Monday, 19 December 2011

BLACK MIRROR - "The Entire History of You"

Monday, 19 December 2011

The final part of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror anthology comes instead from the mind of Jesse Armstrong, one half of the writing partnership behind comedies Peep Show and Fresh Meat. This marks a change of style for Armstrong, as there wasn't much to smile about in "The Entire History Of You" (well, beyond the one cereal joke). This hour was set in a near-future, or alternate universe, where the vast majority of the population have a "grain" inserted beneath the skin behind their ear; tiny devices that record each person's memory for perfect recall later. In effect, your memories are a matter of record, like a built-in digital video recorder, and problems remembering the minutiae of any past experience is no longer an issue.

Armstrong could have chosen a variety of stories to tell with this concept underpinning things, but he opted for a domestic drama about a lawyer called Liam (Toby Kebbell) who attends a dinner party with his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker), only to become suspicious of her spouse's history with some of her "old friends" there—particularly confident braggart Jonas (Tom Cullen). Unfortunately for Ffion, in the world of "The Entire History Of You", little details can be picked over using mental playbacks (or redo's), and Liam starts to doubt the sincerity of his wife's excuses for various micro-expressions and out-of-earshot conversations he catches her having with a man he suspects she's been intimate with in the past.

This was easily the most relatable and human of the three Black Mirror's that have aired, as it brought a science-fiction technology into a story that most people have some experience of. It was interesting to see how a simple marital spat could escalate when each person's memories of events can be rewound and replayed on a whim, and Armstrong's script found plenty of clever ways to demonstrate the technology. I particularly enjoyed the uncomfortable moment when Liam and Ffion had mechanical and tedious sex together, while both were "redoing" a more athletic and passionate night of intercourse from a time when their marriage was happier. The creative decision to have people's eyes turn milky when they were "redoing" also worked brilliantly, as it briefly made them look like soulless zombies enslaved to this technology.

Having said that, the potential for a more exciting and thrilling story using this basic idea was definitely there, so I'm not surprised many people were disappointed that "The Entire History Of You" told such a simple, linear story that was also fairly predictable in it direction. It also didn't help that every single character was unlikeable in some way. We should have been on Liam's side because he was the person who'd been cheated on, yet he always came across as an unreasonable and obstinate pain in the neck. We can blame the technology for drawing him down this unforgiving path, because he had the ability to become a one-man detective agency (using magnified, paused, and rewound playbacks of people's memories to build his case), but there wasn't really a time when you liked Liam and were begging him to let sleeping dogs lie.

Still, the performances from Kebbell and Whittaker were very good, and Armstrong's well-balanced script built to a sorrowful moment that landed its emotional punch. It was also slick and visually interesting, with the speculative technology stirring many interesting thoughts. For instance: wouldn't everyone be excruciatingly guarded and reticent everyday, fearing that their behaviour will be scrutinised by those they come into contact with at a later date? I'm just not sure this was the absolute best story to tell using this compelling idea, as the marital breakdown could have been one element of a much bigger, deeper story. I was expecting Liam's job as a lawyer would have larger significance, actually, but instead the story focused solely on a suspicious husband's disintegrating marriage. Consequently, I thought this was a good episode that achieved what it set out to do, but it lacked the ambition of the previous two installments.


  • You may recognise Toby Kebbell from RocknRolla, Prince Of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Jodie Whittaker was also in St Trinian's II and Attack The Block.
written by Jesse Armstrong / directed by Brian Welsh / 18 December 2011 / Channel 4