Black Mirror as a series is one of my favorite items on all of TV. I was an early adopter on this and it rarely lets me down. Seminal episodes like “San Junipero” and others are simply the best of what has been produced on all visual media in the past 20 years.
The most recent episode if you can call it that is a one off “movie” of sorts released just a few days ago and if are here, I’m betting you’ve heard of it given its hype. The series pushes the envelope a bit with this one and it doesn’t completely succeed. The whole “audience chooses the outcome” movie/TV thing has been done in the past and this is probably the best effort in this direction to date but the whole format, while interesting for artists, always leaves the audience experience lacking.
The acting and story are great and hop on the retro-cool of the 1980’s thing that is popular at the moment and carry it off well. Throw in the geek-chic dialogue and mentions of Commodore computers, early stage video game industry, new wave music drops and it all seems like a home run.
The conceit here is that as you progress through the movie, you, the audience get to chime in with what you want the main character’s decisions to be. What you choose through a click of your remote determines various outcomes in the film—Will the character listen to this music or that music? Will he accept the job or not? Will he punch his dad or run out of the room and so on…
In the end there are really about (I say about because there are numerous rabbit holes you can go down and lots of easter eggs to be found) five endings to get to and I got to all five making different decisions and being looped back to redo decisions when my original ones end the film quickly. In all my experience lasted close to an hour and a half and much of it was enjoyable…but I couldn’t help feeling like there was only one true ending that the directer really wanted and every time I made a decision that branched off from that ending, it would loop me back eventually. Great…I get to see what the director thinks of my decisions but I don't get a complete narratively cohesive work. Watching a film and seeing that the story can have multiple endings takes away from the emotional impact of all of them…Its like watching the Godfather and being told—Well, Don Corleone only has to die if you choose for him to die…great…that totally ruins the weight of the work.
I applaud Netflix for attempting this and Black Mirror was certainly the right vehicle for the effort. While supremely interesting and among the best things on TV, this singular episode is both a success and a failure at the same time….much like its audience driven methodology.
Oh and in case you were wondering…”Bandersnatch” Its a silly word for an imaginary creature coming from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, the companion piece to “Alice in Wonderland” and specifically the “Jabberwocky” poem contained within it…