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The Danger of Free Will on Netflix

As I shut my door, I gleefully banish any possibility of social interaction for the evening. It has been a long day of polite smiles and friendly eyebrow raising, a newly improved skill since the introduction of pandemic masks. Now, it is time to unzip my onesie of politeness, wiggle out of it and languish in my grotesque underlayer. I leap onto the sofa, brush off mystery crumbs, and grab the remote. The screen flickers to life, weary with use. A feeling of relief washes over me as a giant red letter ‘N’ envelops the screen. It is time to switch off.

I begin to scroll. I thumb my way around the arrow pad on my remote, frantically fingering each button. Over the years I have developed an impressive speed on the arrow pad. It is almost as if I can anticipate which combination of buttons I need to press before I have even turned the TV on. I am Neo. The chosen one. Fear me mortals and despair at my Netflix dexterity.

Time passes and endless titles go by. Nothing quite catches my fancy. No matter, there is all the time in the world.

I scroll through the ‘critically acclaimed’ section. There goes 'The Pianist'. I’ve just taken the tube home, I’m miserable enough thank you. 'Chicken Run' whips past. I pause. I go to question the validity of Chicken Run as critically acclaimed. I catch myself before I commit a vile act of heresy against true cinematic art. I continue scrolling. 'The Wolf of Wall Street'? I’d rather cram my debit card down my throat; a do-not-try-this-at-home anti-capitalist gesture of sorts. This would also mean I can’t pay for a Greggs tomorrow. Protest or pasty, the age-old conundrum.

Suddenly, a terrible thing happens.

Drawing by Barney Nuttall

I see 'The Pianist' again. Oh fuck. I’ve looped. Adrian Brody’s gaunt face peeks at me in disdain. This cannot be. How have I scrolled through the entire category already? I nervously press the right arrow key on my remote, convincing myself that this must surely be an algorithmic error. As the conveyor belt of movies shifts one along, my stomach drops. A waving plasticine chicken stares deep into my lazy soul. It's confirmed, I’ve been looping through this category. I’m instantly hit by a bout of vertigo. How long have I been scrolling for? How many times has this model chicken had to look at me in my Star Wars pyjamas? It could have been hours, days, maybe even weeks! My mind begins to ascend to an ethereal plain where I can see myself, a slovenly heap of flesh, dumbly fisting a plastic bar with the collective intelligence of every member of the Kardashian klan.

The whole time, the chicken’s eyes burn into my glazy eyes. Guilt washes over me. It feels slimy, like I’ve been subjected to an appearance on 'Dick and Dom in the Bungalow'. Or it is my couch potato-itis. Either way, I can’t help but feel sorry for this poor chicken. For its entire lifespan on my Netflix, it has been scrolled past with barely a look. It has watched as I pick 'Cats' watch halfway through, and proceed to pass out in a puddle of Wotsit dust and cookie crumbs. My vampiric movie soul-sucking is both disgusting and humiliating for Chicken Run. How could he, the almighty watcher, choose 'Cats' over me, it asks.

I go to select Chicken Run. Perhaps watching the film, in its entire run time of one hour and twenty-four minutes, will redeem me. But, before my greasy thumb squeezes the OK button, the entirety of the film flashes through my mind. It is like a natural reaction, an animal instinct triggered without resistance. A DVD apparition of my family’s version of Chicken Run coalesces in front of me, an ugly reminder of my childhood tendency to rinse and repeat certain movies; one of those being Chicken Run.

How can I bear the guilt? I would sooner send a live chicken to be killed than put Ginger, that poor rejected moulded chicken, through my indecisiveness again. I can’t bear it. My tear ducts swallow a salty droplet as I prepare to press the right key. Ginger’s eyes, without moving, portray a swirl of emotions. Betrayal, her tubular lips scream. I avert my gaze for the guilt is too much to bear. I’m sorry Ginger. The words escape my lips and, before I change my mind, my finger, like an executioner’s axe, strikes the damning button. The smoke clears as I wipe away my tears. This must be how Brutus felt stabbing Caesar. Of how Liam felt betraying Millie on 'Love Island'.

Perhaps I should change my ways. Suddenly, the outside world seems so appealing. I could go on a walk and grab an over-expensive coffee from an artisanal bakery. I could stroll along and nod and wave to everyone I walk by. I’d come across an elderly woman and help her cross the street. She would treat me to dinner and tell me tales of her brave husband who fought in the war. After I listen intently, she would reach into her jacket and pull out a purple heart badge. I want you to have it, she would say. “I can’t possi-“ I would begin but she would shut me down, stating that I am the most kind and brave soul to ever walk this earth since her husband. I would come home that night with a sense that I have found my place in the world. I would begin my own charity, specialising in helping elderly folk cross the street. I could make a change, an actual change.

Oh, there’s a new season of 'The Good Place'!

Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film Editor


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