Why Director Joe Wright Deeply Connected With His Black Mirror Episode 'Nosedive'

Netflix's "Black Mirror" is all about using the not-so-distant future to hit audiences with hypothetical (and, at times, deeply unsettling) questions. In "Nosedive," the first episode of the series' third season, director Joe Wright asks: "What if you lived in a world where everyone — not just your Uber driver — was constantly being rated by a five-star system?" It's a fair question, especially as our status-obsessed, chronically-online culture moves ever closer to that realm of possibility — and Wright himself is uniquely qualified to ask it.

The filmmaker is best known for his period dramas. His longtime collaboration with Keira Knightley produced the swoonworthy "Pride & Prejudice" (the 2005 iteration, in all its hand-flexy glory), the tragic "Atonement," and the ambitious "Anna Karenina" — ambition being the operative force behind each of his projects. Wright is a filmmaker who likes to try new things, and bring his fresh takes to many a well-loved classic. Unfortunately, they can't all be winners — but Wright claims that his setbacks as a director put him in the perfect headspace to direct "Nosedive."

The nosedive that started it all

Sharing your work with the world can subject you to harsh criticism, which usually affects your social standing in turn — especially in Hollywood. Wright is still a pretty well-known (and well-liked) director, but that didn't keep his 2015 film "Pan" from being, well... panned by critics and audiences alike. The film could have been a cut-and-dry Peter Pan origin story — but Wright, true to form, was intent on finding ways to remix it. 

"Pan" was Wright at the height of his experimental phase. Unfortunately, not all of it worked. Its off-the-charts camp — which culminates with a rousing tribal cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" — might have found more favor in a few years' time, but Wright's controversial casting choices damned the film for good. The director tapped actress Rooney Mara to play the spirited Princess Tiger Lily, which (rightfully) drew even more scrutiny to the project.

"They were rating me one star all over the place," Wright told Digital Spy in 2016. Debilitating as it was, the reception of "Pan" actually informed his work on "Black Mirror." His "crushing humiliation" helped the plot of "Nosedive" resonate with him all the more. "I am a deeply insecure person and I am constantly looking for validation from other people to make me feel better," Wright shared. This undoubtedly helped connect him to Bryce Dallas Howard's high-strung protagonist, Lacie.

Scaling back from film to television also helped the director to reframe his mindset. "I really needed this show to wash out the experiences that I'd been having — to freshen up a bit and to remind myself what working on a small budget was like." Wright has since returned to the big screen with "Cyrano," another well-known classic. The film is at once a pivot from and an elaboration on Wright's creative choices in "Pan": though it's more focused on characters than spectacle, Wright really seems to relish in a musical number or two.