It’s thanks for the memories, in the third instalment of Charlie Brooker’s anthology show
“The Entire History Of You”
Writer: Jesse Armstrong
Director: Brian Welsh
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Charlie Brooker hands the Black Mirror writing reins over to Peep Show co-creator Jesse Armstrong, for a near-future tale that’s surprisingly uncomedic. In fact, pretty much the only thing “The Entire History Of You” has in common with Armstrong’s flatshare masterpiece is its willingness to go to some very bleak places. Unfortunately, without the gags, it’s often too hard going to be entertaining.
It’s based on a brilliant premise, of course, the idea that people can be implanted with “grains” that record everything they see and hear – courtesy of a videogame-ish HUD (head-up display), you’re able to “Re-do” bits of your life, playing back key moments in your mind, or even sharing them on TV with your friends. The problem is that the idea is way better than a story that completely fails to explore the technology’s dramatic potential.
That’s particularly frustrating because some of the intriguing scenarios made feasible by the grains are referred to in passing. We’d have loved to watch something based on the idea that, even when recorded on a hard drive, your memories may not be entirely reliable – or that they can be altered with a suggestive word in the ear; or the premise of authorities dipping into people’s minds to solve crimes. Particularly creepy is the notion of parents installing a grain in their baby’s head, and playing back what the kid’s seen that evening. All would challenge a truth we all hold dear – that our minds are the one place that remains truly private in the modern world, and that once that particular cat’s out of the bag, our existence would be very, very different.
Instead we have to make do with a mundane jealous husband plot that plays out like a tame 21st century take on Coppola’s The Conversation. (In fact, the comparison stretches beyond the plotline, with director Brian Welsh making brilliant use of static cameras and long takes, to echo the feel of a ’70s thriller.)
It doesn’t help that – with the possible exception of the babysitter and the baby – every character in “The Entire History Of You” is totally unlikeable. Indeed, as soon as the key players sit down for the dinner party that kicks things off, you’re in little doubt that these are people you’d wipe from your personal hard drive in an instant, such is the concentration of insufferable smugness around the table. So as good as the always reliable Toby Kebbell is as Liam, the husband who ultimately finds out his suspicions about his wife’s affair are correct, he’s always competing against being portrayed as a guy whose unpleasantness makes it entirely plausible that his wife (Jodie Whittaker) would want a fling with another guy – even one as objectionable as Jonas (Tom Cullen).
The story’s also disappointingly linear. There’s all manner of ways a device that can rewind real life could be used to perform narrative gymnastics, but this goes from A to B to C in boringly routine fashion – the scene where Liam plays back what happened at Jonas’s house before he drunkenly crashed his car into a tree is a tantalising glimpse of what could have been. Redemption of sorts comes with a surprise twist that reveals Liam wasn’t quite as paranoid as we thought, and a brilliantly edited end sequence belatedly allows you to feel some sympathy for the character. But this is one to file under missed opportunity.