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BANDERSNATCH: Choice and Consequence

Reno Tallada / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
If you were to decide how Stefan’s story ends, what will your choices be? Netflix

It’s my normal Sunday routine – I fire up my laptop, nuzzle under the duvet and stream a movie. Paying not much attention to the usual opening billboard of Netflix, I quickly checked my phone when I heard someone speak:

“This is an interactive film where you make choices which can alter the story.

Throughout your viewing there will be choices presented at the bottom of the screen.

Select one and just click using your mouse or trackpad.

Keep your mouse or trackpad close at hand.

Do you understand?”

Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is obsessed with adapting his favourite book into a video game. Photo: Netflix

I glanced at the screen and saw two choices: YES or NO. Still not minding hundred percent, thinking that it was just part of the opening credits, I was about to get back on my phone when the voice continues to speak; now sounding a bit exasperated as if directly commanding me.

“Once again you need to click on Yes or No.

Here is your opportunity.

Do you understand?”

Whoa! Being asked “Do you understand?” twice is quite insulting. So, I turn back to my laptop and before the 10-second streaming line expires, I clicked on YES. And right after, the movie starts.

Netflix’s “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” is driving viewers insane upon its release last weekend. It has redefined the nature of movie viewing; and is practically the best movie to watch in the onset of the year, for it would make your imagination run wild on the massive possibilities that future technology can bring.

Directed by the acclaimed British director David Slade who directed episodes of “Breaking Bad”, “Hannibal” and “American Gods”, “Bandersnatch” is a full-on film of the “Black Mirror” series. It is an “interactive film” (a term no one frequently hears), which means that the viewers can take part in deciding the course of the story. The viewers have a say on how the story would maneuver by clicking on choices presented before them – basically like playing a video game.

Set in the mid-1980s, “Bandersnatch” centers on the story of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), a young video game developer who is battling depression, after feeling guilty over his mother’s death. Growing up as an aloof kid, Stefan (Whitehead) is trying to advance his own video game called Bandersnatch that is based on his favourite fantasy book that is a gift from his mom. The book contains a grim background upon its publication, when the author descended into madness and murdered his wife at the time of writing the video game book.

Stefan’s story doesn’t go far from the author’s; as he similarly spirals down into a psychotic mental state due to the pressure and intense absorption of completing the game. Stefan kills his own father; uses his blood in writing some of his manuscripts and he even persuades his friend to jump off the building (that is if you’re kind enough to save Stefan when given the choice), after a drug session.

But it’s not the intense, dark plot that will captivate viewers in this film. It’s the interactive concept that will enable viewers to decide what could happen or alternatively happen to Stefan’s life.

As the film progresses, the viewers will be asked to make particular choices – like which food should Stefan eat for breakfast: Sugar Puffs or Frosties? Which music should he listen to: Thompson Twins or Now 2? Or to accept a job offer or not? Or even the decision on what to do with his father’s corpse after murdering him: To chop or to bury?

The average viewing time of the film is an hour and 30 minutes, but with series of rewinds and forwards, plaited with mix-ups in deciding what good options to pick – you would later on realise that you have been a couch potato for nearly three hours. The viewer is elevated to that sort of the director/writer role, thus literally making the film result into multiple endings; for each choice you make would lead into a specific set of consequences and even steers you to another specific, separate ending.

Yes, that’s right! This film has several endings that even the producers themselves are still on a debate on how many actual endings there are. There is a choice – you could choose scenarios that will drive you down to an ending where Stefan would die together with his mother; another set of choices would bring you to an ending of Stefan ending up in jail after killing his friend, his father and even his boss; or another ending that would show a revelation that Stefan is just an actor in a film; or an ending with a female character in the future creating a reboot of Stefan’s game; or even a very narcissistic ending wherein Stefan receives an electronic message telling him that he is just part of an online-streaming site called Netflix.

Stefan (Whitehead), Colin (Will Poulter) and Tucker (Asim Chaudhry). Photo: Netflix

The endings are interminable, and none of them are even happy nor definite – the parameters of each ending are left up to the viewers’ interpretation. Most of the time, viewers will be prompted to go back and make a different choice.

The film’s Executive Producer Annabel Jones once said in an interview, “In a world of parallel realities, maybe there is no ending”. True enough; this film reaffirms the paradigm of having possible various realities that could happen at present, or may also be happening simultaneously in another parallel universes, and that in every option we take, there is a precise consequence designed to transpire

Underlying the film’s theme is a tricky play on the concept of “free will” – that people can think, choose and do things voluntarily and be the author of their own actions. Profoundly tricky indeed, because the concept of free will is often argued by the presence of external elements that are supposed to predetermine the consequences of one’s action.

Going beyond the revolutionary ‘interactive’ presentation of the film, “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” subliminally narrates a sad story of empathy and atonement. A story of empathy – that of a young man, who is mourning and struggling to atone the death of his mother by endeavouring to achieve an extraordinarily complicated goal just to patch up a hollow of guilt in his being. It displays a subconscious sentiment of man’s personal battle of making adamant decisions; being able to handle the forces outside its constraints and eventually accept the fact that there is no going back.

Watching “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” is like unlocking a labyrinth within a web of labyrinths; or uncovering a truth that’s covered with layers of truths. Complex is an understatement to describe the experience. It would leave viewers excited and pumped up at the beginning but at the same time, cross, disturbed and sad in the long run – technically “black mirroring” what it is like to live our own lives, that sometimes, good choices may not necessarily bring you to good results in the same way that bad choices do not necessarily give you bad consequences.

Because simply, there might not be good or bad choices after all; perhaps, there are only “Choice and Consequence”.

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