Review of Black Mirror ‘White Bear’

Neela Debnath

white bear 300x225 Review of Black Mirror White Bear

Lenora Crichlow in 'White Bear' (Channel 4)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen Black Mirror ‘White Bear’

If some viewers found last week a little too sappy for their liking then fear not, White Bear is a world away from Be Right Back and is anything but romantic. This was a return to the Black Mirror that most people are familiar with. It was dark and edgy with that surreal Charlie Brooker twist.

This week saw a young woman waking up to discover that she had lost her memory and was caught in a nightmare where people mindlessly filmed others on their phones – or so she thought. It emerged that she was actually part of a justice programme where she was repeatedly thrown into an apocalyptic scenario and scared out of her wits as punishment for her crimes.

Think Derren Brown: Apocalypse on a constant loop but instead of the heartwarming conclusion where it’s all hugs and smiles, this was a repeated barrage of terror and endless anguished screams. It was certainly a creative method of punishing criminals and greatly reduced the risk of reoffending – if it didn’t drive them stark raving mad first.

In some ways I feel that the paedophilia strand of the storyline was more effective in addressing the media hysteria and frenzy towards the subject than the Brass Eye: Paedophile Special – mainly because people might actually grasp the fact that it is a satire this time around.

But make no mistake there is little to chortle over here. White Bear is possibly one of the most grim and psychologically disturbing viewing experiences to have been witnessed on British television this year. Although nothing was ever explicitly shown, only implied it was still harrowing.

Brooker also taps into this technological rubbernecking which has become part of our psyche. If there’s a car crash or a racist rant on the bus it will inevitably be filmed and end up on YouTube. I wonder if he is asking to put down our phones and actually look at the world around us before it is too late, before we start to lose sight of things. In this day and age someone somewhere is recording or Instagraming and tweeting everything that is going on all before it has even finished happening.

The reason why this episode hits home so hard rests on the strength of Lenora Crichlow’s performance as Victoria, the woman who has lost her memory. She is brilliant and out-acts everyone else by a mile with her constant sobbing throughout and the tormented screaming at the end. The audience is sharing and living her experience with her. As I watched this episode, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and a sense that things were only going to get worse.

There were so many different elements in this film, echoes of the Moors murders, Jimmy Savile et al. mixed in with Big Brother. Victoria’s parade through the streets was the modern-day equivalent of tarring and feathering or being putting in the stocks for everyone to see. Brooker manages to cram so much in that there are so many questions spilling out – namely how society got to the stage that this sort of punishment is entertainment?

Overall, White Bear is a biting piece of satire that sets the heart racing and the mind whirring. It is a challenging watch, every time you think that you’ve got a grip on what’s going on, there’s a twist that throws you off again. Crichlow is the key to this film because everything is seen from her point of view and her performance is outstanding. In my mind Brooker makes a valid point by suggesting that instead of experiencing life first hand we are increasingly watching it through the viewfinder. As a society we have become voyeurs, passively whiling away our lives through the lens of a camera rather than doing it for real. While I am not as enamoured with White Bear as I was with Be Right Back, the film is still superb.

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  • Ty Kendall

    I also agree with your interpretation. Many people seem to be focusing on the “onlookers” and how it is a metaphor for how we don’t live life but view it through a screen. I think this was a minor point, if at all.

    Many of the reviews I read immediately following its transmission seemed to completely miss the point. One of the few who seemed to “get it” was Den of Geek:

    “Nasty though White Bear is, with its allusions to real-life
    witch hunts often led by red-top newspapers, it’s more than mere
    attention-seeking: there’s a certain sense of morality underlying this
    episode, as there so often is in Black Mirror. White Bear
    explores how human empathy breaks down when individuals are reduced to an image on a screen, and concludes, quite rightly, that whether it’s directed at the innocent or the guilty, cruelty is still cruelty.”

  • Ty Kendall

    Praise Jesus! I was beginning to think I was the only person to have this take on it. :-)

  • Ty Kendall

    “nobody is born evil”

    Said by all those who have never really witnessed true evil. To say evil is merely a result of being a “victim of circumstance” is letting them off the hook.

    Bad experiences happen to many people, they don’t all become monsters.

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