Review of Black Mirror ‘Be Right Back’

Neela Debnath

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Haley Atwell in 'Be Right Back' (Channel 4)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen Black Mirror ‘Be Right Back’

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has returned to us with three more twisted tales with a technological slant. Despite marrying a former Blue Peter presenter and waxing lyrical about his offspring in his Guardian columns, there is nothing remotely sweet about any of these stories. Actually, that’s a lie.

Out of all the episodes of Black Mirror to date, Be Right Back was surprisingly sentimental, particularly after the bestiality, jealous husbands and aspiring singers-turned-porn stars that made up the first series.

This week’s episode and the first one of the new series concerned a young widow reconnecting with her deceased husband through an online app that recreated him using all his social media posts.

Although it was less abrasive and unsettling than the last series it felt a good deal more thought-provoking. The story was fully formed and far more polished than any of the episodes that have come before, showing Brooker’s development and maturity as a screen writer.

Every time I finish watching an episode of Black Mirror I’m never really sure what I’ve just witnessed, this is coupled with a distinct feeling of discomfort. Undoubtedly, I’m not the only one who has been left feeling slightly disturbed and unnerved by what they have seen.

Looking back on it now, 2011’s episode involving prime ministerial-porcine copulation on live television felt attention-seeking but it got people talking. While The National Anthem was pure satire, Be Right Back had more of a heart and the exploration of grief and loss made it tangible.

Even compared to 15 Million Merits and The Entire History of You, the latter written by Jesse Armstrong, Be Right Back is much more sophisticated. It has been reported that Robert Downey Jr. has bought the film rights to The Entire History of You but in my mind it is Be Right Back that has the most potential for a big screen adaptation.

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Domhnall Gleeson as Ash in 'Black Mirror' (Channel 4)

The episode constantly threw up questions for the audience to consider. Primarily, would you use an app to re-connect with the dead, even if it was just an echo of loved one based on their online presence? It also raised the question of what your own after-death persona would be like if it was based on your online presence.

Photos of cute cats, Boris memes, and angry updates about TfL (perhaps that’s just me) would end up creating a psychotic monster incapable of rational thought. It is amazing that Ash’s representation is so normal compared to what most people’s after-death online version would be like.  Brooker certainly poses some interesting questions that stay with you long after you have switched off your television and are left staring into the black mirror abyss of your blank screen.

It might feel like science fiction now but there is no reason why this could not come into being one day. After all the advent of the Facebook timeline means our profiles now serve as memorials after we die anyway. While there are now options to include QR codes on grave stones. This is just the next step.

Grief leaves people emotionally fragile and wanting to connect with their loved ones and the technology in this story allows you to do so. This is nothing different to the way people try to speak to the dead through mediums and psychics, it is just an alternative method. It is comforting but creepy at the same time.

There were elements of Isaac Asimov’s work and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in this tale in relation to the resurrected version of Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) – with the lines between humanity and technology blurring. But the conclusion was that no matter how much technology connects us, it can never replace human interaction and the human experience.

Gleeson played the replicated version of Ash brilliantly with all the wide-eyed empty stares of a thing created for the sole person of mimicking the dead. Hayley Atwell gave a strong performance as Martha, who is pushed to the edge of sanity by using this technology. Both Domhnall and Hayley Atwell were wonderful as the fated pair and are captivating.

Be Right Back works so well because it has captured the social media zeitgeist. It was a lovely and touching story – more so than 15 Million Merits – and a world away from the searingly acerbic Brooker that we are accustomed to. He can write an emotional and moving story that grabs you by the heart. The ending was bittersweet and avoided becoming overly tragic and depressing with a cliff suicide cliché.

Saying this, I secretly think that Martha only really kept Ash to serve as a sex toy. Now, how’s that for cynicism?

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  • Steve Bush

    Excellent film, we really enjoyed it, though my wife was astounded she didn’t get the replicant to spend all night washing up, cleaning and Ironing!

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