In Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, we try to help a hopeful game creator named Stefan Butler make the greatest video game imaginable for the fantasy novel called Bandersnatch. Do we actually help him, or do we lead him to his downfall?
The Beardict: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is not for people who want to relax. Watch this when you’re wide awake with all your brain cells intact. Allot 2-3 hours even though it says it’s just 91-minutes long. Eat and take a bathroom break before starting. Once you’re ready, immerse yourself in one of the most engaging and revolutionary films Netflix has ever produced.
If you’ve watched it already, I salute you. We can now get serious and try to make sense of Bandersnatch.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
#1 Netflix calls it an “Interactive Film.” Bandersnatch’s concept makes it such a cinematic experience, but not in the traditional sense.
Bandersnatch makes the viewer choose so the movie can progress, leading to actions that dictate how the story will end. During a scene, two choices will appear, and we have to pick one before the timer runs out. The assumption of Netflix here is that we’ll watch it on our phones, tablets, or computers, making it easy to participate. Bandersnatch is kind of like a video game from Telltale, except that this is in film format.
In terms of getting the full Bandersnatch experience, because of the interactive choices involved, streaming it through Netflix seems to be the only logical choice, so this discourages people from creating copies and spreading it illegally online. You can’t even fully fast forward it because it’s interactive.
#2 The Choices. Back when I was a kid, I used to love those Goosebumps books with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” label on them. It gave me a sense of accomplishment when I ended up choosing correctly and made me more determined to choose again if not. When it comes to video games, I prefer those with rich stories that get influenced whenever I make a decision.
During one of his therapy sessions where Dr. Haynes keeps convincing Stefan to talk about what happened to his mother, she says:
“You might learn something about yourself you don’t know.”
This line was directed towards Stefan, but it was primarily for us viewers. By throwing choices at us at every turn, Bandersnatch wants us to look into ourselves and is interested to know more about who we are, who we’d like to be, or how much we like push things knowing they’re not real? How far along will this bad choice really get us? We’re curious to know. We then have to deal with the (unpleasant) consequences of our actions.
#3 Re-watch Factor. I saw a Reddit thread that had a flowchart of all the possible choices you can make in Bandersnatch. It has only been one day since release and yet there’s so much talk about this movie already. Why? Because we do our best to see all the different endings that our eyes can handle. I personally spent three hours going through all endings that I could find, going back and forth and combing through the scenarios. I would have continued watching if not for the strain I felt in my eyes. Haha.
In time, Bandersnatch may not be the most watched film in Netflix, but it could well be the most re-watched when it comes to their originals.
#4 Theme of Getting Lost. Bandersnatch can be confusing, but who actually gets lost in going through it?
Stefan. A lot of young people complain about not being able to control themselves, but they’re thankfully not Stefan. Arguably, Stefan is the most confused teenager in the history of movies. He knows someone is making him do things, but he just can’t pinpoint who. Is it P.A.C.S.? Is it Netflix?
Actor Mike. Speaking of Netflix, if we choose to reveal to Stefan that we are, in fact, controlling his actions through the streaming app, then he ends up in Dr. Haynes’ office once again where things stop making much sense. All hell breaks loose, but if we actually make Stefan escape through the window, someone yells “CUT!,” and the camera pans out to reveal an actual Netflix set shooting Bandersnatch. Talk about breaking the fourth wall! Our Stefan turns out to be an actor named Mike, but at this point, Bandersnatch has him so confused that he really thinks he’s now Stefan. Compared to the rest of the bleak endings, this is probably one of the funniest ones.
Us. Bandersnatch stresses out viewers a lot, especially those like me who want to get to the bottom of everything. As I went through ending after ending, I reached a point where I began to question all of my efforts. Do I really understand Bandersnatch more now, or is this one of those things that the “less is more” adage is applicable to?
#5 Puppet Master. In Choose Your Own Adventure books/video games, we effectively become the character. We don’t control the character; we become him/her. In video games like the Sims, we control the characters, and they don’t know any better. Depending on our moods, we lay out the best lives possible for them, or set them on fire or let them die of starvation when we’re pissed off. In Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Stefan is like our Sim, except he’s aware that someone else is controlling his actions, leading to an identity crisis. Because of this…
#6 We are the villain in Stefan’s eyes. As viewers, we do our best to “help” Stefan turn Bandersnatch into a video game. In the process, however, we cause him intense distraction and pain, so much so that maybe we shouldn’t have bothered at all. We choose (or are compelled to choose) to be part of “Netflix” or “P.A.C.S.,” making us Stefan’s #1 enemy.
#7 Alternate realities. Bandersnatch succeeds in making things more convoluted by introducing alternate realities described by Colin. Come to think of it, are there other versions of myself typing this review, destroying my computer, or spilling tea on it? Maybe in another reality, I’m saying that the point of Bandersnatch is we have free will and we shouldn’t question that we do have it? Hmmm. Lastly, did someone click the “Write about Bandersnatch” button so I ended up doing this instead of just proceeding to watch another Netflix show? Haha.
#8 Illusion of free will. Movies always have the protagonist and the antagonist. When we watch Bandersnatch, we might fall into the trap of thinking Stefan is the protagonist and his personal demons and mental issues are the antagonists. If we look closely, however, Stefan is just collateral damage from a tug-o-war between us and Bandersnatch.
And like in casinos where they say the house always wins, it’s the same for our case as viewers. Bandersnatch will always win over us no matter what we do.
Bandersnatch gives us a false sense of power by seemingly allowing us to make choices for Stefan. Notice how the first two choices are very random (cereal and music). Although they don’t seem to have a direct effect on how the story ends, they make us feel in control of Stefan’s destiny.
If we want what’s best for Stefan, our ultimate goals are to 1) help him finish Bandersnatch, 2) get a 5-star rating from that kid critic, and 3) keep his sanity in check and 4) keep everyone alive and their limbs intact. There’s an illusion of free will that happens here because we think we are in control of Stefan’s choices. However, as things progress, we realize that no matter what we choose, Stefan ends up getting harmed or derailed. The longer we stay immersed in Bandersnatch, the worse things get.
It’s clear we are steered towards certain (gruesome) endings, and Bandersnatch also dictates which decision point we can revisit (go back to Point A, Point B, exit to credits, etc.). When Bandersnatch thinks we’ve had enough, there are no options given anymore, and the credits just roll.
As viewers, we can get over or “beat” Bandersnatch if we accept that we can’t control the outcome, and Netflix/Black Mirror does. We can’t get the ending we want because we can only get the ending they want. Imagine–to get the coveted 5-star game ending, it’s not enough that we make Stefan kill his dad. We also need him to chop up his dad’s body instead of burying it. At this point where we and Stefan give up and submit to the devices of Bandersnatch, the movie finally gives us a break and awards us a “successful” ending. Without a doubt, Bandersnatch prefers us making chaotic choices instead of sane ones.
#9 Illusion of free will part 2. Bandersnatch gives us a time limit to decide on an answer. If we don’t choose, it chooses for us. Free will is just an illusion here because technically, we can choose to do nothing, and therefore, Stefan should do nothing as well, but this isn’t the case.
Additionally, we are given only 2 choices out of so many things we can actually ask Stefan to do. For example, if we see a random slice of pizza on our kitchen table, we can decide to leave it alone/eat it/keep it in the fridge/throw it in the trashcan/do any action that does not make sense). During the 5-star game ending, Stefan admits himself that everything Bandersnatch became clear to him once he chose to make things simple and just gave his character an illusion of free will. He knows he’s the one deciding how the ending will be. As viewers, that’s actually our entire Bandersnatch experience in a nutshell, so basically, we played the game Stefan created. Mindblowing, right? If Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had 10 different choices per scenario, then the movie will become super complicated, and we may no longer be willing/able to participate.
10) Colin Ritman is not your friend. Yes, that’s right. Colin Ritman is an agent of Bandersnatch meant to confuse us. The fact that he’s introduced as a successful video game maker and Stefan’s idol is supposed to project that he’s trustworthy, However, everything that involves him leads to disaster. Remember that the first major choice we had to make was whether to make Stefan work at Tuckersoft with a team or work alone. If we choose the team option, Colin says Stefan made the wrong choice, and it cuts to the 0 out of 5 rating. It’s probably because he sabotages Stefan’s work so we’re forced to “try again.”
After this, he messes with us by being inconsistent–at times, he seems to be aware that we’ve tried again but during some moments, he pretends to be oblivious. When we make Stefan follow Colin instead of visiting Dr. Haynes,’ he feeds Stefan that mumbo jumbo about time being a construct, Pac-Man, people watching him, alternate realities, etc. He says this as quickly as possible so we don’t have enough time to process everything on screen, and we leave even more confused.
When you make Stefan refuse the drugs, Colin drops it in his tea anyway, and he says “I CHOSE FOR YOU.” Colin dares Stefan to jump, and when we do decide to make Stefan jump, it ends up in Stefan’s suicide and Bandersnatch getting a very poor game rating. Because he says flashbacks are opportunities to rewrite the past, we’re given false hope that Stefan can actually save his mom from the train accident. Stefan is then shown lifeless during a session with Dr. Haynes shortly after, an ending which surely leaves the Bandersnatch game unfinished. Remember that video tape he told Stefan to watch to help him finish the game? Well, that certainly DID NOT help.
Arguably the best ending of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is achieved by visiting Dr. Haynes instead of following Colin, sticking to the meds instead of flushing them, and getting the 2.5 stars game rating. This is definitely not the most exciting scenario, but it leaves everyone alive, breathing, and with all limbs attached. Haha.
11) Soundtrack. There are so many visual and audio clues in Black Mirror: Bandernsatch that we need a day to discuss all of them. However, what I’d like to point out is the soundtrack. To complete the experience, they pick the perfect songs to mess with us. For example, each time Stefan wakes up from something disturbing, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax plays: “Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go do it.” When his dad tricks Stefan into visiting Dr. Haynes again, XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel was playing in the car: “We’re only making plans for Nigel, we only want what’s best for him.” We want what’s best for Stefan, but unfortunately, it’s not up to us.
To end, we need to congratulate 1) Netflix and Black Mirror for coming up with such a mind-boggling film in Bandersnatch, and 2) ourselves, for surviving such a weird, stressful, but still entertaining experience. Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back. Whew. We’ve definitely earned it!
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now available on Netflix.