Netflix’s December 28th release of this past year, Bandersnatch, marks many a landmark for modern film. Bandersnatch is an offshoot of the wildly popular television series Black Mirror which explores the dangers of contemporary technology. Most often, the moral of Black Mirror episodes does not lie in the inherent evil of technology, but, rather, the evils that lie within the people who use it. Bandersnatch conveys this same haunting message. The film accomplishes this by allowing the watcher to control the fate of Stefan, the protagonist. One realizes, as Stefan is driven to insanity and even murder, that their decisions have driven him to these extremes. By dictating the fate of this character, many are forced to reflect on themselves with each choice they make. Now, final warnings: spoilers ahead, and, for those readers up to date, be prepared to unravel the genius of Bandersnatch.
Choose your own adventure is a rather unexplored medium for film, however, the idea is not entirely new. The world’s first interactive movie, Kinoautomat, was initially released in 1967. The movie was written so that the two plotlines converged at so-called ‘decision points’. As such, there were only ever two possibilities for a scene. Long after its release, Kinoautomat was released on Czech television, with the two reels on different channels. The film was critically acclaimed for its innovative screenplay, and, like all good things, was later banned by the Ruling Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. In any case, hardly any BHS students are aware of the existence of Kinoautomat. However, Bandersnatch is a well-known film among teenagers worldwide. Bandersnatch has effectively popularized this strategy of storytelling, and in a far more complex manner than its predecessor, as each choice garners a multitude of possibilities.
Speaking of Bandersnatch’s many possibilities, there are around ten confirmed endings to the film. However, perhaps the most evasive is the secret post-credits screen, which even Charlie Brooker, Bandersnatch’s head writer, had forgotten how to access. The scene features Stefan on the bus, and where he would usually pick between mundane music, he chooses to listen to his completed game. The soundtrack that plays is disturbing, with a sort of static-y sound ringing amongst the cuts of Stefan’s surrounding environment. This haunting ending is one I stumbled upon myself, without realizing its secretive nature. It is a definitively creepy one, and causes the watcher to feel an inkling of Stefan’s insanity.
This, and many other scenes, are some that viewers of Bandersnatch may never get to see. Herein lies the primary appeal of the film. Bandersnatch plays out as a sort of game, with hidden endings, and the way one plays perhaps reveals something about themselves. Many have played for hours past the regular running time of the film, exploring every ending. And the itch in one’s brain remains; Did I explore every ending? What else does this movie have to offer? This addicting aspect of Bandersnatch speaks to its genius as a film. People are speaking about it even after its release date, peeling back more layers from the storyline.
This format is only really one made possible by streaming services like Netflix. A theater-full of people could never agree on one choice, even if it’s something as mundane as deciding what cereal to eat, and, much less within the span of seconds. However, many old-school film makers consider streaming services an illegitimate way of experiencing a movie. In fact, Oscars are only awarded to movies whose public premiers have been in movie theaters, meaning Bandersnatch has no hope of attaining such an award. However, its stunning quality both in storytelling and in visual effects will undoubtedly have the public wondering why, exactly, this rule is still in place. Bandersnatch allows for an old, stuffy crowd of filmmakers to be exposed for their snobbish opinions of what constitutes a film. The film introduces the power that a streaming medium holds with film, what with the amazing success of Bandersnatch. And I would like to think the film’s release date, curiously close to that of the 2019 Oscars, is a bit of a provocative statement towards traditional film.
Bandersnatch breaks many rules. In the sense of storytelling, the characters are self-aware, the listener is the determiner of fate, and there is no conclusion unless one looks for it. In the sense of how it was brought into the world, its suitability towards the online streaming format acts as a metaphorical slap in the face to traditional film. But it is this type of rule breaking that makes Bandersnatch such an ingenious film. It is addictive in a way no other film really is, and it is reflective entirely of the watcher in a totally unique sense. With more endings and nuances to be found, audiences are truly ‘in the hole’; and not entirely convinced that we’d ever like to come out of it.