The HBO series WESTWORLD, based on the ’70s film written by Michael Crichton (and with many similar elements), serves up an amazing story combining action, quest, creation and philosophy.
Westworld is a massive theme park comprised of thousands of androids indistinguishable from human beings. The androids live out scripted story lines, or loops, unaware they are there solely to entertain rich guests. They pleasure the guests, and they die, often brutally, only to be repaired, reset and sent back to their world. Guests can explore, get pulled into the story lines and/or indulge in their wildest desires. The park was created by two brilliant men, Ford (Anthony Hopkins, nailing it as always) and Arnold.
These two men had contrasting visions for what their creation should be. Ford, who rules the park as its god, saw the androids as “tools with a voice.” Arnold, who died mysteriously before the park opened, saw them as potentially sentient life that should be given free will and rights. After a software update by Ford, some of the androids begin acting strangely. They are remembering, memory being a foundation of sentience, and going off their story lines. Meanwhile, the gunslinger in black (the brilliant Ed Harris), a frequent patron of the park who has explored almost every inch of it, is playing a different game. He believes Arnold implanted code, represented by a maze, that would allow the androids to gain consciousness, and all the world he loves to become real. Unlike watching the original movie, I found myself aching to go to this place and lose myself in the game.
WESTWORLD serves up plenty of sex and violence in solid HBO style, making it as titillating a watch as GAME OF THRONES. Even though we know the story lines are scripted and fake, they offer plenty of exciting action, and suck you in. The show is a feast for the actors, who often repeat the same lines but in different context, and act the same scenes but playing out differently due to the influence of a guest. The show starts off in grand style, turning familiar tropes and expectations on their head and letting you know this isn’t just sex and violence but instead something thoughtful and original. There’s plenty of philosophy in the show, exploring questions such as what is life, memory and consciousness, free will, when a gaming experience makes you feel more real than you do in real life, meeting yourself in adversity, and more.
The show isn’t without its faults. Notably for me how far two lab techs go to help an android, the over-elaborate and convoluted late plot development that diffused rather than built tension, and, most important for me, the confusing disconnect with the original movie. There are indications this Westworld is the same as in the movie, complete with a nice Easter egg at one point–an inert Yul Brenner gunslinger standing in the corner of an abandoned laboratory–but it’s never acknowledged. There are hints something horrible happened 30 years ago, which you think is what happened in the movie, but that’s not the case. The fact it’s a remake and not a sequel really threw me off following the myriad subtleties of the plot.
Brilliant series, totally worth a binge watch some weekend, and I’m looking forward to hell breaking loose in the second season.