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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a stand-alone movie that's part of the British Black Mirror TV franchise, which takes a dark, often satirical look at cultural and social behavior. Set in 1984, Bandersnatch takes the series in a new direction thanks to its interactive, game-like elements; in certain scenes, viewers with compatible devices will be asked to choose one of two options, and the story will continue (or end) based on that choice. As the story progresses, most options will lead to some violent scenes (spoiler alert: there's a bloody murder, a brutal fight, the gruesome disposal of a body, and death via suicide). In flashback, a child misses/mourns his mother, who dies in an accident off screen. Characters also use marijuana, take psychedelic drugs, and smoke cigarettes; they also swear a lot, using words including "f--k," "s--t," and "hell." At the heart of the movie are provocative themes about the nature of reality, time, and the concept of free will. Note: At the time of this review, the movie's interactive component was not supported on all devices (i.e., Chromecast, Apple TV).
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What's the story?
In BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH, it's 1984, and Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is a creative, ambitious video game designer. Obsessed with Bandersnatch, a book written by an author who has a bizarre history, Stefan is working on a game based on the book. He's overjoyed when a pitch meeting at a notable gaming company -- which includes designer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), Stefan's idol -- has a positive outcome: The company wants his game. Faced with a challenging deadline, Stefan immerses himself in his work. But Peter (Craig Parkinson), Stefan's dad, is worried. The young man is still trying to cope with his mother's tragic death years earlier; he's taking anti-depressants and seeing a therapist. So Peter is afraid that his son's frenetic schedule will be harmful. As the conflict between the two men escalates, Stefan begins to feel strangely manipulated by an unseen presence he thinks may be controlling his behavior -- specifically, his choices. It's a combination of forces that just may send Stefan over the edge.
Is it any good?
Clever, surprising, and a crash course in the concept of "free will," this movie forces its viewers to impact the story, just as it forces its central player to go along with those demands. Strikingly well done, especially for a first foray into complex audience involvement, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch sets a high bar for similarly styled films that will inevitably follow. It's intriguingly set in the early stages of video game development, so that Stefan's machinations feel just primitive enough to clash with new technology and heighten the action, as well as his emotional journey.
And, as experimental as it must have been for director David Slade to make this film, it's just as experimental for viewers. Happily, going back and forth between first choices and second ones, guided by the filmmakers when "least best" choices are made, can deliver lots of nuance, along with its a host of divergent paths. Still, the movie's plot, characters, and thematic messages remain the same, no matter how meandering the journey. All in all, this is a first-rate addition to the Black Mirror franchise.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the interactive elements of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Did you experiment with your choices? Go back and forth to see what you'd missed? How many scenes do you think you watched twice? What was most (or least) satisfying about this way of watching a movie?
Think about the movie's violence. If you saw some of the violent scenes more than once, how did your reaction to those scenes change? If the violence shocked you the first time, did that change when it was repeated? Why is it important to understand the impact that violent media has on kids?
Do you think this movie would work without audience participation? Why or why not? What is the resulting message about the idea of free will?
Do you think technology enhances people's lives? Can you think of examples where it seems to have gone too far in real life?
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