Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ve heard of “Bandersnatch,” the latest release from the British Netflix series “Black Mirror.” “Black Mirror,” a modern adaptation of “The Twilight Zone,” is a psychological techno-thriller series composed of stand-alone episodes that focus on the possible (and terrifying) advances of technology.
“Bandersnatch,” described by creator Charlie Brooker as a “mental Rubik’s cube,” is an interactive choose-your-own-adventure story in which the viewer handpicks the fate of protagonist Stefan (Fionn Whitehead). The story takes place in 1984, and Stefan is a 19-year-old aspiring video game programmer inspired by a dark, twisted novel, also titled “Bandersnatch” with multiple endings. He creates his video game in the same way the novel was written, letting the player make decisions for the character. The first choice the viewer will make is which cereal Stefan will eat for breakfast, but the decisions will start to intensify rapidly. Before long, the viewer will watch Stefan’s past trauma and dark source of inspiration begin to unravel.
Whether or not you enjoyed “Bandersnatch,” it is undeniable that the creation of an interactive television episode is a technological feat. The complex episode is composed of two and a half hours of footage and 250 different segments total, all of which depend on what decisions the viewer makes, and it was created so that you can go through the entire duration of the episode without any buffering or loading. “Bandersnatch” began as a handwritten flowchart, but after it became too intricate to record by hand, Brooker used Twine, a software specifically designed for choose-your-own-adventure stories, to keep track of the many twists and turns.
Not only can the episode go in hundreds of different directions, but the system remembers the viewer’s earlier decisions. For example, the first decision you will make for Stefan is which cereal he will have for breakfast: Sugar Puffs or Frosties. If you select Frosties, an ad will come on Stefan’s TV for Frosties later on. The episode even responds to how much time you took to answer a question. Brooker’s attention to detail is unmatched by any modern Netflix series creator out there, which is what makes “Bandersnatch” so exceptional and “Black Mirror” such a worthwhile show. In total, Brooker said that the creation of “Bandersnatch” required the work of four normal “Black Mirror” episodes; Brooker even had to learn new coding language to make it all work.
“Bandersnatch” was undoubtedly a great accomplishment for Netflix, but it’s not for everyone. Rated TV-MA (for mature audiences only, may be unsuitable for children under 17), “Bandersnatch,” and most episodes of “Black Mirror,” do not shy away from strong language, gore or occasional drug use. Further, the interactive film can last more than two hours depending on the choices made, which, for some, can make the episode difficult to enjoy. Lastly, regardless of which of the multiple endings you get, the end of “Bandersnatch” will not offer any sense of happiness or closure. The film is dark from start to end and will leave you feeling paranoid and ready to put a sticker over your phone camera, so if you’re looking for a feel-good watch, maybe “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” would be a better choice.
“Bandersnatch” is a huge breakthrough for television and could even be foreshadowing what viewers can expect from Netflix in the future. The success of the film is promising; perhaps, as a generation, we are stepping away from fluffy, brain-numbing nonsense like “The Bachelor” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and moving towards more artistic and thought-provoking content. It may not be the best thing to put on with your family and cozy up on the couch for, but if you haven’t watched “Bandersnatch” already, I strongly recommend it (as long as you are 17 or have gotten parental permission!).