The long-rumored “Choose Your Own Adventure” episode of Black Mirror has finally arrived, which means all is revealed right? Not even close. Officially titled Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the episode is being referred to as the first Netflix Interactive Film for adults, building off technology previously used for childrens content like Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale. The episode begins with a brief tutorial of how it’s going to work: viewers are instructed on how to use their remotes or controls to choose the “left” and “right” choices that will display on the screen, and each choice alters the narrative that then unfolds. A 10-second timer runs when the options are presented to you, and if you don’t make a choice in that time, a default selection is made. Black Mirror creator and writer Charlie Brooker chose the default path himself, and if viewers opt out of participating, they’ll be presented with “the most basic version of the story.”
All told there are five main endings with multiple variants of each, and to see each ending play out, you’ll have to make different choices that then lead you down a different path. The default path runs for approximately 90 minutes in length, but per a THR deep-dive into the making of Bandersnatch, it could take up to two and a half hours to fully “play” the film up to its endpoint.
So what is Bandersnatch about? The story itself was concocted specifically for this “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, and it takes place in the 1980s and stars Dunkirk actor Fionn Whitehead as Stefon, a young programmer who has hopes of creating a best-selling, text-based computer game inspired by a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style novel that was given to him as a child. Co-stars include Will Poulter, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe, and Asim Chaudhry. To execute Bandersnatch, which Brooker wrote himself, they turned to director David Slade, who helmed the Season 4 episode “Metalhead” as well as feature films like 30 Days of Night and Twilight: Eclipse.
It took 35 days to shoot Bandersnatch in its entirety, and as revealed in the THR profile, this interactive film was actually two years in the making. In 2016, when Brooker and his team were developing the Season 4 episode “Playtest”, Netflix’s team suggested adding an interactive element to the episode. However, as development continued, “Playtest” didn’t feel like the right fit—although it didn’t take long for Brooker to come up with Bandersnatch:
“We did pretty much walk out of the room and go, ‘Nope,’” Brooker recalled. “But partly because, at that point, we didn’t know what the story would be and thought, ‘Wouldn’t that just be a gimmick?’ Annoyingly, several weeks later, we were throwing story ideas around and this idea popped up that would only work as an interactive. It was good to come back and have an idea, but also daunting.”
As for how Bandersnatch works, co-showrunner Annabel Jones explains that it’s not a simply binary system, and each decision builds off of the last:
“There are lots of potential paths that Stefan’s journey could take and it’s up to you for when you feel sated,” Jones told THR of the viewer’s journey ahead. “Going down various branches opens up other potentials, so you may not reach certain things depending on the decisions you make. It’s not a simple branching narrative with lots of binary choices — they are all changing your state and what’s open to you.”
THR explains that the choices begin fairly benignly, easing the viewer into the experience:
The interactive choices begin with simple tasks, like picking what the protagonist, Stefan, will eat for breakfast or what music he will listen to. Those choices are meant to poke fun at the dated choose-your-own-adventure offerings that launched the genre (“We thought we’d have a bit of a gag and slightly mess with you a bit,” said Brooker) while also easing the viewer into the ethically complex — and, of course, nihilistic — decisions that are in store. As Bandersnatch begins to explore the sliding door elements of Stefan’s choices and the power of free will, the viewer will quickly realize what the Black Mirror duo means when they say that their idea could only work as an interactive
But as is classic Black Mirror, the story gets more and more complex, until viewers are forced to make horrible, horrible choices. Yay! Netflix’s director of product innovation Carla Engelbrecht explains:
“There is a moment in Bandersnatch that I bet is going to be one where 90 percent of the people do not want to make the choice that they want to make. I promise you will know when that moment happens,” said Engelbrecht. “This is going to be one of those moments that we think will create such emotion that there will be this beautiful level of engagement and attachment to this story.” With Bandersnatch, Brooker and Jones take their explorations on digital consciousness a step further: They make viewers complicit by putting them in control. “You are making a decision at that point about your protagonist and what they have to do,” said Jones. “If it wasn’t interactive, you’d just watch and probably be appalled and worried and frightened for him in that moment. If you’re making that decision, how does that affect your relationship with the film? Do you then feel more wretched?”
Ah Black Mirror, never change.
This is only the beginning, as Netflix has an entire department devoted to product innovation and if Bandersnatch is a hit, this could be the first of many “Interactive Films” that you can get only on Netflix. It’s yet another sign of the streaming service’s dominance, and all of this only further serves as marketing for Black Mirror’s upcoming fifth season, due to debut in 2019.
So give Bandersnatch a whirl, if you dare. It’s available on Netflix now.