Black Mirror - What to Expect
Black Mirror was created by Charlie Brooker as a science fiction anthology series, with stand alone episodes that look into a different type of technology each time.
The series can be dark and satirical as it showcases the consequences modern society could potentially suffer from in the near future if we carry on exploiting technology and using it for the wrong reasons.
The topics covered in the show can be controversial and too realistic for certain audiences as the sense of realism is very strong and can be frightening.
In Season 4, the main focus is on human consciousness and the consequences of our actions, for better or worse. The scenery stands out more than anything, which makes this the most stunning yet terrifying series to date. Following the theme of realism, Black Mirror features a lot of hand-held camerawork as it allows the audience to feel as if they are in the moment and also experiencing what the characters are, which makes it even scarier.
The season’s increased use of panoramic shots of settings create a image of secluded abysses and lack of human contact for the characters shown. Through these shots, the show has managed to form a sense of modern dread for not only the characters, but also the audience: that modern technology, no matter how advanced, cannot stop the feeling of loneliness and isolation we are all destined to feel.
In Season 3, episode 2 ‘Playtest”, the sequences of the images is very smooth and easy to follow in the beginning. There is a lot of slow panning and cuts between different objects, like the main character, Cooper, and his phone and back to the character. The cuts between scenes are not harsh or sudden, which implies that everything in this moment is calm and hassle-free.
However, as the episode progresses and Cooper finds himself in a petrifying game where he has to face his deepest fears in an old mansion alone, the cuts between objects become more sudden and fast-paced. This is because everything that is happening to Cooper is overwhelming and unpredictable, so the editing technique follows that theme.
The sudden cuts are also used for the jump scares alongside loud and chilling music or complete silence to terrify the audience so that they are feeling the same fears as Cooper himself.
For Season 4 Episode 5, the first ever black and white Black Mirror episode was made and it is titled ”Metalhead”. It focuses on a group of scavengers who have survived what seems like a form of apocalypse where they have to leave their camp in groups in order to collect items they need, but they have to travel together as it is dangerous. We are immediately thrown into this new universe where we have no idea how they have ended up in this situation. Therefore, we are on edge anyway as we don’t know what is going on, so the eerie silence that is used from the beginning makes the isolation of the characters even more chilling.
The characters have to remain quiet because of the ’dogs’ that we have not seen yet, so all of the sounds they make are intensified to cause the audience to fear for their safety. Once the characters are in danger, an ear-piercing piece of music is placed over the top to generate sheer panic. This creates an uneasiness amongst audiences, just like the characters in this episode.
Special effects are used frequently throughout all seasons of Black Mirror because the majority of technology used in the series is fictional as it does not actually exist. Therefore, most of the technological items and the state the world is in based on the consequences of these technologies are not real. Therefore, special effects have to be used in order to create a dystopian world full of imaginary objects, but with a feel of realism so that the audience can see for themselves what the outcome could be if this world did in fact exist.
An example of the use of special effects is in the episode “Hated in the Nation” as it features a vast amount of robotic bees, which endanger and kill most of the world’s population and as you already know, robotic bees do not exist in this world, so special effects had to be used because if they weren’t, then the impact intended on the audience would not have been achieved because they wouldn’t have been able to see what the characters were seeing.
Mise en Scene
The best example of a Black Mirror episode where the mise en scene plays a crucial role in the telling of the story is “San Junipero”. This is because this episode revolves around a world in which the elderly can use a system where they can visit the town of San Junipero through a simulated reality even after they die in order to live as their younger selves. The key element of this episode is the era in which the characters end up in: the 80s.
The episode opens with a shot of the poster “The Lost Boys”, which immediately shows us that the episode is taking place in the 80s. Other hints at the era are a bunch of TVs showing the 80s icon Max Headroom and an arcade game called Top Speed. The music, hair and outfits shown in this episode are specifically associated with the 80s, so it was important for the writers to make sure everything fit into that era otherwise it would not be believable for the audience and they would struggle to understand the amount of nostalgia that is crucial for this episode to make sense.
Every episode of Black Mirror is individual and stand alone, so there is more than one story shown throughout the series. There are some mentions of certain things that have appeared in previous episodes, like the song that was sung in “Fifteen Million Merits”. This gives the audience the idea that all the stories have happened in the same universe and in the near future, but no stories are ever repeated or followed up.
However, in the episode titled “Black Museum”, some objects that were featured in other episodes are inside this museum. For example, a smashed electronic device is shown briefly in the museum and fans of the show will know that that device was used in the episode “Arkangel” and was the key element of the episode. We do not find out how the device got there or how any of the other familiar objects did, but we learn more about the objects we have never seen before like a toy monkey with a woman trapped inside. It gets very dark from there.
Characters - Representation
The most fascinating aspect of Black Mirror is that all the main characters are treated as equals in the sense that we get to know them before discovering their crimes or before they even commit them, which causes confusing emotions, especially in the episode “Shut up and Dance”. *SPOILERS* - This is an episode where we follow, root for and sympathise with the main character throughout the entire episode, until we learn at the end that he is in fact a paedophile, which makes everything he did before that moment seem disgusting and outright wrong, even though a few minutes ago we felt sorry for him.
By doing this, Black Mirror is showcasing that we never truly know anyone and not everything is what it seems. This is wonderful because we do not judge the characters from the start, we discover who they really are instead of how they are seen by others and then learn what they did wrong, so there are no assumptions of stereotypes portrayed in the series. This can be confusing for our emotional states, but an interesting take on criminals and how the world perceives them.
Due to the high amount of graphic content ranging from violence, sex, murder and all around fear, I would say that this series is not for the faint hearted. I would even go as far as saying that it wasn’t even suitable for adults.
This series includes so many futuristic elements that can be confusing and terrifying and some people might find it difficult to watch as it seems so close to actually happening to us. Therefore, the target audience is for anyone who is willing to allow their whole perception of technology to be changed forever.
Charlie Brooker himself wants his audience to feel uneasy and uncomfortable when the end credits role, so Black Mirror is supposed to shock people so the target audience has to be ready for some revelations, especially seeing as even adults struggle to view the troubling content.
To watch Black Mirror, you can either stream all four series on Netflix or purchase the box sets on Amazon.