Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a new kind of experiment from Netflix. It’s billed as the company’s first real foray into adult-oriented “interactive films” — Choose Your Own Adventure-style programming that ask viewers to decide what will happen next. With choices popping up at the bottom of the screen that allow the viewer to decide what the main character will do next, Bandersnatch is caught somewhere between a video game and a movie without ever committing to one direction.
The film, set in 1984, follows Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), a 19-year-old computer programmer who’s obsessed with adapting his favorite book into a video game. That book is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style adventure novel he found among his late mother’s possessions called Bandersnatch, and Stefan wants his game to feature just as many choices as the novel it’s based on.
Thanks to a brief but impressive demo of his game, Stefan is hired by a video game publisher called Tuckersoft. There Stefan meets his idol, game developer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), who first begins to hint at the strangeness of the movie’s reality. As Stefan becomes more obsessed with his game and the nature its choices, the movie’s Black Mirror roots come to the fore, and he begins to question his own free will and whether the choices he’s making are really his own.
On its face, the idea of a boy who blames himself for his mother’s death becoming dangerously obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories is interesting to explore. The problem is Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is really only interested in this premise as a bridge toward its ultimate destination: becoming meta commentary on itself and video games as a medium.
As Stefan becomes increasingly suspicious of his reality and realize that someone else is in control of his actions (note: it’s you, you’re the someone else), Bandersnatch abandons all concept of narrative. Probably not coincidentally, this is also when your decisions actually start to have a real impact on what happens in the story. It’s also where the seams that hold Bandersnatch together start to become very noticeable.