Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Poses a Revolution in Filmmaking

Cece Olszewski, Managing Editor

Netflix’s first interactive movie leaves viewers both questioning everything they’ve ever known and eager for more.

“Black Mirror” released “Bandersnatch” over winter break, after only a two-day notice on its social media pages. This is typical for “Black Mirror,” but it still managed to surprise its loyal viewers with a film (which runs about an hour and a half, though I ended up spending hours on it) rather than the multi-episode fifth season that everybody was expecting. Netflix further surprised its viewers by making this release its first ever interactive film, allowing the viewer to choose what happens next in the story by selecting one of two options that appear on the screen throughout.

“Bandersnatch” is set in the year 1984 and follows Stefan Butler (played by Fionn Whitehead), a computer game programmer who is about to pitch his new game, called Bandersnatch, to a video game company. Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own adventure game (just like the movie), and for the era, it’s the first of its kind. The film opens in Stefan’s bedroom, where we hear the song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood as his alarm. The 80’s soundtrack establishes the story’s era from the get-go, something “Black Mirror” has always tackled with flawless grace. Stefan enters his kitchen and his father offers him two different cereals for breakfast: Sugar Puffs and Frosties. Here is where the audience receives their first choice: Which cereal do you choose? It is unclear whether this decision is simply to introduce the interactive feature, or if it could affect the entire storyline. The options appear at the bottom of the screen for only a matter of seconds, and the person watching must make a choice. As the movie progresses, the choices have increasingly higher stakes, affecting Stefan’s mental and physical health, as well as that of others.

“Black Mirror” manages to undermine the whole idea of interactivity while simultaneously pioneering it. The viewer is eventually asked whether a murder should be committed, and if the answer is yes, they must decide how to dispose of the body. This is the very beauty of “Black Mirror” and its deceptive, yet crushingly honest perspective, which has rightfully garnered a great deal of praise as well as a dedicated fanbase. Stefan’s character actually becomes conscious of a higher power manipulating him and he directly addresses the viewer, breaking the fourth wall and dragging us out from behind our screens to face his reality.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a piece from “Black Mirror” if it didn’t address humanity and provide a greater commentary, leaving viewers on the brink of an existential crisis. Bandersnatch puts the viewer in control of the film, but if a wrong decision is made, they provide the option to go back and fix things. This creates an illusion of control, when “Black Mirror” knows where they will end up from the moment they choose which cereal to have for breakfast. The film makes the viewer consider if free will even exists at all, or if there is a higher power making their decisions for them, just as they are controlling Stefan’s. The entire concept of free will is shattered and the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about Bandersnatch and what its true intentions are.

“Black Mirror” has launched the future of interactive films and the ability to choose one’s own adventure, while simultaneously commenting on free will and our sense of control over things we do every day. Could this be the start of a filmmaking revolution? Absolutely. It’s always exciting to see innovative forms of entertainment, especially on something as widely accessible and popular as Netflix. “Black Mirror” loves messing with our minds in the most twisted yet thought-provoking ways, and we love it too.