Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a discussion

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a discussion

Robin Nelson

The modern day version of The Twilight Zone, Black mirror, has recently come out with a movie on Netflix. But not just any movie, a choose your own adventure movie. Everyone remembers the choose your own adventure books from when we were kids. It was exhilarating to feel like you were in control of what the main character did, and how the story played out. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is the first movie to venture off on the choose your own adventure path and does it in a highly entertaining and mind-boggling way. (SPOILERS AHEAD) 

In the beginning, the decisions we make for him are pretty miniscule ones. At first, I was pretty confused as to why they’d want me to choose what Stephan eats for breakfast and what music he listens to. I figured, those things are so miniscule, why does it matter for the story? But the writers knew exactly what they were doing. As we see later, Stephan starts to lose his mind based off the little things. He notices that he isn’t controlling any decisions: whether they’re big, life-changing ones or small, insignificant ones. (Like whether to eat Sugar Puffs or Frosties for breakfast.) Once I got to the scene where Stephan voices those concerns to Dr. Haynes, it came full circle for me, and I could tell that nothing in this movie is put there by accident. The exciting thing about all these choices was that every time you made a decision, you got new content and unraveled more and more of the story. Even going back and making the same decisions would somehow unlock new choices and new adventures. But each path always came back to the same main endings. 

After many, many viewings of Bandersnatch and me obsessively trying to find every possible ending, and see every possible scene, I’ve decided there are no happy endings for Stephan. I desperately wanted there to be one, but Stephan always either ended up dead, in jail, or being lied to by everyone around him. The different endings all seem to come back to one scene: when Stephan nearly destroys his computer, then looks up to the ceiling and asks whoever is controlling him to give him a sign.  

Any time we told Stephan that we watched him on Netflix, he would either lose it and fight his therapist and his dad, or he would find out he’s been in a film studio this whole time. If we showed Stephan the P.A.C.S. sign, he would lose it and kill his father, then call his therapist and threaten her life, which gets him landed in jail. Bandersnatch is released unfinished, and everyone hates it. If we give Stephan the White Bear sign, he realizes he isn’t in control, and you get the choice to kill the father. Either option gives you a dark path, and only on one path is Bandersnatch ever appreciated by audiences.  

The only path that Bandersnatch a five-star review from the strange review channel that was always there at the end was the path in which Stephan kills his dad, doesn’t bury him, and changes the game to be less confusing. We get a scene from the present where a new coder is re-remaking Bandersnatch. Some theorist say that the coder is the daughter of Colin and Kitty, since she mentions her father was a coder who had a copy of Bandersnatch, which had been recalled once everyone found out Stephan was a murderer. This ending is interesting and seems to imply that the game is cursed. The coder is shown trying to run Bandersnatch this time, it is the movie. It crashes, and she destroys the computer. It seems that anyone who delves too far into the world of Bandersnatch is met with horrible fates. 

As Ahbed, a beloved character from the TV show Community, would say, the last ending was definitely “the darkest timeline.” This ending seems to start with the moment Stephan is watching the tape that Colin leaves for him about the author of Bandersnatch. He is realizing that he isn’t in control, and you are given the choice to pick up a family picture or a coding book. Choosing the picture sends you on a journey down “the darkest timeline.” Earlier in the movie when we learned what had happened to Stephan’s mom, we get a flashback of Stephan looking for rabbit under his bed. An odd choice pops up when the mother asks if Stephan is coming with her to her parents’ or not: you can only say no. This early choice that was really only one option put an inkling of suspicion in my head during my first viewing. Could we somehow come back to this moment and unlock the option yes? Can we somehow save Stephan’s mom from going on the late train that crashes? Could this be the way to giving Stephan a happy ending?  

Stephan goes to open his dad’s unsettling vault, I knew that I must choose TOY as the password. I knew the rabbit must be in there and that this would somehow lead to Stephan finding it when he was a kid. Sure enough, if you tell Stephan to type in TOY, rabbit is sitting in the vault. There is a flash back to him searching for rabbit under his bed. My hopes were flying high. This must be the timeline to save Stephan’s mom! He will finally be happy! But no, I was most definitely wrong. Stephan finds rabbit, and his mom asks if he’s coming. On this, I was correct. A new option comes up for you to say yes. I was elated! Stephan‘s mom won’t be late! Instead of this, Stephan’s mom says the gut-wrenching words that they will miss the 8:30 train and will have to take the 8:45. This moment tells all the viewers that Stephan didn’t make his mother late. His resentment towards his father for hiding rabbit all these years was unneeded. Stephan’s mother was going to be late and take the 8:45 train no matter what. And now, we have unknowingly steered Stephan into taking that fateful train as well.  

This ending is final. Stephan and his mother crash and perish on the 8:45 train. The future Stephan dies instantly because of this. This scene was very emotional for the viewer because we know that while we thought we were saving the mother’s life, we really ruined the family and left Stephan’s father alone. The movie gives no more options for going back, which is even more interesting. All of our options had been in the future except for that one, and so there were no more choices to make, and we are forced out of the movie. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was a rollercoaster of emotions and suspense. We are in charge of unraveling Stephan’s life story. We oversee his career and big life decisions. And because of that, we feel responsible for all of Stephan’s unfortunate endings. It’s frustrating and exciting at the same time. Even though we never get to give Stephan a happy ending, it seems we were never meant to. Stephan sums it up in one of his quotes, that he figures out he gave the player too much choice, when really he needed to only give them the illusion of choice, but the game would bring them to the same endings every time. That is exactly how this movie played out. Like I said before, no detail in this movie was there by accident, and that is something I can really appreciate.