Black Mirror is too intelligent for a conventional television audience

Jan 06, 2019, 09:02 IST | Jane Borges

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is intelligent and highly interactive, but passive viewers might not enjoy it

Black Mirror is too intelligent for a conventional television audience
A still from the film, starring Fionn Whitehead, who plays gamer Stefan Butler

After engaging with Netflix's new original, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, for over an hour, we'd like to use the word "mind-blown", but that is only because it's too intelligent for a conventional television audience, like us. Again, we use the word "engaging" and not viewing, as Bandersnatch — the name is lifted from the fictional creature, which appears in Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, Jabberwocky, in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass and shows up in the film like a looming ghost — is scripted and played out, partly by you.

An extension to the mind-numbing sci-fi series Black Mirror, which spoke of the dangers of newer technologies on the human race, Bandersnatch — written by Charlie Brooker, the creator of the original series — is a standalone movie, but with a twist.

Set in the early 1980s, the plot revolves around a young programmer, Stefan, who is attempting to turn a fantasy novel into a game with multiple endings, for a big company. The trauma of losing his mum in an accident as a child, and the tumultuous relationship he shares with his father, doesn't make this task easy. And then, before he can even make sense of what he is doing with the game, he realises that he doesn't have a mind of his own, because somebody from the 21st century, a Netflix viewer, is making decisions for him.

It begins with small, insignificant ones: you choosing which audio cassette he should be listening to, or what cereal he should be eating for breakfast [to make this possible, you need to watch the film on your phone, a smart TV or laptop], and then quickly translates into something more sinister — taking one's life, committing murder, chopping a body.

You get 10 seconds to decide and if you fail to act, the film goes with the first option anyway. There is a different ending to every choice, and when your story ends, you are looped back to somewhere in the middle, where you could change the course of the plot, by rethinking the choice.

For a passive viewer, the infamous couch potato, who is used to having zero control over a film narrative, this experience can be a wee bit annoying. You thought you were watching a movie, and suddenly you feel, like you are playing a game, just that the characters are very real. Yes, the film is intelligent, interactive, and is a big leap for TV, but one can't be sure if upending a genre, or mixing it up, is as much fun, especially, if you aren't ready to be part of it, yet. If this is the TV of the future, we are happy in the present.

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