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By Gemma JoyceMar 22
Published January 2nd 2019
Over the holidays, in one of those in-between spaces where no one knows the date, day or time, I joined thousands of others in trying out Netflix’s first grown-up choose-your-own-adventure movie – Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
This article may contain spoilers.
The experience left me, like many other turkey and chocolate-filled Netflix fans, impressed but fairly exhausted – I pushed through to try to watch all five of the possible endings, experiencing the laughter, the stress, and the dilemmas.
It also left me at a loss as to how to write about it.
There are reportedly over a trillion possible permutations of the movie. You can watch it in all kinds of directions and arrangements. You can spend 40 minutes watching it (or should I say “parts of” it), or you can spend a couple of hours playing with it.
Almost everyone will experience it in a different way, and in a different order.
And, since there isn’t a single set-out narrative, working out how to review it feels daunting.
In eliminating the passivity and creating an interactive experience in which viewers are involved and culpable, Netflix has created a multi-dimensional piece of art. On top of all the perceptions we bring to our viewing experiences (what we think of the leading actor, the mood we’re in when we watch, what we think of Black Mirror), there are added layers of nuance to each session. Those who finish at the 40 minute mark, seeing that ending, will probably feel different to those who get to watch all five. Those who watch alone will feel differently to those who watch in a group (depending on who was holding the controller).
What I guess I’m trying to say is that no matter how accomplished you might be as a movie reviewer, you can only comment on your own experience of it – no one else’s. After all, you will likely be reviewing a different movie to what your reader will watch.
Each year since Black Mirror came to Netflix, Brandwatch React has crowdsourced reviews of the episodes. Here are two examples, where we look at which episodes were the most spoopy. We just typed in “distressed” terms, like “scared,” “screaming” etc and worked out which episodes had the highest percentage of those terms in their mentions.
This year, I feel like crowdsourcing opinions on Black Mirror: Bandersnatch could be the only way to create a meaningful review of it.
By bringing together as many experiences as possible, we can look at what Bandersnatch made people feel – each one of them seeing it from their own unique angle.
We searched for mentions of Bandersnatch across social media between 27 December 2018 and 1 January 2019. We found more than 400k posts from 300k unique authors.
To demonstrate how different viewing experiences might alter emotional response, here’s an example of two ending-related words from Bandersnatch and the emotions we identified in the social media posts they are mentioned in.
All these mentions were related to Bandersnatch (we’re not just looking at general mentions of “chop” or “balcony”).
Looking at the broad picture when it comes to Bandersnatch mentions allows us to examine the dominant emotions people expressed online around the movie. This is the closest we’re likely to get to reviewing the movie in an inclusive way from an emotional standpoint.
As you’ll see, it’s a total mix. Anger, sadness and joy were the most prominent emotions we searched for.
Anger and sadness aren’t always ideal emotions for people to express when it comes to something you’ve created, but I think it’s a mark of success here. Choose-your-own-adventure games are meant to be frustrating. They put you on the spot, make you make choices that are difficult. A signature of Black Mirror is to leave you feeling strongly, and that certainly seems to be the case here.
For me, the overwhelming emotion throughout was frustration. I wasn’t a fan of the short time frames you had to choose, and not knowing how much of an impact my decision might have. In the beginning the viewer can choose what to have for breakfast and what tape to listen to on the bus, and even at this early stage I was already torn. It seems others felt the same way – here’s one of the most popular tweets in the conversation.
bandersnatch: frosties or sugar puffs— Emily Vaughn (@Emilyvaughnx) December 29, 2018
??????????????????????????? ????????? ??????????????????
??????????????????????????? ????????? ??????????????????
bandersnatch: chop up the body or bury it
me: chop it
Meanwhile, there’s a weird experience where you’re not sure how much power you actually have.
Near the beginning, Stefan must choose whether to work for Tuckersoft or not. I, like this person’s mom, decided to keep opting for him to work at Tuckersoft believing that if I opted for that enough times there would be a different outcome. Sadly not.
my mum’s watching bandersnatch and she has accepted their request for stefan to work for tuckersoft 5 times and watched the same scene Five Times because she really wants him to work there— evangeline (@evie_freemantle) January 1, 2019
Later, at least in my storyline, Stefan begins to believe that someone else is controlling him, and resists adhering to some of my decisions.
At first I thought I had all the power, then I found my choices weren’t always fulfilled, and finally, when faced with a decision between destroying a computer and simply throwing tea at it I realized I wasn’t in control at all. Netflix wasn’t controlling Stefan, it was controlling me.
I can totally understand how anger and sadness were dominant emotions here. And I can totally understand why people love the movie, too.
A look at the top-used emojis demonstrates better than any of the above charts just how mixed the responses are, and how hard a watch this is compared to a usual binge session of our favorite shows.
So what’s next for the choose-your-own-adventure style? As Janko Roettgers writes in Variety:
“Ultimately, this ability of the “Black Mirror” creators to screw with their audience’s minds does make for a perfect fit for Netflix’s first adult interactive story. It also seems to set the bar impossibly high, leading one to wonder: How can anyone can ever create a story this perfectly suited for this nascent format again?”
That said, it feels like there are unlimited possibilities for the format beyond the horror/thriller genre (if we are to put the genre-defying Black Mirror in either of those boxes).
Meanwhile, it seems like the ideal time for this format to spring up. Personalization and the importance of engaging digital experiences to keep easily-distracted audiences awake and interested are both key themes both for brands inside and outside the entertainment industry. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an interesting exercise in this, since it does both of these things but it also asks a lot of the audience, both emotionally and physically – there’s no chill about this Netflix experience.
Having already been asked to chop up a body, perhaps a lighter hearted take on choose-your-own-adventure will act as some light relief.