Black Mirror may have captured your imagination with its commentary on technology. It certainly captured mine. Charlie Brooker — creator of this popular British anthology series — is fixated on the idea of contemporary technology as an invader. It invades the personal lives and relationships of his characters. And it often drives them to tragic (or fatal) ends.
But the themes you can find in Black Mirror certainly aren’t exclusive to the show. But where can you find the same kind of quality and tone? My Fandom pals R.W.V. Mitchell, Drew Dietsch, Andrew Hawkins and I have some recommendations. So if you’re looking to get your Black Mirror fix while waiting for new episodes, check out these movies!
R.W.V. Mitchell on Ex Machina
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina ticks all the boxes of what makes a Black Mirror episode. The central protagonist, Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), is an ordinary citizen immersed in a world of high technology. It starts with a simple enough premise. Caleb’s boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) invites him to his secluded, hyper-secure ranch. While there, Caleb is to determine whether or not Nathan’s latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), is lifelike enough to pass as human. He’s amazed by Ava’s intellect and entranced by her beauty. What he expects to be a watershed moment in A.I. takes a dark turn when he learns, at Ava’s insistence, the actual circumstances of her birth.
The story raises fascinating questions about the adventurous side projects of companies like Google/Alphabet and Facebook, mass surveillance and data gathering by private companies, and the moral implications of creating technological marvels simply because we can. Sure, sentient robots are all the rage right now, but they always have been. Stories about Golems and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein paved the way for these tales of what happens when beings of bone, mud, and air have delusions of godhood.
Travis Newton on Her
Standing on the other side of the mirror from Ex Machina is Spike Jonze’s Her. Much like Black Mirror, the depiction of technology is critical to Her‘s success as a commentary.Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) uses devices that run off a single operating system, effortlessly synchronizing his life across most of the platforms he uses. But when he upgrades his operating system, a startling new feature changes his life.
The new operating system creates Samantha (Scarlett Johansson): a customized A.I. so advanced and human that Theodore falls in love with her, and she loves him back. Samantha may not have a physical form, but she’s a star all the same. And like Black Mirror tends to do, Her gets unexpectedly big. As it turns out, Theodore’s experience with his new operating system is not unique. Her explores a world in the midst of a tech revolution — one with stunning consequences. It’s easy to balk at Her‘s more twee aspects. Sure, it’s not as cold or prickly as Black Mirror. Her may look softer, but it’s just as smart as any technophobic tale Charlie Brooker has ever written.
Drew Dietsch on Timecrimes
While Black Mirror hasn’t dealt with the concept of time travel yet, Timecrimes might be a good template for the show to follow. This Spanish film is one of the best time travel movies ever made. It is very self-contained and focuses on character and story instead of heady physics or impressive scale.
Writer and director Nacho Vigalondo handles the time travel in a way that never causes any confusion. Plus, the story is a wonderful mystery that unfolds at a perfect pace. It’s the kind of stripped-down sci-fi at which Black Mirror truly excels. And it has one of the best villains in recent movie history.
Andrew Hawkins on Cube
There’s a lot to unpack in Vincenzo Natali’s Cube. Six people who seemingly have no connection with each other awaken to find themselves trapped in a massive shifting maze. Each of the confined individuals has a reason for being there, yet we wind up learning next to nothing aside from what the characters divulge. It’s a play on social interaction that eventually leads to nothing more than a giant question mark.
Cube reminds me a lot of Black Mirror’s second episode ‘Fifteen Million Merits‘. The characters are stuck in a system that is much bigger than them in both stories. Technology and manipulation are themes that each of the tales address. Vincenzo Natali is no stranger to science fiction stories that are ominous and unnerving, and Cube is a very influential film that still affects the genre today. Now that Natali has directed an episode of Westworld, maybe he’ll show up on Black Mirror Season 4.
Drew Dietsch on The One I Love
Black Mirror loves to explore relationships and how technology is affecting the way we deal with romance in a modern age. The One I Love doesn’t focus on the tech part nearly as much, but it does use science fiction to ask an interesting question: what if your significant other could be your perfect ideal?
The story takes place at a couples resort where Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) go to try and save their marriage. When some inconsistencies in their personalities begin to pop up, they realize something very strange is going on. It’s a blunt examination of romance that would fit right into one of Charlie Brooker’s little morality tales.
Andrew Hawkins on A Scanner Darkly
The literary works of Philip K. Dick are all over Black Mirror. The show explores technology and its effect on human development, interaction, and general living in just about every episode. That’s been one of the hooks of Black Mirror right from the beginning. Dick clearly influenced everything from the current state of information privacy to the characters’ biomechanical augmentations seen in many of the episodes.
With A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick uses technology as a tool for monitoring and policing others in the world of illegal narcotics. Keanu Reeves plays a cop who goes undercover. He manages to keep his cover intact by using a cloaking device called a scramble suit. This technology is something the Christmas episode of Black Mirror may allude to when Matt gets blocked from everyone’s vision. Admittedly, it’s a slight connection. But if you were to strip away the depth to which Scanner’s characters sink into paranoia, this one could easily be a great addition to Black Mirror.