The entertainment sensation that’s sweeping the globe at the moment is Black Mirror’s season-independent film Bandersnatch. Starring Will Poulter and Fionn Whitehead, Bandersnatch is an interactive film, where the audience is in a position to make decisions for the character. Just like in popular horror/mystery videogame Until Dawn, the story plays out until moments when two options of further action are offered to the audience between which the audience must choose, and the story goes on from there. The result is a seemingly unending number of different endings, as the smallest, most seemingly insignificant decisions, such as what to eat for breakfast in the morning, change everything. The actual storyline follows a 1980s videogame developer called Stefan Butler, as he attempts to adapt a fictional choose-your-own-adventure book titled Bandersnatch. That’s the base idea, from there the story can go in a number of different directions, with 5 confirmed outcomes and a number of variations on each outcome.
Let me start by saying they absolutely did it. They succeeded in doing what had, till that point, to the best of my knowledge, never been done before in mainstream entertainment. The interactive choose-your-own-way concept is a potentially game changing way of consuming media, and I fully expect more people to take full advantage of Bandersnatch’s raging commercial success to produce tons more like it. This makes me hopeful for an interesting new future. I’ve had the opportunity to see Until Dawn in action and I hope the popularity of both products prompts the entertainment industry to continue to experiment with the ways of storytelling. The narrative concept is fantastic.
I’m not sure the same can be said for Bandersnatch as a piece of entertainment. Superb intellectual concept has become a norm for Black Mirror fans, myself included. Unfortunately, so too has Black Mirror normalized an intensely pessimistic and bleak way of looking at the world and the way it works. Warnings of a world losing its grip was one thing. I personally feel that they’ve taken it too far.
Bandersnatch, in all it’s wonderful complexity and divergent plots, loses the reigns on the negativity of its message in as many scenarios that I’ve seen. In fairness, I don’t claim to have seen every variation, and there might be one out there that dilutes the overwhelming “you-are-in-control-of-nothing-so-let’s-do-psychedelic-drugs” point that the film seems to put across. If such a variation exists, I stand corrected. However, as of this point I can safely say that more or less every version of Bandersnatch ends in drug-induced suicide, failure, death, mental disorder, failure, and death. As a friend of mine who I discussed my issues with correctly said, it’s not fair to hate something for being pessimistic. I don’t think my perspective on Bandersnatch comes anywhere near hatred, more a sense of sadness at the creator’s deeply wounded way of looking at the world, and the young, impressionable minds he or she risks in converting to this church of pseudo-existentialism.
Anyone who is aware of the free will vs determinism debate knows of the damning evidence in support of the argument that human beings are in control of little to none of their actions. Most people, myself included, agree that true free will realistically doesn’t exist, and many extreme holders of the view do genuinely believe that we are all in the control of someone or something else. We might be, there’s no way of knowing.
My issue with some peoples’ ideas about this, however, come in more the extremist ways of looking at it. There’s a bit in Bandersnatch, or at least the bit I saw, where Colin gives Stefan a video about the fictional author Jerome F. Davis. The video descends into madness pretty quick, which is all fine, part of the storytelling that I so far have no complaints about, until a line resembling this one comes up. “You are not in control.” I’m with you. “The things that happen to you are out of your control.” Gotcha. “So why not commit murder?” Huh? “Maybe that’s what ‘destiny’ wants.” Skipped a couple steps there, pal.
That line is one of a number of examples of very extremist, edgy, and pseudo-existential responses to the idea of determinism that Bandersnatch propounds with the volume dialed to fourteen. Existentialism is the philosophy of asking the questions about ourselves and our existence. It is not the philosophy of “nothing-really-matters-so-let’s-jump-out-the-window-what’s-the-point,” and sometimes that’s the way Black Mirror makes it look. That’s pseudo-existentialism, which, when blown out of proportion, is an epidemic of negativity and multi-directional anger, much like the situation we are currently in, where edginess is fashionable.
Black Mirror has, for the most part, done an exceptional job of toeing the line between reasonable bleakness and unreasonable bleakness, only crossing over occasionally, and, almost always, appropriately. I think it might have something to do with the availability of multiple, equally dire endings that add up to a thunderous wave of extreme pseudo-existentialist idea being put across, and I do worry for the people who will watch Bandersnatch, research all of the many perilous conclusions, and internalize the message of hopelessness that Black Mirror finally took too far.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – Hell if I know Aryamaan’s Score –