How Black Mirror explores influence of technology
Within entertainment, we are hardly ever confronted on our obsession with technology.
Certainly no one that financially benefits from our decisions wants to ask us if we have absolute freedom in our relationship with technology.
“Black Mirror” is one of the few creative works that points a finger at the methods of technology usage and the addictions interlaced within them. The metaphors used may be uncomfortable, but they reflect humanity’s weaknesses and false sense of freedom when it comes to our reliance on the gadgets we hold dear.
“Bandersnatch” is the latest addition to “Black Mirror” on Netflix, and the series’ first interactive film. This means that the viewer is allowed to make decisions for the films main character, Stefan Butler.
The year is 1984, and Stefan is a 19-year-old gamer in the U.K. who takes on the challenge of transforming an exciting mystery book into an interactive adventure game.
We are presented with two options for Stefan to choose from as he lands on a crossroads and must determine how to proceed.
The uncomfortable element within Bandersnatch is the loss of control Stefan experiences over his decisions. We literally see him struggle to understand that some alternate universe called Netflix controls almost every decision he makes.
Decisions such as taking LSD or chopping up his father’s body are up to the viewer to make, and then forced on Stefan to carryout.
The horror comes at the expense of Stefan’s sanity, life, or freedom, depending on what ending is chosen.
He never truly finishes his game and is constantly bombarded with the panic that he cannot even choose his own cereal in the morning because we choose it for him.
But just like Stefan, we don’t have any real choice in the outcomes of “Bandersnatch” either. We may feel powerful for brief moments when Stefan goes insane and tells his therapist that he feels like he is being controlled and monitored, but we are constantly rotated back and forth between scenes, forced to redo choices and pick the gruesome one we tried to avoid, such as Stefan killing his father, or Colin jumping off the balcony.
Though the viewer may have a say in the journey, ultimately we have no control over the multiple endings, all of which end with the same sad outcome for Stefan.
“Bandersnatch” and Stefan’s insanity are about more than just a man controlled and monitored.
They are about the real life choices we make, and the outlets that push us into making these calculated decisions.
The only time that Stefan gets a five star rating on his video game is when he chops up his father after being swayed by the audiences’ preference. Other than a small complaint and a sigh, Stefan does not question the command. What does this say about conformity?
Once we go along with the metanarrative and compromise our integrity, do we eventually come to terms with our own sick state?
Stefan accepts that he must chop up his father’s body, only after we choose for him. But he finds peace in conforming to our decision, and he is finally able to finish his game.
Stefan tells his therapist the next day that the secret to finishing “Bandersnatch” was to make it seem like the player had the choice to decide their own fate.
This way, the game was uncomplicated and lead to a simple path that the player thought they chose, but was actually drawn out for them from the beginning.
Isn’t this exactly what Stefan’s fate had become, the one we chose for him? But what choice did we have?
No matter what, something catastrophic happens to Stefan that we cannot shield him from. We have limited options and only feel like we have a choice in this viewing experience.
How are we also being monitored and influenced in our decisions? What tools of manipulation are blindly performed on us, just as unexpectedly as they were performed on Stefan? But of course, you only know that half of the film if you choose to take Stefan there.
“Bandersnatch” draws frightening comparisons to our reality by questioning how much freedom we truly have in our decisions, leaving viewers with a different view of the devices they own but may have more influence than previously realized.