I remember that in my school days, back when my father used to insist on the need to read only classics or the more regarded books of Children’s Literature (like Wizard of Oz, Secret Seven or Nancy Drew), I had taken a strange liking to a horror series which went by the name of Goosebumps. More specifically, I had acquired an affinity for R.L. Stein’s innovation of this series: ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps’. Peculiar in structure, the storyline did not quite fall in line with a linear narrative. Instead one got to choose their way to twenty different endings by following the instructions prescribed at the bottom of each page. No matter if one reached “THE END” all too quickly, they could always navigate to a new course by making another choice, and consequently turning to a different page.
When I commenced watching Black Mirror’s rendition of this choice based plot in Bandersnatch, I was, to put it quite bluntly, mind-blown. Here was a series set in the year 1984, somewhere between a real video game and recorded reality which thematically, structurally and quite literally was making me give myself goosebumps. There was something quite exciting in being a participant in the storytelling process all over again. Proceeding from the protagonist Stefan’s wish to program a breakthrough video game based on a book found in his dead mother’s collections, we soon learn of his childhood trauma which becomes the mainstay of who he is and whom we shall ultimately foist him to become. It is an uphill task to gauge what is really going on as Stefan, jittery and somewhat “caught in the trap”, soon transmogrifies into the antagonist (or not – depends on both our choices and urge to continue).
That the series is set in the year “1984”, deliberately premising it on George Orwell’s path-breaking book, is not hard to notice, though the subtlety of Netflix’s genius might escape the common eye. The book is a vivid commentary on the notion of the “Big Brother”. Its ideas, once far-fetched fiction, are now what we may call “political clairvoyance”. Orwell proffers the concepts of free will, individuality, privacy, independence and how all these are farces when it comes to colluding powers controlling us.
Our present, though not openly totalitarian, ticks almost all boxes of the dystopian future Orwell had imagined we would be in. Where our social media behaviour is compiled by the Big Data giants and sold to various stakeholders, technological surveillance assumes a magnitude quite hideous for citizens. The stakeholders might include bureaucratic organizations, advertising wings of interested conglomerates or market-research bodies corroborating in public relations to expedite and enlarge political gains. Our personal lives are being sold at all levels of the web and even in the most ghastly, Dark Web. Akin to how we respond to Stefan’s cries for a sign, the creators of Black Mirror too have provided us with an ominous sign for the abysmal state of affairs.
The viewer, though said to be in the driver’s seat and claimed to be the one making choices, is relatively powerless to prevent the Stefan’s wreckage in form or another. Stefan finds himself watched, taped and controlled with his hold on reality fading away despite having the agency of life. The clandestine manoeuvre pulled together by David Slade is that the viewer, much like Stefan, though said to be steering the show, is ultimately passive in preventing the typical fatality of a Black Mirror-esque collapse. The choices, they mean nothing both for Stefan and for us. Just like Stefan has to submit to the omnipresent influence pulling his strings, the viewers have to bow their heads to what designs the creators have deemed for their show.
Caught in the immersive experience of Bandersnatch, one should not forget that it is among all things, a prototype of the Black Mirror model. Hand-wringling progression, nerve-wracking analogies and mind-boggling outcomes have been adhered to strictly like all other regular episodes of the show. Black Mirror’s storytelling of late had been slated for becoming repetitive with spectators often being able to predict the endings by drawing precedence from previous episodes. At least personally, Season 3 in hindsight was disappointing. That being said, Black Mirror Bandersnatch is a breath of fresh air, a masterpiece perhaps more due to the form than the story. The team has recouped the reputation of the Black Mirror franchise with Bandersnatch. Netflix has often dabbled with this choice based formula and the same striking a chord with its loyal audience makes it here to stay!
Picture Credit : thewrap