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Black Mirror Review – This Dystopia Rings Too Close to Home

The first two episodes of Season 3 offer shattering critiques of human identity in simulated realities


Black Mirror Season 3 is unsettling. In an unblinkered view of gritty dystopias, it exposes the crack on the surface of our realities: our obsession with technology in attempts to connect to each other. In each one-hour slice, the series portrays a hyper-reality one step away from our own, where the virtual blurs into the real and takes over.

Episode 1’s (Nosedive) pastel-shaded utopia with glow-edged frames offers a world where humans are marketed, rated on 5- stars based on their interactions: a futuristic Facebook Like button. In this hyper-real virtual social network, self-worth is linked to rating, as is a person’s value on the “market”/community: like Twitter followers that determine credibility and blue ticks. “Upscale folks” are rated 4.6+, in a class system of peer voting. Unlike the troll-infested internet of today, though, profanity here is taboo; people are forced to be polite for ratings. Social rejection equals losing privileges: a high rating means you get to buy first-class plane tickets and real estate in elite localities- the capitalist criteria to be “happy”.

The episode charts Lacie’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) slow unwinding in this reality: she dreams of social ascent to compensate for her mediocrity, and nosedives. Like the fake-ness of our online friendships, she is cloying in her “niceness”, failing to replicate “authentic gestures”. In her clash with Naomi (Alice Eve), she soon realises that the cost of honesty is social rejection, but like our constant need for social gratification via Facebook, she struggles to let go of her claustrophobic quest.

Lacie breaks down at Naomi’s wedding; “Black Mirror” S1E1; Photo: Manisha Ganguly/Netflix

In her final maniacal delivery of the rehearsed bride-of-honour speech, she snaps, and speaks her mind. While the episode makes a strong argument for freedom of expression, it also mocks political correctness on social media: the sycophantic politeness we promote to avoid debating the politics of existence within capitalism. Like Pleasantville, the perfect society is revealed to be a sham, hiding class warfare.

On the other hand, Play Test (Episode 2), rooted in our current reality, shows a test-run for a game exploring human consciousness. Cooper (Wyatt Russell) signs up for a simulation where he confronts his repressed past in a 4D horror game played out in the aptly-named Shadow House.

Cooper enters a game simulation of his mind; “Black Mirror” S1E2; Photo: Manisha Ganguly/Netflix

Tracking shots of opening doors, cupboards, boxes, books symbolise penetration into his psyche and the struggle of memory against forgetting, as one simulation leads to another. His mother’s unanswered phone-call looms throughout the episode: it is our modern severance from roots/reality in the age of virtual society.

The grimness of both dystopias and the tragedy of protagonists is palpable, not because they expose the isolation of human existence but also our current futile attempts via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be “accepted”. For a cast of non-stars, both episodes have stellar performances, an abundance of key lighting and impeccable set design: from a 50s-style futuristic locale to a 19th century gothic mansion. Suspense and simulation go hand-in-hand in tightly woven narrative arcs that explore the quest for identity in virtual reality.

We are left with an overwhelming dread, an uneasy sense of familiarity echoed in each Facebook notification. Season 3 is Charlie Brooker’s greatest cinematic triumph: he tears through our social-media obsessed lives to expose the barrenness beneath.

Black Mirror Season 3 is now on Netflix.

Featured Image: Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie in “Black Mirror” Photo: Manisha Ganguly/Netflix

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