Warning: This interview contains major spoilers for the Black Mirror episode, “Nosedive.”
Are you already sick with social media anxiety about having to like, favorite, or rate all of your friends’ online posts? Just imagine if your very freedom depended on it. That’s the world imagined in “Nosedive,” the first episode in Black Mirror’s third season, where citizens are required to rate each other on their everyday interactions. Drop below a certain average, and you’re immediately yanked out of polite society. That forces everyone to be on their best behavior at all hours, pretending they’re living their best life when, secretly, they’d love to burn it all down.
The strain of maintaining a shiny, happy exterior weighs heavily on our heroine, Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a 4.2 who longs to be in the 4.5 range. Having been invited by a friend (Alice Eve) she hasn’t seen in years to be the maid of honor at her wedding, Lacie sets off on a cross-country journey that spirals out of control, causing her rating to… well, nosedive. Written by Parks and Recreation collaborators, Rashida Jones and Mike Schur, and directed by esteemed British filmmaker Joe Wright, this is a screwball road comedy served up Black Mirror style. Speaking with Wright and Howard at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Yahoo TV discussed some of the episode’s biggest moments and keeping the extreme social media satire grounded in reality.
The humor in the episode begins on a relatively even keel and then gets increasingly outrageous as events unfold. How did you pace the arc of the comedy?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Nosedive is a social satire. In our own world, we’re tied to our phones and have so much social anxiety. So there’s naturally some humor to that because we’re all so self-aware about our addictions to our phones, but we can’t stop it. The way we can process those feelings and have perspective on them would be through satire.
Joe Wright: It was all in the script, so it felt like an instinctive process. We tried not to impose ourselves on the script or the world, and the comedy revealed itself to us. This world they’ve created for themselves is a lovely surface that hides something a little more rotten.
Howard: Something that surprised me was the vision that Joe had for this pastel, ice cream perfect world with succulence everywhere. He used a lot of peach and mint green colors, and seeing those in excess is absurd. It’s a world I recognize from Pinterest, but it’s not a world I’ve necessarily experienced. It’s almost unsettling how lovely it is. Then you go into it and realize the world is that lovely because the circumstances are that dark.
Nosedive was written by Rashida Jones and Mike Schur. Were they or Charlie Brooker on set during production?
Wright: Charlie gives you a lot of freedom. And the script was so good, I didn’t feel like I needed to change it. Charlie’s just there to give counsel, although he is very obsessed by the technology. During the editing phase, he was talking about how the rating system should work and I was like, “That’s a level of detail I didn’t expect!” Operating systems aren’t my forte, but he’s into that stuff.
Howard: We did a read-through before shooting, and he was there via Skype in a very Black Mirror sort of way. The script never changed; on other projects, you get new pages every single day. It felt kind of like a play.
One of the key moments in Nosedive is Lacie’s encounter with a truck driver played by Cherry Jones. It’s the first time she’s encountered someone who has made the decision to abandon the ratings system and live off the grid, so to speak.
Howard: As humans, we don’t always take advice about how difficult it is to change. I wish it were as easy as, “Oh, there’s a door that I need to go through.” What I find instead is that it’s more like, “I’ll walk up to that door, give a knock and if no one answers, I’ll walk away for a couple of years.” It takes me a long time to open the door and walk through.
Howard: Cherry is one of my theater idols, and was in the first film I made, The Village. I hadn’t seen her for several years, so it’s so meaningful for her to be doing this. She was a very grounding presence for that scene. Everything her character is saying is so true, but it takes courage to live that life. And Lacie doesn’t learn. I relate to that — sometimes I feel like I should just get a flip phone again!
The episode climaxes with Lacie having a full-on breakdown at her friend’s wedding. It’s a scene that’s both cringingly awkward and very funny.
Howard: My job only gets hard when things don’t connect, and the writers and directors say, “Oh, we’ll fix that on the day.” But here, you see how the sequences before it lead up to that last big scene. So shooting that climax just felt like fun.
Wright: The idea that Bryce and I shared was to play it for real, not comedy — to play the pathos and tender heartbreak of it. I love Lacie as a character, but I also want to bang her head against the wall and say, “Wake up!” She makes so many mistakes and is so wrong. She really loves her friend; there’s a deep teenage love going on as well there.
The episode ends with Lacie locked away in prison, cussing out a man in another cell. It’s another comic moment, but there’s also a palpable sense of release and relief for her. We’re often expected to suppress or push away anger, but maybe it’s an emotion that can help in certain circumstances.
Howard: Lacie lives in this world where the most important thing is to feel like you belong by being lovely all the time. So anger might be the first step towards reconnecting to yourself.
Wright: There’s a reason we have anger — it’s an entirely appropriate response to injustice in the world. But it’s important that we express it appropriately. That ending reminds me of the scene in Network when everyone shouts: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Black Mirror is currently streaming on Netflix.