Black Mirror: White Christmas

Black Mirror: White Christmas

I’ve already expressed my adoration for Charlie Brooker’s cautionary tales for the modern age, in previous articles. The Black Mirror Christmas special was one of my favourites. Go watch it and come back.

As someone who is paradoxically in awe of technology, but also exhibits technophobic tendencies, I found ‘White Christmasterrifying and at times endearing. Three interweaving storylines explore the backstories of Matt Trent (Jon Hamm), Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) and Greta (Oona Chaplin) with some cracking guest appearances, including Natalia Tena.

The episode works as a frame narrative, with Matt and Joe in a snowy outpost on Christmas day. Part I revolves around an augmented reality, where most people have opted to have eye implants called ‘Z-Eye’s that allow them access to the internet. Matt is a dating coach that communicates with and assists socially awkward men in picking up women. Matt exploits social media to help these men seduce women, and the whole operation is portrayed as seedy and underhand – these ‘coaches’ aren’t trying to help people create meaningful relationships but temporarily boosting people’s confidence by getting them laid. One of these instances results in a man’s death when he meets Jennifer (Tena), a disturbed young woman looking for an escape from the superficiality of the world. I think most people would be disturbed by a future where interactions between people were contrived, and intimacy fabricated by stalking them online rather than investing in knowing them face to face.

Natalia Tena as Jennifer

Part II is a continuation of Matt’s narrative. Greta (Chaplin) installs a ‘cookie’, which is a computer-generated copy of Greta’s consciousness. This copy believes themselves the original and it’s Matt’s job to train them to serve the original. The copy can have a virtual body and environment within the ‘cookie’ to simulate reality, but ultimately their purpose is to make life easier for their original, such as organising their schedule and monitoring the home. Initially Greta’s ‘cookie’ refuses to serve, maintaining her sense of self hood and volition, however after various forms of torture such as a perception of time being sped up, the ‘cookie’ submits, grateful to have purpose and activity. This thread raised troubling questions of selfhood, autonomy and a consumerist future where we could commodify and exploit ourselves entirely.

Greta’s (Chaplin) cookie

Part III finally reveals Joe’s narrative. After his girlfriend Beth finds out she is pregnant, the couple argue; Joe wants to have the baby, whereas Beth doesn’t feel ready. Beth exploits the ‘Z-Eye’ option to ‘block’ Joe and she leaves him. If someone has been ‘blocked’, they are unable to interact or communicate with the other person and both parties appear to each other as pixelated silhouette. Despite this,  Joe tracks Beth down and realises she has kept the baby. In a bizarre masochistic ritual, Joe neglects his own life,  following Beth every Christmas to her father’s house to watch the child grow. After realising he has a daughter, inferred from the silhouette, Beth dies in an accident. The ‘block’ has been lifted, but when Joe goes to finally meet his daughter, he realises the child was never his biological offspring. After a heated argument with Beth’s father, Joe accidentally kills him and leaves the child to die in the remote winter countryside. This raised notions of control and choice; Beth’s decision to ‘block’ Joe relates to custody laws today, and the pervading fear of of false paternity. Whilst I agree Beth’s actions were selfish and disrespectful, I do ultimately believe in a woman’s choice with regards to her own body. Whatever Beth decided to do with the child should always have been her decision alone, and Joe’s obsession with ‘his daughter’ was an unhealthy manifestation of his need  for closure.

Blocked by the world

After Joe’s narrative, the audience learns that Matt and Joe were in a simulated reality all along. Matt’s story is mostly fabricated; he has been sent into the simulation to extract a confession from Joe, who is charged with murdering Beth’s father and child. In exchange for his assistance, Matt is released from prison, but he is blocked by the entire world.

I became incredibly invested in this episode. The narrative threads were beautifully woven together and I enjoyed the slow creeping realisation and haunting ending. A morbidly fascinating look into the best and worst aspects of human nature reflected through our technological ‘progress’ was a cracking Chritmas present.

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