Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ and ‘Roma’


‘BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH’ (NETFLIX)

My viewing experience with “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” is not the same as your viewing experience with “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” but that’s the way it was designed. Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe our experiences are more alike than we think. Maybe it was never designed to be that different from each other. Maybe it’s just shifting parts in different order, and that’s the only difference. But can’t one different part create an entirely new experience, though?

It’s complicated.

This movie-length new episode of the technological dystopian anthology series “Black Mirror” is definitely designed for that — confusion, I mean. The story itself is about the early days of computer games and a young developer working to adapt his favorite book into game form. The book, “Bandersnatch,” was written by a Philip K. Dick-style writer, who became obsesses with conspiracy theories and other levels of reality and whose life careened into a tragedy, making the choice to adapt the book a dark one that transgresses certain societal norms.

But to tell this story, the series presents it in a choose-your-own-adventure style that allows the viewer to decide the actions of game developer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), from what cereal he eats to somewhat more important decisions. At times, these choices are used for some good laughs. Other times, they seem to make a real impact on the way the drama moves along. But as the story progresses, time and reality began to wrap around each other, alternatives bloom, as well as second chances, and you, the viewer, begin to question the idea of free will and wonder if you are being presented with an illusion of it.

Are you really being manipulated to make your choices? Are the outcomes going to be the same regardless of how you choose to get there? Or is the suspicion that you are being manipulated too conspiratorial, too indicative of your willingness to pass blame? Is this episode total chaos? Or is there order in this chaos?

As time and reality begin to wrap around each other within your own viewing experience, you realize that the experience is the message more than the story itself. The only spoiler I will offer is this: There is no singular answer to what you’re living through, much like life itself.


‘ROMA’ (NETFLIX)

Taking place in Mexico City in 1970, “Roma” gives a panoramic view to an unassuming life. Housemaid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) tends to a doctor’s family with four children. Cleo comes from a small village and approaches her life with a quiet apprehension, often times feeling put upon by the doctor’s wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Cleo escapes her home duties on days out with Adela (Nancy Garc a) and interludes with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), who you get the feeling she likes more than he likes her.

But major changes come for both women, and not only do Cleo and Sophia find themselves dependent on each other’s goodwill in a time of crisis, the situations also point out the hierarchies at play. Sophia is, indeed, above Cleo, but she is just as disarmed by the way men treat her as Cleo is. And while Sophia is crucial to Cleo’s hanging on, Cleo is also able to bring forth strength of her own that probably no one, not her and not viewers, had imagined she would exhibit.

At the root of the conflict in the film is that Cleo is a paid family member. She is paid to live among them, paid to care for the children. She is entrusted with the children’s safety and lives up to that trust, but it’s an intimate connection she maintains for survival, and no matter how close she might seem, no matter what dignity the family might offer her, she still stands apart from them and on her own. That’s the irony that director Alfonso Cuaron works with — when pitched against a society that downgrades their own agency, two women who are capable of fending for themselves are also forced to be dependent on each other. But given the class differences, there’s one who’s going to come out in a better position than the other, that’s for certain.

Cuaron lets this story unfold through casual and intimate moments, wielding a neo-realist portrayal and capturing it with a studied composition that turns the mundane into a rich, black and white tapestry of life.

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Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.

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