Netflix releases their first “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and it’s not quite what you would want, but it’s still a good first try.
It’s a choose-your-own adventure, so stuff can go in a lot of different ways, but basically, it’s the 80s and your main character, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), is trying to adapt a massive “Choose Your Own Adventure” book called Bandersnatch written by a murderer named Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter) into a video game. He is hired to make the game by Tuckersoft, a company run by businessman Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and famous video-game maker Colin Ritman (Will Poulter). At the same time, Stefan is dealing with issues with his father, Peter (Craig Parkinson), and mental health issues that send him to a therapist, Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe). Everything past that set-up is determined by your choices.
So, I remember when there were games in the 80s and 90s that you could play on VHS and Betamax by going to different parts of the video to see what happened next. I’m sure that there are also DVD versions of that, but I think the truth of the matter is that we have video games for that now. If we want to see a movie play out based on our choices… why not just play Red Dead Redemption and see whatever Western you want? Well, that’s why they set the movie in the 80s when the concept of an elaborate “choose your own adventure” game is about as high-tech as it gets.
The point of the story, no matter which paths you take, appropriately, is the main character realizing that he doesn’t have control over his choices. The difference between this story and other, similar, horror concepts is that rather than God, a shadowy government organization, fate, or whatever else might be taking away the character’s choice, in this you, the viewer, are the one making his choices. The story rather cleverly allows you to make both Stefan’s major and minor choices, from what cereal he has for breakfast to whether or not to kill himself. Now, that may sound like a good premise for a Black Mirror episode, but actually, that’s not the real episode.
You’re in the real one.
Unfortunately, I’m now going to have to put a spoiler alert in order to explain why. Before I do that, though, I’ll give any of you who still want the experience my recommendation:
This isn’t just a thing for watching or playing through. You really need to try and replay it and get as many endings as you can before you get the message of the episode. It’s not until you see all the ways that the story can play out that you can actually see it. Now, I admit that the story and performances themselves aren’t the best of Black Mirror, but this is an interesting use of the streaming medium that deserves to be explored, so give it a shot.
There are no happy endings. There just aren’t. The entire episode is set up so that you either fail at making the game Bandersnatch or the process of making the game ends up leading you into madness and murder. See, no matter how hard you play the game, no matter whether you find the secret passwords or the hidden number or whatever, you don’t win. You’re the one who’s actually without choice, because none of your choices can ever change the fact that the ending is bad. Arguably the two best endings are the five-star ending, which involve Stefan killing his father and realizing that the key to the game is only to give people the illusion that their choices matter (hint hint), and the 0 star ending from saying Yes to the offer to make the game in which the game fails but everyone lives, though they state they’re going to do it again (prompting you to redo the scenario immediately).
The thing is, you don’t really have control. You can control between the choices, but you don’t get to control what the choices were. The feeling of control you have is just as much of an illusion as Stefan’s belief that he can craft the game. You didn’t create anything, you’re just running through a series of seeming choices that ultimately don’t make much of a difference.
And that’s life, kids. You can make whatever choices you want in the meantime, but inevitably, you’re going towards the ending and it all ends pretty much the same. You’re trapped in a video-game that likely doesn’t let you replay when you hit the ending and you didn’t get a choice about playing. But, at least you can have fun in the meantime, so you’re beating Stefan.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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