Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 'Bandersnatch'

Why it's OK to enjoy Netflix's interactive 'Black Mirror' film (#PrayforStefan)

Courtesy: Netflix

“Babygirl, have you seen this?”

I chucked my phone across the bed to show my girlfriend a meme of a poorly pixelated Pikachu, mouth agape, as it reacted to the death of someone named Stefan. It could have also been a terribly executed joke featuring a vintage, crystal-cut glass ashtray. It doesn’t matter. She clicked the hashtag #Bandersnatch, and immediately realized the news.

“Black Mirror’s back?”
“When do you want to watch it?”
“Right fucking now.”

I’m a Black Mirror fanatic. (Minor spoilers ahead.) I’ve been riding with the series since it introduced me to Daniel Kaluuya during season one’s “Fifteen Million Merits.” I was on the fence after I watched the first episode. Pig-fucking prime ministers aren’t my thing, but I’m glad I stuck it out. Nish (Letitia Wright) banishing that racist sack of scrotum meat, Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge), to an eternal bout of agony inside the souvenir keychain during “Black Museum” was quite refreshing.

Trader Joe’s Ghost Pepper Chips. Guacamole. Two double-double cheeseburgers with onions from In-N-Out. And a milkshake. My girlfriend wanted to share the milkshake. I didn’t. So we came to a compromise and shared the milkshake.
We spent the next four hours scouring Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive film with a plethora of morbid, surreal, hilarious and disturbing choices. If you’ve ever picked up a Choose Your Own Adventure book, imagine that in movie form. You follow (or control) Stefan Butler, a 19-year-old programmer who wants to adapt Bandersnatch, a choose-your-own-adventure book, written by deceased author Jerome F. Davies. Upon finishing most of the “true” endings, I came to a couple of conclusions.

The entire experience is unbelievably meta. Black Mirror referencing Black Mirror in Black Mirror is this franchise’s cocaine. You’re going to kill your father, a lot. Sid from Toy Story is a phenomenal actor. And I might enjoy having a god complex—just a little, like an Instagram chef sprinkling parsley flakes on his next dish.

We’ve had interactive storytelling for a long time. There’s nothing inherently revolutionary about Bandersnatch. Still, I won’t deny the film’s merit. The creatives behind this technological feat make it clear this type of storytelling isn’t just for children. They also empower the audience, deeply immersing you into the experience, since your actions directly affect the narrative, or at least give you the illusion of such. I doubt we’ll see larger studios jump onto the bandwagon, unless they bring these type of films to Netflix or their own streaming services. I absolutely adore Netflix for giving these filmmakers the money and tools necessary to tell this story on such a grand scale. The company takes chances. I believe it’ll pay off in the long run.
Whether you consider Bandersnatch gimmicky hogwash or a revolutionary masterpiece that fully realizes Black Mirror’s morbidly marvelous aesthetic is irrelevant.
Regardless, here’s the most important question. Is Bandersnatch fun? The answer: “Bruh, fuck yes.”

Quick backstory. I’m a filmmaker who graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts during the medieval times of 2015. My school nurtures an enormous amount of talent, but it can also breed pretension. Certain peers hoist up film as art, first and foremost. This is undeniably true, but film should also be entertaining. Art and fun are not intertwined concepts. What can be designated as “art” and what can be defined as “fun” is subjective. Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler, is one of the best films of the past decade. I’ve only been able to watch it twice. The Room, directed by Tommy Wiseau, is pure, unadulterated dookie, but I’ll watch the hell out of it whenever you ask.

Whether you consider Bandersnatch gimmicky hogwash or a revolutionary masterpiece that fully realizes Black Mirror’s morbidly marvelous aesthetic is irrelevant. Personally, I don’t give a damn. My metric for its success is much simpler. Did you enjoy the experience? Were you compelled to go back and rewatch it multiple times to uncover the multiple endings? Did you join in on the memeification of Netflix’s latest Christmas movie (shout-out to Bird Box as well)? If yes, then there’s a good chance you found it fun. Honestly, that’s all that matters.

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