Black Mirror: San Junipero

Nostalgia is a deceptive things; it rose tints our photographs and heightens our emotions. Reviving our inner romanticism, memories of days gone by are remembered in a way that might never happened. Psychologists say that our recollection of youth consists largely of reconstructed memory, perhaps that’s why the past always seems more appealing than the present. Yesterday, I said in my review of Shut Up and Dance that the best episodes of Black Mirror are set in the present rather than the future. Charlie Brooker goes one step further in San Junipero, bathing us in the amber hues of a 1980s beach vacation, he forces us to examine our own memories and question how perfect they really were.

Mackenzie Davis plays Yorkie, a misfit by the standards of the ‘in crowd’. It’s her first time in San Junipero, and she’s determined to explore the famed town. Her sheepish and shy nature doesn’t avert her encounter with Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the retro-glam it girl of San Junipero. And in true 80’s cult film fashion, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. In many ways, Kelly and Yorkie’s burgeoning friendship reminds me of CC and Hillary’s in Beaches. Each pair meet a similar ending, but the San Junipero couple share a slightly more intimate connection than Bette Midler and her mate in Atlantic City. The Juniperians are in love, or at least Yorkie is with Kelly. As a result, we get enough heartfelt scenes to last a cynic a lifetime. Seemingly endless nights of romance blur into one as we witness the couple fall deeper and deeper into the mystic city. But it isn’t until halfway through the episode that we learn San Junipero is nothing more than an artificial reality. It’s not real. 80% of its inhabitants are dead. San Junipero is a retirement home for the deceased; a glitch in technology that allows the dead to live on in a world of peace and love.

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San Junipero is gorgeous in terms of its cinematography and has a beautiful narrative to match. So beautiful, in fact, the ending is atypical by Black Mirror standards. Without giving too much away, the tears will roll – but in a good way. San Junipero is an immaculate microcosm of our world, so we see all the best it has to offer (from each decade too – San Junipero also offers time travel). In that way, viewers can interpret the world in different ways. The dichotomous debate about the ethics of San Junipero reminds me of the one at the heart of the euthanasia discussion; it’s very astute in that sense.

Respectively in their roles, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis empower, thrill and move audiences with their performances. At times they are soppy and at others they are bitterly cruel in their deliverance. The ending is particularly poignant but isn’t without that touch of wit from Brooker (Heaven Is a Place On Earth plays the episode out). The clever thing about San Junipero is that we all fear death, yet none of us are exempt from it. Is that a bad thing? Charlie Brooker thinks so.

The entire third season of Black Mirror is available to stream on Netflix now.