Westworld Bits: Showrunner Interviews, Behind-the-Scenes Videos, and Fascinating Theories and Philosophizing
Posted on Thursday, October 13th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
You know something is good when it ends up getting its own “Bits” feature on /Film. So, welcome to Westworld Bits! In this edition:
- Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy discuss the second episode.
- A new gallery of images from episode three, “The Stray.”
- An HBO featurette explores the nature of our relationship to A.I.
- Breaking down the opening titles with one of the people in charge of creating them.
- Two new posters from New York Comic-Con.
- One of the most fascinating takes on the show’s philosophy yet.
- Westworld is also proving itself to be a hit overseas.
Westworld was a smash hit with American audiences, giving HBO one of its strongest debuts shows in years. Now, it seems that the success is spreading to other markets as well. The Guardian reports that the series had the strongest debut yet for Sky Atlantic in the U.K., surpassing shows like Game of Thrones and Fortitude. The article notes that the number of viewers for the first episode is also expected to increase in the coming days:
However, in an indication of how rapidly viewing habits are changing, the bulk of Westworld’s viewers tuned in after it was first broadcast either recorded or on-demand, with just 448,000 watching live. The total number of viewers for Westworld in the first week is likely to increase further as Sky’s Now TV and and Sky Go app are not included in the catchup figures.
The series still has a way to go before it can match Game of Thrones‘ regular numbers, but it’s a start.
Entertainment Weekly spoke with Westworld showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about the second episode of the series, “Chestnut.” Although they dive into every corner of the episode, I appreciated this quote from Nolan about introducing new versions of the original 1973 movie’s lead characters in the second hour rather than the first:
We wanted to get that perspective in the show. We wanted to start with the hosts, make it clear where our allegiance lies. They’re very different characters than the original film. But since the Western is such an inherently male fantasy, when we thought about whose perspective we wanted to come into this park through, the idea of two bachelors like in the original film seemed perfect.
“Where our allegiance lies” is a very interesting phrase and suggests that the inevitable robot uprising will be presented in a far more sympathetic light than in the original movie. Meanwhile, Joy spoke about Westworld reflecting the ongoing evolution of video games and the violence within them, a subject I tackled in my recap this week:
People are very accustomed to playing a video game and plowing down a bunch of other characters in it and cheering because that’s how you win. But as the visuals become more and more sophisticated, you start to feel empathy, and it could get harder and harder to shoot – and should it? We’ve been looking at VR and it’s a whole new level of immersion. Watching it in a virtual reality environment it made me feel more morally complicit in my actions. Even if the characters are not entirely lifelike, what does it say about you that you can abandon yourself to the nihilistic act of destruction. It’s becoming a more relevant question.
You can (and should) read the whole interview at the link above.
HBO has released a new Westworld featurette titled “Reality of A.I.” and it’s far better than the simple puff piece you’re probably expecting. The four-minute video finds the cast and crew of the series discussing the technology and philosophy at the heart of the series. Questions like “Who are the real monsters?” and “What is our responsibility to educate artificial intelligences?” are brought up. Dark futures are pondered. Creepy footage from future episodes is teased. This is the rare promo video that actually feels like it’s helping to create a proper conversation about the show it’s advertising.
As much as I love reading fan theories digging into Westworld‘s various plot-driven mysteries, I’m even more in love with the philosophical discussions it is inspiring. Take this article published over at the Daily Grail, which suggests that the series is Gnostic parable. In short:
Gnosticism holds that, rather than Earth being the perfect creation of a supreme being, we are instead living in a prison of sorts, created by an impostor: ‘the Demiurge’, a lesser deity than the true God. Escape from this realm is through a process of awakening to this fact, or gnosis (‘knowledge’). Or to put it simply: questioning the nature of your reality.
And in not-so-short:
But is Dr. Robert Ford (wonderfully played by Anthony Hopkins) the Demiurge, or is it perhaps more the Delos corporation that runs the theme park (which, we learn from dialogue in this episode, has greater plans for robotic AI than just a theme park)? Ford at times comes across rather sympathetically in episode one (though other moments in the trailer perhaps not so much); he seems to feel some kin to his creations and perhaps, as he nears the end of his own life, he desires to put the spark of free will into the robots. Hence the ‘Reveries’ that are programmed into the new, problematic update – gestures and mannerisms that are based on deep memories that the Hosts’ conscious mind cannot supposedly access. While their inclusion is, at face value, meant to make them look more human, are they actually the key to making them human (whether purposefully, or purely as an accident)?
Make sure you click the link above to read through the whole thing. Even if you don’t agree with this reading of the show, I love that Westworld can inspire this kind of writing.