TV-MA, but I can't even promise what the movie does or doesn't have. The best I can do is tell you the version I got, which involves suicide, violence, language, and drugs. But who knows what's out there? There could be tons of nudity for all I know. What version gets you there? Maybe choosing the wrong cereal makes this movie something horribly risque. Okay, I doubt it. But still, tons of options out there. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: David Slade
I wasn't sure that I should be reviewing Bandersnatch because I thought it was just another episode of Black Mirror. Don't get me wrong. I love Black Mirror. While I write about films to an obsessive level, I also love me some tee-vee. But Netflix labeled this as an "Interactive Film" and, given the length of film, which is apparently TBD, I have to fulfill my quest to write about every movie I see. (I don't have to do anything, but that is very thematically in line with Bandersnatch.)
I don't mind writing about Bandersnatch one bit. It became a hardcore obsession for the past 48 hours. I want to talk about it with everyone because it is such a trippy experience. We started the movie around 11:00 at night on New Year's Eve. We were going to wait until our baby started crying before we went to bed after the ball drop and we actually got really far. But we didn't actually finish that night. Let me tell you that I couldn't sleep for a long time. I went through choice after choice and tried to figure out how I got the point I did. I wondered what other choices I had made and what other choices might have led to. Bandersnatch made me believe that I have always loved "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories. But the more I think about it, that wasn't true. I love Telltale Adventure Games. But in terms of actually loving Choose Your Own Adventure, I was always ambivalent. That's how good Bandersnatch is. The Choose Your Own Adventure model has always been a gimmick, often relegated to DVD special features. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that the technology was never really all that seemless. Bandersnatch is pretty impressive. It really does feel like a film. When the results of my decisions come into play, the movie plays out like that was the only choice to make. There's no real transition between the choice and the consequence. It was only on my second viewing that I could really wrap my head around the multitude of choices. I didn't get far into my other viewing, but it was odd to see the movie just naturally take a different path. Those paths were as seemless as the ones I had chosen. That's a lot of what gets me about Bandersnatch. The movie works as a movie regardless of what choice I make. It's only when you hit a dead end that you are pulled out of the narrative.
There's a lot going on with Black Mirror stuff. Part of that experience is the fact that Black Mirror tends to get heady, but is often solveable by the end. When Stefan hits a wall in the narrative, he is transported back to where I made a poor decision and I can alter those choices. I don't think I will ever truly understand every element of Bandersnatch because Bandersnatch only works when it is a little bit cryptic. Brooker is really good at communicating his themes and the same is true with Bandersnatch. But usually I can understand the vehicle that gets there. SPOILERS ABOUT MY INDIVIDUAL CHOICES: I suppose this means that I can't get too spoilery because you may make drastically different choices. The movie thrives on the idea that you will make mistakes. While the story has tangents in many many directions, there are a few choices that are story-breaking mistakes. Honestly, I think the first major choice I made was the wrong one. From there, I was given a fake choice to send Stefan back in time to correct his mistake. This is what I don't understand. I'm pretty sure that Bandersnatch is not a time-travel story. But there is a practicality element to the whole thing. After all, the point of Choose Your Own Adventure is to find the best ending. With a book, you can flip back and forth. With a story that's chronological and streaming, there has to be a function that allows the same experience. Brooker is way too smart of a guy. Like, he has to be scary smart. He doesn't let me experience things in the same way each time. There's this weird moment where little things change between viewings. If I make a mistake, it's mostly the same. Heck, some of them are exactly the same. But then there are times when little important things change. And that's when the meta narrative comes out. I love the meta narrative. There are a handful of moments that made my jaw drop because it broke the rules of what a story should be. Sometimes it is when different passwords work and have a different effect on the contents of a box. Other times, Bandersnatch addresses my life as a viewer. Calling out the fact that this is a product of Netflix is completely insane. I know that a lot of the Netflix stuff makes its way to home video, but would that even work with home media? The Netflix experience is quintessential to the viewing process, which shouldn't actually be a thing.
I read one criticism and, I have to admit, that it has validity. I'm sure that there are many criticisms of this movie, but I don't have time for that. There is one thing that gets under my skin. This is inherent to the Choose Your Own Adventure format, but Bandersnatch takes it to a level I had yet to see before. Many of the options are binary. Think about that for a second. That means that every problem only have two solutions. This isn't an open world. As many choices as there are, you are still fundamentally on rails. Brooker kind of took that a step further. Many of Stefan's options are both very similar. Brooker is trying to make the whole thing about powerlessness and mental illness. The movie desperately wanted me to kill my dad. There were so many times where the movie pushed me in that direction and I just wanted to fight that thread. This is all keeping in mind that this was often wildly intentional. The most satsifyingly frustrating options are the one where there is only one decision. If you were wondering, throwing caution to the wind while reading this summary and analysis of a movie you hadn't yet watched, you have to make a choice. Not making a choice is not a choice in itself. Rather, Netflix will play the game for you, making decisions one way or the other. I always loved that Telltale treated silence as a choice in itself. It was always the secret choice. It kind of served as a form of rebellion to the choices you were given. I desperately tried to fight one of the choices. I didn't like the binary I was offered, but Netflix made the decision for me. I read somewhere that the only way to see as many options as possible was to let Netflix play the movie by itself. You know, like a traditional film? But keeping the options binary establish a pretty intense tone. Also, and this is me playing apologist, but the story is about mental illness. I mean, it's not the central theme, but it is running throughout. Stefan is convinced that there are no right answers to his problems. Thus, when he is presented with two negatives, it is because he doesn't have my life. His life, from his perspective, is unfixable. The universe wants to destroy Stefan. Offering him a happy choice probably seems unrealistic. There are no happy endings; just less sad ones. I offer no solutions to this. I like Black Mirror's bleak tone throughout its series. To cheer me up with a happy ending doesn't really ring true to what I like. I think its that negativity that kept me thinking about the options. A clear positive path almost seems like a cop out. Everyone would be fighting for the happy ending and think of all of the stories we would have missed out on.
SPOILER ABOUT MY ENDING: I got the kid death ending. Perhaps this supports the theory that time travel exists in this universe. Because I don't have the time to watch and rewatch and rewatch Bandersnatch, I read the wiki on it. There are apparently five main endings. I watched three of those. I had the ending that io9 claimed was the best ending. But there's one out there that I'm really interested in. I really wanted the Pearl ending, even though I don't think that it offers anything new about Colin. Colin's story confuses me. Since I'm all about the spoilers, I don't know what Colin's suicide proves in the story. Colin seems like the sage character throughout. He has so many answers about what's happening to Colin throughout. To have Colin leap over the building to his death and not come back is mindboggling. After all, Stefan would have come back. The story doesn't end with Stefan's suicide. As far as I understand, Colin dies by suicide in every version of the narrative. From reading up on this and thinking about it, Colin's belief that he launches himself off the balcony knowing that a multiversal version of himself lives on. But he doesn't. In every version of the narrative, Colin dies. Also, what does that prove to Stefan. Best case scenario: Stefan sees that Colin is not afraid of death. The closest thing to a point that he's trying to make is that Colin is more concerned with his point than living, knowing that he'll continue on in some other form. I wonder if Brooker made it an intentional point that Colin can't possible live on because he gave him no other options. It's interesting, but confusing at the same time. Because Stefan is an unreliable narrator, I don't really know what to think about this moment. It's also really weird that the Stefan we experience by the end is most likely not the same Stefan we started with. The Stefan I know lives at home with his dad, knowing he released a mediocre game. Is that the same guy who ends up in a jail or just dying in the middle of a therapy session? I don't know.
I just restarted playing the Thompson Twins. Good choice.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.