By Nicole Zamlout
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Choose-your-own-adventure stories are a treasured part of many childhoods across the globe.
Winding paths that lead anywere, depending on readers’ choices, can now entice and amaze viewers of all ages. This nostalgic idea, combined with the ever-growing technology of the entertainment industry, gave way to “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” released on Dec. 28 and the first interactive Netflix film for adults.
The science-fiction film, written by the series creator, Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade, is a standalone amongst the Black Mirror Netflix series. Viewers find themselves responsible for the decisions of the film’s protagonist living in 1984, a young computer programmer named Stefan who is bent on trying to adapt “Bandersnatch,” a choose-your-own-adventure fantasy novel, into a video game. The stressors of creating the video game and the reason for doing so, which is burdened with its own checkered history, strings Stefan along a spiral of madness that leads him in several directions, all depending on the viewers’ choices. The idea that the viewer has the power to direct where the story will go is enough to intrigue viewers, even if they don’t care for the genre or the overall plot. It’s all about the nuances that are now in the viewers’ hands.The film can be either short and sweet or drawn out and explorative, and it’s all dependent on what the viewer wishes to see.
The interactive aspect was integrated into the narrative flawlessly, since Stefan’s video game also involves a story with multiple endings. Not only is this a prime example of life imitating art, but the concept didn’t take anything from the story or distract from the main character’s dilemma. Stefan’s own indecision was clearly reflected in his creations and the viewer’s own as the next button was clicked.
During my viewing of the film, that idea made it all the more intriguing and helped build the tension of the plot as the story progressed. It made each new twist more impactful since I was the one that decided that was where the story was going, giving me a heightened sense of responsibility when events went badly.
What the viewer experiences in “Bandersnatch” is a collision of both real-time and fictional worlds. This new world is captivating, odd and uncomfortable at times, but it is a world where nothing stays fixed and everything must be questioned.
“Bandersnatch” could have easily mistepped by using the interactive aspect as a crutch leaving everything else bare, but they did just the opposite. Fionn Whitehead’s performance as Stefan was perfect, with every choice showcasing a new side of his character that is both authentic and realistic for viewers. Each choice brought out something new and Whitehead did not miss a beat while showing just how far Stefan’s mind could stretch before it snapped.
Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), who worked at the video game company Tuckersoft, was a perfect mix of enigmatic and elusive. The viewer is always left wondering how he knows what he does, and what else he may be holding back. Ritman’s characterization is hypnotizing to watch as each answer leads to more questions. The rest of the cast seemed to follow in this pattern, each one as authentic as the next, making this winding story as realistic as it was mysterious.
Along with the acting, the cinematography is executed just as expertly as any standard film. Close-ups and wide angles prowpelled the mystery in each scene, reminding us of the restriction and uselessness of time.
The music was also a vehicle that demonstrated how easily everything could change. It gave the audience a glimpse of popular 80s music, but also drew in the tension as tight as a bow string, keeping the viewers on their toes. The lighting kept the story trapped in a nexus of strangeness while also striving to make it seem normal. In short, the story did not just rely on a gimmicky new trick to get attention. Instead, it paid careful attention to detail, which is a task that would drive anyone mad with this kind of story.
The film’s “meta” quality leaves audiences wondering about the concept of free will and its effect on peoples’ choices. If Stefan had been in control of his situation, would the film have played out differently? Is there a being in our lives choosing different paths for us, while we believe we are in control of our own decisions? This film, in a sense, leaves viewers with more questions –– the answers to which might be better suited for a philosophical discussion.
“Bandersnatch” opens new doors for entertainment while also using familiar techniques to tell a haunting story that asks us all to consider what is real, and what may just be part of a bigger game.