Can You “Win” Black Mirror: Bandersnatch?

 

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Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Author’s note: I’m going to be referring to Bandersnatch as a game in this article, because it makes more sense to use this word within this context.

Since its release, Black Mirror‘s interactive nightmare Bandersnatch has drawn people into its labyrinth in search of secrets. While it seems that all possible endings have, at this point, been discovered, it is still up for debate which ending is the “true” ending. While, cinematically, the “5-Star” ending might seem the most in-keeping with Black Mirror‘s usual vibe, there’s something about it that seems too obvious. It doesn’t subvert our expectations, it just plays into them. We expect Stefan to end up like Jerome F. Davies, descending into a rabbit hole of paranoia and violence. Nothing about this ending is surprising.

As a gamer, I went into Bandersnatch with the mindset that I needed to get the “true” ending, and I knew well that the “true” ending isn’t always the most obvious. Silent Hill 2 and Bloodborne are prime examples of the true endings being the more depressing and unsettling. In my mind, the true ending to this unconventional story wouldn’t be the easiest to get, it wouldn’t be found at the end of the most conspicuous path, and it wouldn’t be one of the copy-paste endings with a review at the end. Seeking the highest rating for Stefan’s game was only playing into expectations, and going for the easiest answers. Notice how the first REAL choice we are given in Bandersnatch is whether or not to work at Tuckersoft, and making the more obvious choice of accepting the offer leads us to an unsatisfying ending, for both Stefan and ourself, the player. It’s only when you make the risky choice that you can progress. This fact, to me, is very telling of what the true ending of Bandersnatch is meant to be.

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There are many ways to lose a game. There’s far fewer ways to win. You can finish the game, get a review, and be fooled into thinking that you’ve successfully gotten the high score, but you’ve only done what the game expected you to. Only what it wanted you to. You played into the programming, and were controlled just as much as Stefan was. Bandersnatch expects you to go mad, kill your father, and finish making the game. To really beat the game, you have to get Stefan away from the dark fate Bandersnatch has planned for him.

There is only one ending that has you diverge from the path of slavishly completing the game. Only one that fulfills the Stefan’s wants and needs, not those of the player. Only one that actually frees Stefan from the endlessly cycling maze.

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The “TOY” ending, where Stefan goes back in time, finds Rabbit, and embarks on the fateful train ride with his mother, resulting in his spontaneous death in the current time line.

Changing the events surrounding his mother’s death is the only way to truly break Stefan out of the endless cycle of madness, murder, and imprisonment. While the result of changing history is bleak, it is the only ending that does not result in Stefan’s imprisonment, and is (arguably) more merciful. In his death, he is actually freed from the maze. It is the only way he can escape the confines of Program and Control.

Think about it: Throughout the course of Bandersnatch, we’re told over and over again that we need to break free. We’re challenged to escape the limitations of the programming, as impossible as that seemingly is. While we are still controlling Stefan no matter what path we go down, it is possible for us to choose a path for him that gives him closure, and allows him to rest in peace rather than driving him down a path that destroys him and everyone around him. No matter how you slice it, the “TOY” ending is the one that causes Stefan to suffer the least. It also allows him to confront his personal demons, rather than him being driven mad by them.

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We are constantly being told, don’t give in. Don’t make the easy choices. Don’t go for the obvious paths. In a sense, we are playing against the game Bandersnatch itself. The premise of the game tricks us, suggesting that the only goal we have is to complete Stefan’s video game. But doing that only causes him suffering, and surrenders to the trappings of obvious and easy answers. It’s easy to give in. It’s easy to let Stefan become single-minded and only care about the game, letting his own life fall to shambles as a result. What’s harder to do is to look for the deeper, more obscure path, and release our Pac-Man from his programming.

 

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review – SPOILERS

Unpopular opinion: Newt Scamander is a far more compelling hero than Harry Potter ever was.

Okay! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get this started.

Oh, by the way. Spoilers are freely written below, so, read at your own risk.

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I heard a lot of bad press about The Crimes of Grindelwald, some of which I agreed with and understand: The ending twist is dumb and overcomplicates things for no justifiable reason). However, I think everything up to that point is refreshing, entertaining, and engaging. There was not a moment I was bored, tuned out, or disinterested. Even during the action scenes, which I usually lose interest in quickly, I was attentive and excited. Come on, how can you tell me Newt riding a cat-dragon thing into battle is not awesome?

The film is visually stunning, and not just with the fantastic beasts themselves. The various locales, action sequences, and sorcery are varied and just beautiful in general. Our journey into new corners of the Wizarding World is highly enjoyable. The addition of a circus of magical creatures (as shady as it was) is an interesting concept worth further exploration. I loved the statue portal, personally. And there are clever things like this sprinkled throughout, showcasing J. K. Rowling’s amazing world building talents. Whenever something from the Harry Potter films appears, it doesn’t come off as a cheesy Easter egg or callback, but instead is well-integrated a just being an established part of this world.

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The final battle with Grindelwald is perfection. The build-up creates a quiet, unsettling tension. You sense the threat. You feel enclosed by the crowd of enemies. You know not everyone is going to make it out of this. The best thing I can liken it to is a boss fight in a video game. Grindelwald is intimidating in his careless confidence, and the heroes are humanized by the fact that they know they’re likely to fail, but have to serve their duty. There are real stakes. Mortal blows are all too near. I appreciate the bluff, making the audience think that Leta would join Grindelwald, which would have been an easy, predictable turn of events. It shows the uniqueness of Fantastic Beasts that they used the opportunity to redeem Leta. If only she’d been developed properly…

I liked that despite Newt’s dislike of his establishmentarian brother, after Leta’s death, they support each other in an emotional embrace. They had lost someone they loved, and both knew this was what mattered in the moment. Lesser films would have taken the opportunity to cause more strife between them in order to build a cheap, easy conflict that ultimately just hinders the plot. I could imagine them fighting over who Leta loved more, who Leta should have married, et cetera, et cetera… You know, cliches.

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One gripe among viewers and critics was that the format was boring. There wasn’t much of a sense of urgency, no obvious character arcs, and overall it just seemed to be a bridge to the next film. I will say this, and it is highly subjective: As a jaded film lover who’s seen so many movies that I can usually predict what will happen next, down to the lines about to be delivered, I am happy to see a film successfully (key word) pull off a different format. It’s not just transitioning from action sequence to action sequence, from problem to problem. I find that format frustrating, and leans on the fact that the easiest ways to write a script is to use the format of, “The characters to this, BUT encounter an obstacle. Then, they do this. BUT, there’s another obstacle.” Instead, the characters are given a direction, a goal, and they move towards it. They achieve it, and then they are presented with a new direction. There’s a progression, not just a series of “whoops, we made a mistake and we’re fucked because someone was an incompetent idiot.” I get tired of the plot being driven by the characters being fools. I appreciate seeing a hero using their wits to move forward.

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One of the complaints I heard was Queenie joining Grindelwald. It might seem like an excuse, sure, I will give you that, but my casual assumption was that she was under the Imperius Curse. If that turns out to not be the case, I will admit, it is inexplicable and dumb.

One critic even accused Queenie of being a Harley Quinn rip off. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Is this critic somehow unaware that Harley and Queenie’s accent is a real one that actual humans have? Furthermore, classic Hollywood films are full of women that fit Queenie’s mold much more closely than Harley Quinn. Has this professional critic never seen a classic movie? You lose credibility for me on that point. It’s a stupid assumption that shows a lack of knowledge of your subject matter, and a general lack of culture.

(A lot of Queenie hate, I notice.)

Of course, a great multitude of criticisms involve Nagini, and the unexpected revelation that Voldemort’s snake Horcrux was once a woman. I’ll admit, that’s a surprising left turn, but I don’t see it as necessarily bad. I hope Nagini gets further developed, because I think she could be interesting. I don’t think the portrayal of Nagini as an Asian woman is racist, especially as the actress herself wasn’t concerned with it. It’s too complex and issue to delve into here, so I’ll leave it at that. As for other problems with her character, I’ll get back to Nagini in a minute.

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Unfortunately, due to the large cast of characters, some great characters don’t have much to do, or are passed over for characters with more immediate importance. Jacob, Tina, and Nagini are probably the most major victims of this. Tina just happens to be present during scenes, but doesn’t actively affect the events much. Jacob is pretty much only there to interact with Queenie. Nagini is just introduced, and then promptly set aside for (hopefully) later development. A shame.

I do have my share of “are you fucking kidding me” moments, however. First off, Newt saying without a hint that he was joking that if he traveled abroad, he’d be thrown straight into Azkaban. Does the Wizarding World have no scale for varying crimes? It’s absurd. Allied with Voldemort? It’s Azkaban for you. Drunk in public? Hope you like Dementors. Loitering? Enjoy spending the rest of your life in an endless void of despair. It’s ridiculous (no pun intended). If it was supposed to be a joke, they should have telegraphed that better.

I also agree with the complaint of Nagini and Leta being underdeveloped to the point of us not being particularly interested in them. While Leta does prove herself a general bad ass for her attempted assassination of Grindelwald, we don’t know much about her other than 1) Newt is in love with her, and 2) she unintentionally killed her baby brother. It doesn’t give us an opportunity to relate to her, actually makes her downright unlikable, and doesn’t give us a picture of her character as an adult.

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Finally, my biggest complaint is Ezra Miller’s overacting, which crops up throughout the film, but really culminates in the final scene, where he blows out the window. Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me? Don’t do that face. Don’t do that ugly face. Nobody does that face. The way he pursed his lips and scrunched up his face really killed the mood for me. What should have been a shocking and emotional moment (despite it being a lame twist) instead made me grimace, and laugh at the absurdity of his exaggerated attempt at emoting. He really is the Anakin Skywalker of the Potterverse. I hope they’re smart enough to kill him off soon. I don’t see his character as becoming interesting or in any way redeemable.

As a Feminist, I feel I have to address the elephant in the room. Johnny Depp, and his spousal abuse. I honestly don’t feel comfortable with the fact that I technically supported him by paying to see this movie. I think his career should die. I think Grindelwald should have been recast, despite the fact that it would be jarring and possibly confusing to some more casual moviegoers to suddenly see a different actor in the role. I will admit, Depp did an excellent job as an actor. This role made me realize, before he started getting cast in trash like Alice in Wonderland and The Lone Ranger, he was actually a superb actor. This doesn’t excuse him being a deplorable human being, and I don’t think wife beaters should be given such high profile jobs.

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Ultimately, despite everything The Crimes of Grindelwald had going against it, it succeeds in being a unique and engaging experience, equal or surpassing its predecessor, and is a worthy entry into the stories of the Wizarding World.

 

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‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ Review (No Spoilers)

On a very off chance, two or three years ago, I happened to come across a photo online that was taken of Nicole Kidman on the set of a new film. The name of the film? How to Talk to Girls at Parties. I was taken aback. Wait, what? Like that little story by Neil Gaiman that nobody’s really heard of? Curious, I looked into it, and proceeded to keep tabs on it. After a couple years passed, I figured, something must have happened, they never finished it, or they finished it but couldn’t get it distributed, or something. I was disappointed.

But earlier this year, a trailer for the film popped up, reigniting my excitement. Not only was this a take on a story from my favorite Gaiman collection (Fragile Things), but they’d merged it with the 1977 punk scene, a subject close to my heart. The trailer didn’t completely sell me on it, I was very skeptical. How do you stretch out an 18-page story and make a feature length film out of it? Did they just make up a bunch of nonsense to fill in the run time?

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How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a charming movie that, while it massively embellishes on a very short story, stays true to the spirit of Gaiman’s works: Fairy tales for grown-ups, that can still capture wonder and imagination no matter what your age or walk of life. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun, and fits in very well with Gaiman’s world. I would even put it above Stardust (2007), which I thought was too exaggerated, too Hollywood, and didn’t do the source material’s endearing whimsical nature justice. How to Talk to Girls is an indie film through and through, and the creative enthusiasm of the team behind it shows. This isn’t a movie made to make money, to feed to the masses in convenient servings of banality; it is something either you like or you don’t, and it is unapologetic about its personality.

The plot goes as such: Enn, a teenage punk in 1977 Croydon, goes to the wrong party, and ends up meeting some very strange girls, including Zan, an outsider. She, like Enn, is frustrated with the status quo and restrictions of her society, and wishes to break outside of it. He takes her to explore the world of punk rock, in which she promptly flourishes. However, the true nature behind Zan, her people, and her purpose, slowly comes to light, until Enn realizes he and his friends must take action or risk losing her forever.

The film could certainly be accused of being built around the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, but I would argue that Zan shows too much agency, and that the story is truly about her journey to self-realization, while Enn is more there as an aid and witness to her development, and learns about himself along the way. At first blush, Enn does appear to be the protagonist, and he does have his own arc, of course, but Zan is the real hero of the story, who grows beyond her limitations into something greater. It’s a nice change of pace from so many films of this kind, that are about an awkward boy gaining confidence through his supportive girlfriend to achieve his dreams. This movie does service to all of its characters, Zan and Enn in particular, of course. They both have times to shine, arcs to fulfill, and greater things to become.

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That isn’t to say the film doesn’t have its low points. It is very obviously the victim of poor editing, as Nicole Kidman’s Bodicea character is under-developed, with scenes fleshing her out further seemingly missing, causing some of the dialogue between her and protagonist Enn make little sense. The special effects are also spotty, details of Zan’s collective are somewhat confusing, and some concepts are undercooked. There is a vaguely environmental theme that crops up from time to time, but it is inconsistent and never fully realized.

One thing I’m not sure if I should criticize or not is Vic’s arc. Vic attends the party with Enn at the beginning, and has an experience he doesn’t quite understand. Throughout the film, we see moments of discomfort from him, which, eventually, he is required to face up to. However, exactly what that is that he is facing is unclear. I could extrapolate plenty of answers, and just because something requires you to think and come to your own conclusions doesn’t make it bad, but I feel like the movie might have benefited from clarifying this particular plot point.

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Overall, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is not a perfect film, but it does its source material justice and is an enjoyable ride, and in this age of multi-million dollar blockbuster trash heaps, supporting indie films is important. While the special effects are low-budget, it remains visually striking, from the set design, to the costumes, and the group performances with the punks and Zan’s people. While the very basic concept behind the story is one of the oldest tropes — forbidden love between two teenagers — it manages to give it a fresh twist and subvert your expectations.

The movie is available for free with an Amazon Prime subscription, and you can stream it on YouTube and Google Play.

 

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Back From the Abyss

Well, well, well, here we are again. It appears my foray into the exclusively Lynchian has come to a close, and thus I am seeking to move on to more varied pastures.  Twin Peaks: The Return came to a close and I found myself without anything more to say on the subject. Just no flow of thought. On the other hand, my mind was buzzing with ideas when it came to things such as video games, music, film, and other television shows.

Bloodborne, Death Stranding, The Legend of Zelda, the DCEU, underground music, and pop culture in general has become my intrigue. I have so much to say, it has become unreasonable to limit myself, or to force myself to continue within a framework that does not fascinate me anymore.

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“When you come in here and you hear me typing, or whether you don’t hear me typing, or whatever the fuck you hear me doing; when I’m in here, it means that I am working. That means, don’t come in.”

-Jack Torrance, The Shining

Meanwhile, struggles with social anxiety and depression made it strenuous to stick to my goal of one article per month. While I will continue to try and publish as often as I can, by necessity, this blog will be more free form.

So, thus ends my brief update. I look forward to a prosperous and rewarding future here, and sharing my ideas with all of you. Cheers.