Everything About Netflix’s First Interactive Film Release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Warning: The following text may contain spolers.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a 2018 interactive film in the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade. Netflix released it on 28 December 2018 as a standalone film. in 28 languages.

In Bandersnatch, viewers make decisions for the main character, the young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who adapts a fantasy novel into a video game in 1984. Other characters include Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), who work at a video game company, Butler's father, Peter (Craig Parkinson) and Butler's therapist, Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe). The film is based on a planned Imagine Software video game of the same name which went unreleased after the company filed for bankruptcy. A piece of horror and science fiction, Bandersnatch incorporates meta-commentary and rumination on free will.

Bandersnatch is presented as an interactive film. A brief tutorial, specific to the device being streamed on, explains to the viewer how to make choices. They have ten seconds to make choices, or a default decision is made. Once a playthrough ends, the viewer is given an option of going back and making a different choice. The average viewing is 90 minutes, though the quickest path ends after 40 minutes, and at least one path results in a 2.5 hour viewing experience. There are 150 minutes of unique footage divided into 250 segments. IGN reports that according to Netflix, there are five "main" endings, with variants within each ending. Producer Russell McLean said there are between ten and twelve endings, some of which are more vague as endings compared to others, and according to director David Slade, there are a few "golden eggs" endings that may take a long time before viewers figure out how to achieve them. No ending is considered "prescribed" over any other, according to executive producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, particularly as they felt some endings were not truly endings in the traditional sense.

In most cases, when the viewer reaches an ending, the interactive film gives the player the option to redo a last critical choice as to be able to explore these endings, or they can alternatively view the film's credits. In some cases, the same segment is reachable in multiple different ways, but will present the viewer with different choices based on the way they reached the segment. In other cases, certain loops guide viewers to a specific narrative regardless of the choices they make. The viewer has the option to completely restart watching Bandersnatch from the start, but this will erase all stored information about which options they had selected while watching the episode on that device.

Plot:
In England in July 1984, 19-year-old programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) dreams of adapting a "choose your own adventure" book called Bandersnatch by tragic writer Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter) into what he hopes will be a revolutionary adventure video game. The game involves traversing a graphical maze of corridors while avoiding a creature called the Pax, and at times making choices by an on-screen instruction. Butler produces the game for video game company Tuckersoft, which is run by Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and employs the famous game creator Colin Ritman (Will Poulter). Butler is given the choice of accepting or rejecting help from the company in developing the game. If Butler accepts the offer, Ritman says he chose the "wrong path" and Butler lives the day again, being given the same choice.

Otherwise, Butler begins to work on the game on his own, given a September deadline by Thakur so Tuckersoft can publish it for Christmas sales. Fighting through the game's software bugs, Butler gets increasingly stressed out and hostile to his father Peter (Craig Parkinson). Throughout this period, Butler visits Dr. R. Haynes' (Alice Lowe) clinic for depression therapy. The viewer may have Butler explain to Dr. Haynes about his mother's death when he was five; Peter had taken his stuffed rabbit toy, believing boys his age should not be playing with dolls, and Butler's stubbornness to refuse to leave without it forced his mother to take a later train, which derailed and killed several passengers including her. Butler since feels responsible for her death, and sees completing the adaption of Bandersnatch, one of the books she owned, as a means to atone to her. Dr. Haynes prescribes Butler antidepressant medicines, which the viewer can choose to either have Butler take or flush down the toilet. The viewer may have the option to have Butler take an invitation to visit Ritman's flat, where he lives with his girlfriend Kitty and child Pearl. There, the pair take hallucinogens, and Ritman then talks about alternate timelines and different paths. To demonstrate his theories on alternate realities, Ritman demands Butler, via the viewer, to determine which one of them should jump off the balcony. In future scenes, Ritman will be mysteriously absent if he was the one that jumped.

As the deadline to deliver the game to Thakur looms, with strange errors still present in the game, Butler begins to feel he is being controlled by outside forces, putting into question how much he trusts his father and Dr. Haynes. Butler finds his life mirroring that of Davies, seeing recurring imagery of a "branching pathway" symbol, which seemingly led to Davies beheading his own wife. As he begins to mentally break down and tries to fight against an unseen agent controlling his actions, the viewer has multiple options to explain to Butler, from his 1984 computer screen, who has been controlling him, one of which being that they are making these decisions for him via Netflix service in the 21st century. The viewer may discover a locked safe that either contains Butler's old toy rabbit, or documents about him being monitored as part of an experiment.

There are numerous possible endings, of which the following is only a partial list. One path leads to Butler assaulting his therapist during a session, after which it is revealed that he is in a movie set and that his dad is the director. One set of choices leads Butler following Ritman's advice, seemingly crossing through a mirror to his five year old self to go along with his mother to "die" in derailment, causing Butler's body to suddenly die in the present. In other paths, the viewer has the option to make Butler kill his father, bury or chop up the body and, when given the option, to kill Ritman or Thakur. Burying the body leads to Butler being jailed before release of the game; chopping up and not letting his therapist know about the murder leads to the successful release of the game, but Butler goes to prison shortly afterwards.

In some endings, the viewer is shown the critical reaction to the Bandersnatch game and the fate of Tuckersoft. Other endings conclude in the present day with a grown-up Pearl, now a programmer for Netflix, attempting to adapt it into an interactive film, which leads her to start experiencing the same "branching path" imagery seen by both Davies and Butler.

Bandersnatch has elements of comedy, horror, pathos, science fiction and a 1980s period piece. David Griffin of IGN compares it to the adventure video game series The Walking Dead, whose first instalment was released in 2012, and the 2018 adventure game Detroit: Become Human. At one point, Thakur mentions that Butler's game has no need to type in "get lamp", which is the first necessary command that the player must use in the first text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure, and the title of a documentary about the onset of interactive fiction.

The film contains meta-commentary: Stuart Heritage of The Guardian wrote that "Brooker has popularised a new form of storytelling, then identified its tropes and dismantled them one by one." Ed Cumming of The Independent commented that it contains themes of "authorial control, free will and fate".

The glyph from "White Bear" reappears in Bandersnatch representing two branching pathways.
 

Like previous episodes, Bandersnatch makes several allusions to previous Black Mirror episodes. The "branching path" symbol which Davis and later Bulter experience is equivalent in a digital version to the symbol used in "White Bear". One of Tuckersoft's successful games is Metl Hedd, a reference to "Metalhead", also directed by Slade, while Ritman is shown to be working on a game called Nohzdyve, referencing the episode "Nosedive". Butler attends counselling at the Saint Juniper clinic, named for "San Junipero", while Tuckersoft alludes to TCKR Systems first introduced in San Junipero and referenced in later episodes. References to various other Black Mirror episodes can be seen in news stories shown in brief shots of the pages of The Sun newspaper and on a television news crawl; such episodes include "The National Anthem", "Be Right Back", "15 Million Merits", "The Waldo Moment", "Hated in the Nation", "USS Callister", "Crocodile", and "Hang the DJ". Some journalists noted that "R. Haynes" may allude to Rolo Haynes, the proprietor of the titular showcase in "Black Museum".

In one ending, a sound similar to a Commodore Datasette recording is heard; loading the sound to a ZX Spectrum provides the viewer with a QR code with the White Bear glyph in the middle that leads to the fictional Tuckersoft website, where a playable copy of the ZX Spectrum game Nohzdyve can be downloaded.

Following the release of Bandersnatch to Netflix, a live website for the fictional company Tuckersoft was made available. The site documents some of the fictional games discussed in the film, but includes a playable version of Nohzdyve that requires the use of a ZX Spectrum emulator. The site also includes a recruitment ad for Tuckersoft, but in actuality links to open job positions at Netflix.

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