bandersnatch - a modern media marvel
Alright folks, ditch the Bird Box hype and take a quick existential detour back to Black Mirror world. Where the future is now and we don't want it. Flying cars would be so nice right about now!
Black Mirror has never been shy to push the edge of human tolerance. It's explored territory only available to the future and reimagined, in almost every circumstance, worst-case-possible scenarios that might just be more realistic than we'd hope to understand.
The latest piece, an interactive film directed by David Slade, pits free will against creative freedom whilst giving you the controller. You as the viewer are then given storyline decisions to influence what happens next, dictating increasingly crucial choices in the life a character trying to figure out if he even knows what's real anymore.
You control the story of Stefan Butler, a promising video game developer creating his choice-based adventure game Bandersnatch. Your initial choices influence small but load up quickly. Starting with which cereal Stefan should eat for breakfast up to whether or not he should join a premier game development team to finish his product. A big note I made early about the film was how immediately tied I felt to Stefan's success. It could have been my bias towards the gaming industry, but regardless I felt obligated to make ethical decisions for Stefan and his career.
While decisions you make may seem completely valid at the time, it becomes clear quickly the writers we're intentful in the story you tell. Wrong decisions take you through small story loops with undesired endings, which conclusively redirect you to decision points to retry. Throughout my first run-through, I 'ended' the story several times, but in most results felt compelled to strive for a new finale.
As time and subsequent decisions progress, your mood as the viewer transforms from playful to regretful as the choices you make cost more and more with each turn. But what Black Mirror continues to do best is turn fantasy to reality in disgustingly grave fashion.
Slowly, as you progress, Stefan develops awareness. Decisions cause viewers to change from 'lean-back' viewing mode to 'lean-forward' engaged mode. You begin to realize Stefan is fighting the decisions you're making for him, attempting to make his own reality. But while you work to provide Stefan with success and freedom, the show must go on and you must make a decision.
My first hard decision came when I was forced to choose between ruining months of work Stefan had sweat over and yelling at his father, which would be clearly denting an already shaky father-son relationship. I was faced immediately with the degree of impact my choice had. I was shook and began to fear what I would have to choose next.
I thoroughly enjoyed living out these timelines in Stefan's lives. It's only the beginning of interactive film and I'm cautious to see how the rest of film culture uses this approach. We've seen plenty of interactive storytelling strategies through gaming and Youtube communities, but I believe this is a first for film within this mass sphere.
My moment of epiphany and dread came through a post on r/Showerthoughts, one of my favorite subreddits. Posts are ideas that put life in perspective and make us all question why we do the things we do.
"If humans were ever to prove the theory that our universe is a simulation, it would simultaneously become the moment when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, ironically making humanity the artificial intelligence all along."
If this were the Truman Show and if our existence is a controlled simulation, would we ever know? Would our knowledge of that fact upheave our perception of reality? Would we adopt the state of our slavery and continue to live in ignorance? This film could be a cry for help and a venture into a side of the world we've never known. It could also just be a piece of entertainment likely to get a decent score on Rotten Tomatoes and slowly subside deep into the internet archive.
Until next time,