Netflix has brought us an interactive movie about an 80s computer game developer named Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who is working on a game based on his favorite book, a choose your adventure book called Bandersnatch. Stefan is a troubled young man who blames himself and his father for his mother’s death in a high-speed train accident when Stefan was five. Stefan is on medication and sees’s a psychiatrist, Dr. Hayes (Alice Love) who tries to help Stefan cope with his guilt. Stefan caused his mother to take a later train instead of an earlier one that she intended to take. Stefan has a father (Craig Parkinson) that tries to help him cope but tends to annoy Stefan instead.
Stefan takes his game proposal called Bandersnatch (just like the book) to a company called TuckerSoft. There he meets his idol, a fellow programmer named Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) who is the rock star of the company. The company agrees that they want the game and Stefan then is under a tight deadline to get the game done so it can be ready for a big Christmas release.
What makes this movie unique is you are constantly asked to make choices for Stefan. Some are small, like what music he will listen to or what breakfast cereal Stefan is going to eat that morning. Others are life-changing for Stefan. You decide if Stefan agrees to work on the game with a team at the company headquarters or does he take full control and work on the game at his home. Either choice has significant consequences both with the game and with Stefan’s life.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is part of the Black Mirror series, but it is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to have seen any of the Black Mirror stories. This is a movie about the choices you make but at its core is the question; are you really making a choice or is someone making the decision for you? That concept makes for a strange viewing experience because that is precisely what you are doing, controlling Stefan’s life through the choices you make.
You are given a certain amount of time to make each choice, and if you don’t make one, the movie will pick a path for you. There are several times you will go back to a scene you have already seen, and you can make the same choice or select a different one. You can even decide when the movie will end by what path you choose (in my case credits started running about an hour in and then I made a selection and the story started up again).
Like Stefan’s game that gives players choices to pick, you get the feeling that you are playing a game in making all the decisions and not watching a movie. I got very tired of the fact that some scenes kept repeating because Stefan somehow can go back in time and make a different choice. The film is a little heavy-handed in giving us some of its ideas on morality and the concept of multiple realities.
Fionn Whitehead is excellent as the young man who is slowly falling apart in front of our eyes. Craig Parkinson isn’t asked to do too much as the father, other than to be concerned for Stefan’s sanity. The two standouts of the cast for me were Alice Lowe as Stefan’s doctor. At one point in the film, Lowe is hilarious in a scene that is totally unexpected and very different in tone than the rest of the film. Will Poulter, is brilliant as a strange and opinionated programmer that decides to help Stefan. Poulter gives off just the right amount of creepiness to the role.
Overall, the question is will Netflix do more of this type of filmmaking? I hope not because I found the experience, while initially interesting and fun, became tiring, especially when the scenes were repeated. I also found the ending that I got was a letdown (though I think I did experience a couple of other endings, one I really enjoyed). Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an experiment in filmmaking that just doesn’t quite work as it’s hard to come up with one ending that is satisfying, much less five. I think I would rather let the filmmakers make the choice of what path their character goes down, rather than making it myself.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Review
My View: Bargain Matinee
Mike’s Rating System from Best to Worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again