‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’: Netflix’S Interactive Film Explained

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Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

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Alissa Wilkinson covers film và culture for minhmangreen.com. Alissa is a thành viên of the thành phố new york Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.
With very little warning, three days after Christmas, Netflix dropped a new episode of Black Mirror — or a Black Mirror film, if you want to lớn look at it that way. Mix in 1984, it’s titled Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and it’s about a young programmer (played by Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead) who finds his grasp on reality slipping away after he begins work on a new đoạn clip game.

But what sets Bandersnatch apart from previous installments of Black Mirror is that it’s a choose-your-own-adventure edition, with many decisions for viewers to make and many possible paths for the story lớn take. As you watch, the episode logs your choices to lớn shape how “your” reality unfolds.

Using clicks or taps, you navigate your way through the choices in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Netflix As a result, there’s plenty to discover within the story — and lots of potential for future rewatching. (Bandersnatch has no official runtime, & is comprised of many hours of footage.) But the episode itself is unlikely to answer some other questions you may have about the project — lượt thích why that title? Why that ’80s setting? and ... When I watch Bandersnatch, is it watching me back?

Here are three (spoiler-free!) things to lớn know about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch before you dive in.

What is a “bandersnatch,” anyway?

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!Beware the Jubjub bird, và shun The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Like many creatures that sprung from the fevered imagination of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, the “Bandersnatch” is equal parts whimsical và terrifying. It makes its first appearance in this passage from Carroll’s 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass, the sequel to lớn Alice; a character later explains that the word “frumious” means both “fuming” and “furious.”

Two years after the publication of Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis began writing a standalone poem entitled “The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits),” which borrowed words, ideas, and characters from the world of Alice — including the Bandersnatch. In the poem, a group of adventurers encounters the Bandersnatch, which has a long neck & snapping, frumious jaws that try lớn catch a banker among the group:

And the Banker, inspired with a courage so newIt was matter for general remark, Rushed madly ahead and was lost khổng lồ their viewIn his zeal khổng lồ discover the Snark.

But while he was seeking with thimbles and care, A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh & grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair,For he knew it was useless khổng lồ fly.

He offered large discount — he offered a cheque(Drawn “to bearer”) for seven-pounds-ten: But the Bandersnatch merely extended its neck và grabbed at the Banker again.

Without rest or pause — while those frumious jaws Went savagely snapping around —He skipped and he hopped, và he floundered & flopped, Till fainting he fell khổng lồ the ground.

The Bandersnatch fled as the others appearedLed on by that fear-stricken yell: và the Bellman remarked “It is just as I feared!” & solemnly tolled on his bell.

That’s all Carroll says about the Bandersnatch. But something about the sneaking, ferocious, fast-moving creature has captured the imaginations of writers, artists, & musicians in the century and a half since, as have many other elements of the Alice mythology. You can find references lớn Bandersnatches in science fiction and detective novels, in TV shows and video clip games, in comics and music, and more. (According lớn a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, his friend C.S. Lewis apparently wrote of him in a letter that “No one ever influenced Tolkien — you might as well try khổng lồ influence a bandersnatch.”)

So it’s easy khổng lồ see why Black Mirror: Bandersnatch — the story of a young man whose obsession with his work makes it possible for the work lớn turn around và bite him with its own frumious jaws — would explicitly make the reference. But there are a few more layers at work here.

The episode’s protagonist, Stefan, is a programmer tasked with creating a đoạn clip game called “Bandersnatch,” based on a fictional, sprawling, choose-your-own-adventure children’s novel by the same name, the author of which “went cuckoo and cut his wife’s head off.” and Stefan subsequently begins his own descent after being encouraged khổng lồ develop “a bit of madness” to make the game.

Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Netflix Blurring the line between between reality và fiction, between our world và an imagined one — & urging us to question which is more “real” in the over — has always been a theme of Black Mirror, starting with its title, which series creator Charlie Brooker has explained, refers khổng lồ the screens with which we surround ourselves:

If technology is a drug — và it does feel lượt thích a drug — then what, precisely, are the side effects? ... The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.

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Lewis Carroll’s “looking-glass,” meanwhile, is also a mirror — one through which Alice slips to find herself in a world that looks something like her own, but slowly reveals itself khổng lồ be a much more dangerous place. Wonderland runs on dream lô ghích and is populated by creatures lượt thích the Bandersnatch, và Carroll’s looking-glass has more in common with the “black mirror” than any ordinary one.

And so, as reality & fiction begin to blur in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, it serves up a nifty parallel lớn Wonderland, where Alice was also asked lớn make decisions — sometimes between seemingly harmless options — that changed the course of her adventure. This version, however, is much darker.

Why is Black Mirror: Bandersnatch set in 1984?

Black Mirror episodes almost always take place in the near future, as a means of confronting “the way we live now — & the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy,” Brooker has said. (One notable exception: The kích hoạt of the season four episode “San Junipero” was largely phối in a simulation of the 1980s, though with a “present day” in the near future.)

But Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is mix explicitly in 1984. There’s at least one real-world reason for that: A highly anticipated video clip game titled “Bandersnatch,” which was rumored khổng lồ be incredibly intricate, was slated for release in 1984. But it was never released, và the company developing it, Imagine Software, went bust after 18 months.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is set in 1984, and it sure looks lượt thích it. Netflix With that said, it’s impossible to set any dystopian story in 1984 without making a callback — either directly or indirectly — khổng lồ George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that literary classic, most of the world’s population is subject khổng lồ omnipresent government surveillance, and independent thought và individualism are actively forbidden. Today, we routinely call things “Orwellian” when they seem drawn from the book: disinformation campaigns, widespread surveillance, authoritarian figures who peddle brazen lies lớn the public as if they are true.

Where và whether the links exist between Bandersnatch và Orwell is something you’ll have lớn find out for yourself, but it’s worth noting that the consequences of living in a world in which technologies surveil us, record our memories, or turn previously private details into public ones for use by governments or corporations is a long-running concern of Black Mirror.

Which brings us khổng lồ the biggest irony of Bandersnatch ...

Isn’t this all a little ... Black Mirror-ish?

I’m not suggesting that Bandersnatch is some vast corporate ploy khổng lồ harvest your personal information or something. Netflix is clearly genuinely interested in entering the “interactive entertainment” space — a region that lies somewhere between video clip games and movies/television — & though the company has been piloting simple choose-your-own adventure shows for children, Black Mirror seems lượt thích the natural choice for a show that would evolve this method of storytelling.

But you’ve got to lớn admit that there’s something a little uncomfortably meta about a choose-your-own adventure Black Mirror episode produced and distributed by Netflix, a company that keeps meticulous tabs on its users’ viewing preferences and uses them lớn not just provide absurdly specific “microgenre” recommendations but also khổng lồ generate personalized promotional art and to reverse engineer internal creative decisions about which movies và TV shows to lớn create next.

Netflix doesn’t just track what you watch; it tracks how you watch it, including your stops & starts, your completion rate, where và when you consume programming, và a lot more. Và it releases very little of this data publicly.

So of course Netflix is tracking which decisions people make while watching Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. & imagine the possibilities! Early on, you’re asked lớn choose between two breakfast cereals: Frosted Flakes and Sugar Puffs. Will it eventually emerge that viewers who choose Frosted Flakes in the show are more likely to take a nihilistic path or make a morally questionable choice in the show as well? & does that decision bản đồ onto real life?

Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Netflix Please allow me khổng lồ get a little paranoid now, because it’s the end of 2018. Can you imagine the possibilities here? It stands khổng lồ reason that, in two years, not just the entertainment you watch but the choices you make while watching it — maybe on Netflix, maybe on some other platform — may generate information about you that could be sold to a corporation or even used or subpoenaed by a government agency. It could be used to create a profile for you, whether or not it’s accurate. And it will all be information you gave up willingly, probably after glancing at a Terms & Conditions box without thinking about it too hard & clicking on “Agree.”

This type of scenario already exists. A recent thủ đô new york Times investigation found that data harvested from our cell phones is used in much more pervasive ways than most people previously realized. A large number of Americans have bought devices made by giant corporations like Amazon that can listen lớn everything we say in the privacy of our own homes. We don’t need Orwellian government surveillance if we’ve already consented to lớn self-surveillance. Who needs to be herded by force into the panopticon if you already live there?

But interactive entertainment, like video clip games, is another big piece of the puzzle, especially since the world of gaming và those who study it have long considered the moral và ethical choices that players make. So Bandersnatch is nothing new; it’s just now linked to lớn a new entity, one with finely tuned data-collection capabilities and deep pockets.

On the flip side, though, interactive entertainment presents storytellers with a fascinating new way lớn think through their own art and come up with new ways to delight, challenge, and explore the human experience. After all, making choices is something we all have to vì every day.

Still, it’s wild lớn consider the possibilities. Và that is why, in the end, a show lượt thích Black Mirror was probably the right property for Netflix to use as a kiểm tra subject for this size of storytelling, even if in a few years, we might consider Bandersnatch simplistic & quaint, & someone will have piles of data on us they didn’t have before.

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