Netflix’s Bandersnatch has sent post-modern science fiction so far down the rabbit hole, the genre will never be the same. Imagine Doctor Who and Alice In Wonderland had a baby, and then raised the child on a steady diet of hallucinogens.
Set in British suburbia over the second half of 1984, Bandersnatch is the latest installment of the network’s grimly dystopian Black Mirror series. What separates this episode from the rest of the series is that the story has no discernible arc. Instead, the plot and time itself bend, warp, and finally explode across a host of potential story lines open to the viewer who must choose between on-screen alternatives pitted against the protagonist. This is as much a movie as a video game, with the viewer cast as ‘Player One’ in a celluloid rendition of Super Mario or the Legend of Zelda. Choose the wrong path in Bandersnatch, and you wind up at an earlier scene as if, in the video game analogy, you’d ‘died’ and ‘restarted’ at a ‘save-point’ partway through the level.
Bandersnatch is replete with the unsettling themes of an inexorably dark future.
Stranger yet, the experience is practically unbounded—the film’s 90-minute length is merely a suggestion. And the film transgresses more than conventional limits of time and space, carrying a masterstroke of dramatic irony where the protagonist struggles to adapt a choose-your-adventure novel, Bandersnatch, into a computer game of the same name.
Video game, film, or novel, Bandersnatch is replete with the unsettling themes of an inexorably dark future. (Hence, the calendar year 1984 is a thinly-veiled Orwellian reference). Then again, what else is there to behold in a black mirror?
Are we in control of our own destinies? Or, is free will a grand illusion woven into a sinister episode of Netflix we can’t escape from? These and other nagging questions haunt the viewer long after the credits roll off-screen.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of violence in store regardless of the alternatives you select. Your cursor can’t save everyone, and the episode is tragic no matter which ending you click your way into.
But, it’s Black Mirror: You have to watch it.