Movie Review: Bandersnatch

By: Alex Gehrlein ‘19

What can I say about this film? How should I say it? That is all I can think right now. Does this even count as a film? If a video game is a piece of entertainment where the player makes choices that affect the world in which it takes place, is this really a video game? Is it somewhere between a video game and a film? If so, what does that mean as far as classification goes? None of these questions can really be answered properly. There is no classification yet for just whatever it is that Black Mirror: Bandersnatch “is,” but I can tell you full heartedly that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

If you know anything about Black Mirror, it probably has to do with science fiction and nihilism. The show is the bleak brainchild of Charlie Brooker, a man it would be insulting to call anything but a genius at this point, and focuses on the darker side of technology and how it could possibly change our lives for the worse in the near future. This film is the crowning jewel of a fantastic seven year series, which has not ended yet; I just can’t see how they could possibly top this. I’m being vague; let me tell you what Bandersnatch is.

Bandersnatch follows Stefan Parker, a young video game designer in 1984, as he attempts to adapt a choose your own adventure book into a video game. Players are given the choice between two options at different points in the story, and the intersecting outcomes lead to multiple ways of viewing the journey your character takes. For example, you could choose to take one path or another, engage with an enemy or run away. The possibilities are endless. The same is true with this film. The mechanics are introduced subtly. You start by picking between different food or music options, but soon find that the choices you make have an actual impact on where the story is headed. Events loop in on themselves; scenes repeat with deeper meaning; it’s all fascinating from a film theory standpoint.

What worries me about this format is that I don’t see much room for it to move further. Spend a few hours within the film and you will find that this story is perfect for the medium in which it’s being told; in fact, it couldn’t work properly if it wasn’t being told this way. It is difficult to wrap your head around what Brooker has to have gone through to make all the pieces fit together in terms of structure, but no matter where this story takes you, or where you take this story, things will always end with a feeling of existential dread.

The performances and direction are all fantastic, even a step up from the series’ normal aesthetic. Returning director David Slade makes all the pieces fit together from a cinematic standpoint while incorporating some really fun visual choices that only enhance the immersion you can find in the story. I’ve already gone on about the structure of the writing, but the dialogue is just as good. Will Poulter’s character has some particularly fantastic chunks of dialogue that I hope you get to see depending on the path you take.

I spent a little over two and a half hours playing around with this world. I’ve seen four of the five possible endings, but I will never be able to see all the possible ways of getting there. Netflix claims that there are at least a trillion outcomes for how the viewer can take part in this story. I don’t know how they calculated that number, but I’m obliged to believe them. Netflix says that you need ninety minutes to get a satisfying experience with this story; I can’t say if there will ever be enough for me to be fully satisfied with it. I plan to watch it again, watch it with friends, and read as much as I can find about the behind the scenes. This is an unexplored area of cinema that Charlie Brooker’s team has just taken the first big leap into. Odds are we will never see the same version of this film, but I can say with conviction that we will both leave in awe.

9.5 / 10