Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

(UK, 2018)

When I heard about this I reacted the same way I did when, quite a few years ago now, there was a spate of “interactive” books, where you made choices and turned to page X or Y to proceed. My reaction was simple. Why? Why would anyone want to read such a book? When I pick up a book I want to be told a story, not have to thread my way through a collection of prose fragments. If I want to solve a puzzle, I’ll buy one in a jigsaw box. If I want an interactive experience, I’ll play Super Mario Brothers.

Of course I knew I’d have to take a look.

For some reason, the story is set in 1984, and involves a young programmer named Stefan as he pursues a career in game writing. I spent about an hour and a half answering questions like “Should Stefan have Super Sugar Bombs or Freberg’s Puffed Grass for breakfast?” I picked, and moved on. But before long I was asked if I wanted to continue or reset. In other words, go back to the last choice. I wandered around and it was becoming clear that Stefan was being manipulated. Like, “Should Stefan pick his nose and eat the booger, or jam a banana in his ear?” I picked the booger (ah … so to speak) and Stefan resisted it. So, in this thread at least, it was clearly me, the viewer, who was controlling him. Maybe it was something else in another thread. And guess what? I didn’t give a damn.

Netflix spent (wasted, in my opinion) a great deal of time and money filming this. It was elaborate, with so many alternates to film. It took a long time. It was so expensive that they used the entire budget for a season of Black Mirror stories just on this monstrosity. The damn thing has so many possible endings that the Wikipedia summary says this at the end: “There are numerous possible endings, of which the following is only a partial list.” Which makes me wonder, is there someone out there who has explored all the possibilities? Does even the director know all of them? And guess what? I don’t give a damn. So once again, all these years later, I just have to ask, Why?

One of the few pleasures here is looking at the old computers they are using. How long has it been since you saw a TRS-80? An Atari? A Commodore 64? (Did you know that is the best-selling computer of all time?) Is there a word for the reverse of nostalgia? A word for looking back at something in the past with relief you don’t have to do that anymore? I’m sure many of you readers are too young to ever have used any of those. I kept wondering, where did they get them all? A dusty attic? I guess that somewhere there is a museum where obsolete electronics go to die.