explained if I made the right decisions. What does matter is that Brooker and Netflix were able to accomplish something that’s never been done before on this level. And they did it in a way that’s not simply a gimmick. They use the choose your own adventure concept to delve into questions of free will—it’s a postmodern work that’s along the likes of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation or Being John Malkovich.

In the end, the story—whatever that was for you—doesn’t matter as much as the experience. And that experience is one that deserves repeated viewings for an entirely new and unique story. I, for one, will go back and see what happens if I spare poor Colin.

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