I know it’s New Years Eve, it’s time for reflective blog posts or a list of resolutions…but maybe they’ll come later, the film student in me is itching to talk about this new development on Netflix.
*Bandersnatch Spoilers Ahead*
So if you live in the dark ages, as I do, you will be unaware of the twitter sphere going a little bit nuts over the new Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch, with it being a first for Netflix, being the first interactive television programme produced for adults on the platform (Netflix has worked on several projects for children, but I do not know exactly what these entailed). The entire premise is that the viewer is making decisions on behalf of the protagonist, with two options at the bottom of your screen and about ten seconds to select your choice. This choice then influences what you watch next. The choices begin with harmless consequences, like choosing the music Stefan (the protagonist) listens to, or the cereal he eats, however as the story progresses these choices become far more dark and twisted, which is what I really wanted to briefly discuss here.
I am in no way an expert in all Bandersnatch has to offer, however I have watched through a large number of iterations, so I have an understanding of the majority of paths you can take. Primarily the narrative depicts Stefan’s downfall, as a young game programmer trying to create a game (also called Bandersnatch, taking the same choices premise), and his struggles with mental health, with the protagonist eventually aware that his actions are not of his own choosing. The culminates in various upsetting scenarios of murder, suicide, fights and jail sentences, with the viewer impacting every decision in Stefan’s decent.
Bandersnatch is very interesting as an idea, however is somewhat of an ethical nightmare. I did not expect to be asked to choose who commits suicide jumping from a block of flats, or whether Stefan should ‘chop up’ or ‘bury’ his fathers body, after murdering him, but the programme certainly puts the viewer’s moral compass in question. Frankly I thought Bandersnatch took this premise too far in some instances; it would be naive of me to think that anything made for the Black Mirror universe would not be entirely twisted, but deciding who jumps to their death put me completely on edge (although that’s probably the point). The story continues even if you don’t choose so in some ways the episode is watchable without the interactivity, but I’ve not tried this out across an entire run of the show, so I can’t say whether this impacts the episode length.
I’m equally perfectly aware that I’m perhaps being too sensitive over this issue; if I’m perfectly happy watching and anticipating gruesome events in let’s say a Saw film, what difference should it make if I have to click a button a few times? The fact is it matters because the immersion goes beyond a simple enjoyment or even disgust, it leads the viewer into the realms of mental and particularly physical active spectatorship. The idea of making the viewer uncomfortable almost makes us question whether it is truly right watching, even if they are only fictional, people experiencing such horrific events, which are often watched entirely passively. Although I’ve said that Bandersnatch goes beyond the parameters of extreme for me, I praise it all the same for garnering this kind of reaction; something usually reserved for the auteurs of European cinema.
In such a way, I’d conclude that I feel unable to call Bandersnatch enjoyable for me personally, but it is something that people should experience if they have the opportunity. I can’t say I’d particularly like for this format of television to catch on but it certainly calls for critical and commercial attention; a programme of this kind and content cannot be ignored, as it questions its own audience, leaving an impression far beyond what is seen or heard from our screens.
Take Care Everyone, I’ll Speak to You All Soon!