Here at In the Middle, we’ve been arguing about what exactly was the highlight of Christmas television, and we’ve reached a conclusion. Brilliant, disturbing, blood-curdling and unsettlingly poignant, Black Mirror: White Christmas is a truly dark masterpiece and unashamedly not your average Christmas fodder. Charlie Brooker’s latest creation is a complexly woven plot that will make your stomach turn and is fantastically acted, written and directed. This will not disappoint fans of Black Mirrors past. A razor-sharp indictment of our insatiable obsession with modern technology, and our culture of over-magnified individualisation, White Christmas speaks of isolation, emotional alienation and communication shut-down.
We begin with two curiously mismatched characters in an English cottage and in true Black Mirror fashion, nothing is quite as it seems. We meet Joe, the chipper, happy-go-lucky American, and Matt, a socially withdrawn and anxious individual. Their confused, disjointed interactions mark the beginning of a tale that only gets stranger.
We soon delve into flashbacks of a just tangible dystopia, a world where the physical and online self are inseparable, welded together by an ominous, invisible network. Humans are connected to the whole world with the touch of a button, yet loneliness and disconnect abound. People’s personalities can be exracted and stored in a handy chip called a cookie, which can live indefinitely in a little white capsule; a limbless, floating, disembodied mind. It seems that Brooker’s ongoing metaphor is clea; technology can be awe-inspiring, but it can also drive a knife into the thing that truly makes us human and gives our lives meaning: connection.
Not only can you download someone into your pocket, but you can also freeze them out at the touch of a button. You can ‘block’ someone, making their physical appearance and sounds blurry and fuzzy, incomprehensible yet hauntingly not invisible. This takes the concept of social media-blocking someone out of your online life to a whole new, terrifying level, whereby people forgo the hard work of human relationships and the communication they require, to emotionally shut down and switch off all connection. Brookers’s desperate vision of broken communication is exemplified by Matt, whose necessary but failed attempts to talk with his girlfriend about vitally important aspects of their relationship are eventually met with communication death; he’s blocked, and neither of them can see each other. The seasonal setting is no mistake: Brooker has juxtaposed this vision of chronic alienation with the one time of year that’s supposed to symbolise love, joy and connection; Christmas.
Throughout White Christmas, technology has inadequately replaced our ability to make genuine human connections and create meaningful relationships. What makes it so scary is that it never feels that far-fetched. This isn’t some outlandish, fantastical sci-fi vision of the future, it’s shot as if it is happening right now. We can see ourselves and our culture reflected back to us. Technology’s advances are amazing and Brooker isn’t criticising technological gains; he’s critiquing the carelessness and thoughtlessness with which we let them pervade our lives and control us.
Catch it now, before it disappears….