Bandersnatched: A Spoiler Free Review of Black Mirror’s ‘Bandersnatch’ (2019)
Words by Maya Tlauka
Picture this: after an exhausting workday you collapse into bed, ready to fall down a Netflix rabbit hole. You prepare to binge the entirety of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in one sitting when the title of a film on your home screen catches your attention.
Intrigued, you click play. Unbeknownst to you, this is the first of many increasingly emotionally and morally challenging decisions you will make that evening.
Bandersnatch, released late last year, has been shown front and centre in the news since its debut on Netflix. The film is affiliated with the popular television series Black Mirror. However, Bandersnatch can be described as even more left field than its predecessor, which has previously been heralded for illustrating a jarring vision of the future.
The film adopts a unique interactive interface in which the viewer is periodically presented with decisions regarding the protagonist’s actions. The decisions progress from seemingly trivial in the beginning to outright absurd later in the film.
Set in the nineteen eighties, the film follows protagonist Stefan (played by Fionn Whitehead), who hopes to develop a ground-breaking ‘choose your own adventure’ video game based on his favourite novel, Bandersnatch. Throughout the film, Stefan becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator. The viewer is drawn into a narrative which explores realities within realities and on occasion, dares to break the fourth wall. Viewers are given choice, yet are still confined to the pre-determined story branches, creating a maze-like effect. This creates the illusion of free will, when in fact much of the storyline is fixed. Consequently, audiences are prompted to consider the transactional nature of modern media forms such as streamed television. Bandersnatch, in both format and content, hints at the blurring boundaries between the online and ‘real’ world. It addresses notions of free will and questions whether our decisions are unconsciously influenced by the online world.
In true Gen-Z style, a friend and I made a pact to stream Bandersnatch at the same time, albeit in our own homes. Each time we were confronted with a decision we informed the other of our choice via text. This arrangement became quickly tiresome as our differing decisions set us on wildly diverging story paths. During the film it became apparent that if you make a ‘wrong’ decision you reach a ‘soft ending’. At this point an unfavourable plot outcome for, Stefan is reached and you are returned to the last major decision and therefore, be inclined to pick the alternative option.
I’ll be honest, I became a little frustrated when after an hour my friend messaged me to say that she had reached the ‘end’ (one of the so-called ‘hard’ endings) of the film. I continued to delve deeper into the plot and make what seemed to be the wrong choices long after I received this message.
My only criticism of Bandersnatch is that it was a little tedious. At times I felt as if I was going around in circles and my progression in the storyline became increasingly confusing. I struggled to piece together how each scene fit into the overall story, especially as the subject matter became increasingly bizarre. Despite this, I cannot help but be impressed by how truly clever the film is. Additionally, I concede that this confusion, in part, contributes to the film’s exploration of the theme free will. Bandersnatch gets four stars out of five.
You’ve finished reading this review, what do you do next?
A) Drop everything and watch Bandersnatch immediately.
B) Remember how much you enjoyed watching Bandersnatch and subsequently watch it again.
Catch Bandersnatched now on Netflix.
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