“Crocodile,” starring Andrea Riseborough and directed by The Road‘s John Hillcoat is a wickedly dark episode of Black Mirror. Chilling, violent and horribly funny, in a very simple way, it’s the story of a woman trying to suppress past guilt and failing.
What though, does its story have to do with its title? It’s been a subject of debate among Black Mirror fans since season four was released. After all, unlike a certain Guinea Pig, the animal doesn’t feature in the episode, nor is its relevance explained in dialogue.
Theories abound – some say it’s to do with the concept of crocodile tears, or crocodile file (a straight line of one consequence leading fatefully to the next), or a reference to “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” episode of the Fargo TV series… but until now, there’s only been conjecture.
One theory, put forward by episode director Hillcoat in excellent new behind-the-scenes book Inside Black Mirror, was that “the story’s cruel logic has a deadly vice-like grip, akin to a crocodile’s jaw.” Hillcoat also suggested that Andrea Riseborough’s character Mia reacted to the surprise reappearance of a long-buried secret by letting her “reptilian brain take over, like a cornered lizard or snake… or crocodile!” Brooker had never told him the actual explanation either.
“I’ve never told anyone what the title Crocodile means,” says Brooker in Inside Black Mirror. “John Hillcoat kept asking and I kept saying “Oh it’s a bit complicated. I’ll explain it at some point”.
Now, thanks to Jason Arnopp’s interviews in the book, which is well worth your time, he has:
“The genesis of the title actually relates to [a] previous incarnation of the script, about the person who’d witnessed their mother’s murder at the age of two. She’d grown into this very anxious person, who saw the world as incredibly threatening.
Here’s the analogy: imagine that your life is a simulated boat ride down a river. If you started playing that, as a VR experience, it could be sunny and beautiful and you love it. But if it’s scripted that occasional random events will happen, such as a crocodile attacking you, well now that’s slightly different. And if you are really unlucky, and a crocodile attacks you in the first minute of you playing that game, then you think you’re in a horror game. You think, “From that point on, I could get attacked at any moment,” and you can never relax and enjoy the rest of that boat ride, because you think it’s a crocodile attack simulator.
So that’s what Crocodile is: an analogy for somebody who’d been traumatised at an early age, and might be troubled by life forever and never able to relax. The title stuck even though the story completely changed, and then the title didn’t actually make sense. But it’s also weirdly fitting.”
Inside Black Mirror: The Illustrated Oral History is out now, published by Penguin Random House.