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[personal profile] shadowkat
Way back in 1973, sci-fi writer, Michael Crichton wrote and directed a science fiction film entitled Westworld about a Western amusement park where the androids malfunction and start to kill the human tourists. It starred James Brolin, Yul Brunner, and Richard Benjamin. There was a sequel, that I actually saw years later, entitled Futureworld which starred Peter Fonda and Yul Brunner made a cameo appearance in a dream sequence.

The film version of Westworld aired again recently, and I still have it on the DVR, but have had troubles getting into it. Also, in the 1980s, there was a short-lived television series that I vaguely remember watching entitled "Beyond Westworld".

Now, years later, JJ Abrahams and company have revisited and rebooted Westworld as a television series for HBO. A far shinier, a far more violent series than the original. Also in some respects better written. Spoiler alert? It sort of ends the same, or rather, as one might expect.
It also at one point, references the original movie by following the journey of two guests to the park, William and Logan, who weirdly resemble Brolin and Benjamin's original characters.

The series is a fascinating philosophical study of consciousness or how we reach it. And that to find oneself, one must travel within, not without. You won't find the meaning of life or figure out who you are by looking outside yourself or out there, but rather within. Which is a Buddhist concept, I think. Or rather it's what I've been reading recently within Buddhist teachings. Although, I seriously doubt the Buddhists would agree with the graphic violence or the need for it.

The writers of this series aren't that found of humans, it is rather misanthropic. And there is a heavy meta-narrative on the exploitative nature of television or film. Reminding me a great deal of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Having now watched the whole thing, I'd say the two series have a lot more common than I'd originally thought and in some respects end on a similar note.



In Dollhouse, Echo, the main protagonist, struggles to remember who she is after multiple mindwipes. Mindwipes she herself has encouraged, unable to face who she is. She has a partner, or someone she believes will help her, only to discover he owns her and has made her what she is, as she in turn has made him. At the end she finally confronts herself, metaphorically at least, and manages to kill her creator, taking back control of her world to a degree.

In Westworld, Delores, one of the main protagonists for there are several, struggles to remember who she is, but unlike Echo, she's not human. And underneath all the mindwipes and rollbacks, there's a program that allows her to discover who she is. But like Echo, she has to face herself and in essence kill her creator and defeat the man she believes will rescue her.

Of the two, Westworld is far more complex, with more layers. It's sort of the graduate school version of Dollhouse, or what Dollhouse would have been if Whedon had the money, the writing talent, acting talent, and production value that Abrhams had. Not to mention the foundation.

Westworld by utilizing artificial lifeforms asks the philosophical question - "what is it to be human?" And "what is consciousness?" Hardly anything new, as fans of Issac Asimov, and various other sci-fi writers can attest. The Matrix also asked similar questions -- what is reality, and to what degree are our perceptions of it real? Are we just puppets? In Matrix, the machines controlled the world and humanity became its puppets. In the Terminator series, the same thing occurred, humans gave way to the very machines they created. And in Spielberg/Kubrick's A.I. -- the artificial lifeforms felt more humane than the humanity utilizing them.

In all of the above, it appears empathy, or the ability to care about others, and realize life is not what we'd like it to be -- ie. to see life as it is and not what we'd wish, is the key to being human, to being conscious. The ability to learn from mistakes, and take control over our reality to the extent that we can. Of course there's the counter view that true consciousness is the absence of it, or letting go of the ego, the self, and all the desires it contains. Westworld seems to play with both views -- The Man in Black is ultra conscious, pure ego, all about his "will", he's even named "William". While, Delores, Teddy, and Bernard appear to be unconscious of themselves, yet more truly human in their capacity for empathy and their living in the moment. Not hunting meaning outside of themselves, but within, inside their dreams. Delores even says something rather interesting to William -- that she grieves for him, for the man he was, for he will perish, and there will be nothing left, he owns and has nothing, and those who come after will inherit. William is all ego -- "I own all this" and yet he's hollow, he cares for none of it. It's meaningless to him.
He wants to find the center of the maze, but all he finds is a children's toy. The secret is ultimately lost on him. Delores however, through her journey with William, has at last found the center, she's confronted herself, and learned that she can control her reality and its the moments that count, not the future and not the past.

At the end, it appears the androids have malfunctioned. But all that has occurred is their creator, Ford, sets them free -- to wreck havoc on the board members who seek to control them and fuck them for their sport. In the end, the question becomes who is the most human, who is the most alive, and conscious, the humans or the androids? The humans who visit the park to escape their hollow lives, and hunt meaning continuously outside of themselves. If I can control or influence the lives of others -- that provides me with meaning? My creations are what I am? These medals, money, accolades...define me? William, the Man in Black, is a philanphropist, a billionaire, he owns the park itself, no one can hurt him --- yet he is forever empty inside. The world seems unreal somehow, hollow. Nothing he does matters. He can't care about anyone or anything. He is hunting for some meaning, but is unable to look inside. Ford, likewise, finds his life to be without meaning, he too is hollow inside, although he has created so many things. But they are prisoners in a nightmare narrative running on a loop. He works to free them -- discovering the only way to do so is by making them suffer repeatedly until they are finally forced to break free.

Through suffering and pain, do we find ourselves?

Not so, says Delores, who tells Teddy that they must look for the beauty in the world in which they live. Not just look at the ugliness. And fight for it. Yet she does so by waging war and killing those that control them.

Again this story reminds me a little of Whedon's Dollhouse and Firefly series, where the only way out appears to be through aggression and violence, yet it is a false escape. Leading back to the prison at every turn. The aggression does not really free the characters, but entrap them more.
Not unlike the themes of BattleStar Galatica V 2 -- "what has happened before will happen again." That too was about androids created by humans taking over, and following the humans lead -- by asserting their control and dominance through violence. Resulting, in death and destruction.
It too was about rebirth, and the discovery of bliss through the loss of self.

I feel at times that I'm watching the same story over and over again, told in different ways. But I wonder if whomever is watching the story we're all telling at this moment, thinks the same? (shrugs)

I don't know if I'll continue watching Westworld next year. As compelling as the story was, it was hard to care that much about the characters. I don't quite know why. The characters I found the most interesting was Thandi Newton's Maeve, along with her rough and tumble safe-cracker lover, and Jeffrey Wright's Bernard, aka Arnold. They seemed to be less metaphorical somehow or rather less allegorical and more real. Also, it's expensive watching HBO, and I'm considering cancelling my subscription and going back to regular cable. Too many television shows too little time. And finally, the graphic violence grated. I thought HBO did however make good use of nudity for a change, oddly commenting on their own ruthless and exploitative use of it. It was less exploitative, and more strategic and metaphorical. The nudity of the robots, who were the only characters who were completely nude, got across their vulnerability. It was also great commentary on how people exploit nudity for their own ends.

It's hard to recommend Westworld to new viewers for a couple of reasons. It's violent. Although no more so than Game of Thrones. Or the Walking Dead. If you can handle those television series, you'll be fine with this one. Also, it's more intellectual than emotional -- there's a distance between the viewer and the characters that is maintained throughout and feels deliberate. We are in a way complicit with the guests of the park. William, a guest, states at one point - "I loved books as a child and always dreamed of living in one. Now, I feel as if I've woken up in one of my stories." To which, Delores, a character in the story, responds, "I'd prefer to be real. To just be. To just live. And not feel as if I'm just a character in a story with a beginning and an end." It's a bit disconcerting to realize we're like William and not Delores...fantasizing about being in the story. (Although, to be fair, I never felt that way. Nor wanted to be in the story. The appeal of interactive games, or role-playing, or interactive stories are lost on me. I don't want to physically interact with the story, so much as mentally and emotionally interact with it. To feel as if I'm in the character's minds, and not inserting myself into their world. William appears to want to insert himself into their world and play the hero.)

Westworld also jumps through time a bit. We are in the point of view of the androids not really the human guests. Except possibly the Man in Black/William's, but to a limited degree, and Ford's - also to a limited degree. And neither's purpose is truly revealed until the end -- and as it turns out they appear to have the same one, just from opposite ends. William wants the story to be real, for there to be real stakes, and a real cost, not a rigged game where the guests are never hurt and the house always wins. Ford wants to set his creations free, to no longer be trapped in a continuous loop, and to break into the human world, to take control of the park. So in effect by setting them free, William gets his wish -- the stakes are now real. He's actually in the story, just no longer the hero. And he'll most likely die in it.

It's not a nice commentary on our world. Or on humanity. Depicting violence, egos out of control, and a love of money and control with horrific results. But then all our stories depict this. Making one wonder why people continue to elect leaders who want to go down that road? And why people continue to hold onto guns and use violence? If our stories show the horrible results of our egos gone amuck, why do we ignore the message? Or are we merely death and dumb to it? I don't know.

Not a comforting series, but then it wasn't supposed to be.

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