Film by Andrew Walsh
The wide, fascinating, and often terrifying realm of virtual reality is rapidly approaching a full on takeover of our world. In the wake of such a dramatic societal shift, HBO’s new science-fiction show: Westworld helps us cope and ponder on some of the joys, and pains of what an encapsulating virtual world might look like for our society.
Set in the rugged backdrops of the old wild west, the fictional Westworld is a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated completely by synthetic androids dubbed ‘hosts’. Westworld’s high-paying visitors dubbed ‘newcomers’ (also known as ‘guests’), can do whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts. For $40,000 a day, you can be a hero, an outlaw, or a treasure seeker in a world that lets you manipulate to your heart’s desire.
In contrast with the limitless freedom of the park’s guests are the controlled synthetic androids that only exist for the guests’ manipulation. Westworld’s creator Dr Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, has spent forty years adding features to the synthetic androids in an effort to make them seem as realistic as possible. The androids react with a slew of emotions much in the same way a human would. After a few episodes the viewer finds out that the androids have become increasingly realistic and are able to harbor backstories and likenesses to the human psyche.
As characters sift through this virtual terrain that allows limitless freedom, Westworld sparks streamless thoughts into audience’s minds. Would I be an outlaw or a hero? Would I abuse my power for good or for evil? As much as Westworld focuses on the horrors of artificial intelligence it owes much of it’s success on horrors of humanity as a whole. Who would I be in this world?
Westworld has a strong production team trio of Jonathan Nolan (Dark Knight screenwriter), Lisa Joy (Burn Notice.), and J.J Abrams (Star Wars Force Awakens Director). When asked about the West World’s main theme, show runner Jonathan Nolan said
“Part of what the show is asking is, ‘Why are we so … up?’” Nolan says. “We’re dealing with human nature from two perspectives. One, from the perspective of humans who have been ushered into a space that operates under the Vegas principle of, ‘What happens in Westworld stays in Westworld.’ Which is a catchy slogan but a truly evil idea.”
This quote from the show runner is what plays throughout the first season in a variety of characters but perhaps none more clearly than the character called “The Man in Black” played by Ed Harris. The “Man in Black” is a guest who’s been visiting Westworld for more than 30 years now. He has uncovered all of its narratives, and has reigned his desires all over the hosts. He murders, rapes, and manipulates at will, but after 30 years he desires to uncover the inner-workings behind Westworld. Although he gets what he wants, he is a man haunted by the virtual landscape of Westworld. The theme park has taken his sanity and has lead him to search for a desire that has yet to be quenched.
This leads us to another one of the show’s central themes which is a commentary on our society’s greed and never endless search for more. For decades audiences have been treated with tales of artificial intelligence and virtual reality mixing to create a world of chaos. Sci-fi thrillers such as Blade-runner, and Terminator have forewarned in advance that artificial intelligence is something to tread lightly upon. Westworld on the other hand reverses the roles and places humans in the role of the villain. It explores the hybrid topic of artificial intelligence and virtual reality at much more depth than anything we’ve seen before. It begs the question: Will we ever stop wanting more?
Westworld comes at a pivotal time in our history as we rapidly advance towards new ways of experiencing virtual reality.The world speaks to our generation’s desire to feel, and experience a perfect simulation of the human existence in a virtual world that we can actually control. After the show’s first season, we can confidently say that Westworld is HBO’s new Game of Thrones that will have audiences captivated for years to come.