Westworld premiered this week on HBO, and I very much enjoyed the first episode of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy Nolan‘s expensive and beautiful small screen adaptation. But I was left with many questions, though not many of the plot-specific mysteries that Jacob Hall brings up in his extensive Westworld spoiler review. I’m more interested in his first question: How does this park actually operate?
I Have a Lot of Westworld Logistical Questions
I was left wondering about the nerdy logistics of how such a “theme park” operates. Does the park shut down when it’s getting refreshed? What happens to the guests during this time? Where is that backstage headquarters located? How big is this western expanse? How is it that the guns work in this park? As a Disneyland fanatic, I tend to find myself sucked into the question of how it all actually works.
When I was on the set of Jurassic World, I kept asking questions about the film’s fictional theme park as if it were a real place. I loved the in-depth answers from the producers as to how the gyrospheres worked because it seemed like every piece of the park had an explanation and was engineered to work on a real level.
Jonathan Nolan, who has written some of his brother Christopher Nolan’s best films, seems to keep things grounded in reality even when dealing with big complex science fiction ideas. The showrunner told us that he tends “to prefer film or TV where I’m allowed as an audience member to do some of the math myself.”
At the same time, I also like stuff that’s layered and dense. We knew we wanted to tell a complicated story, but we also knew from the beginning, when J.J. first approached us for the project, his suggestion had been to consider the perspectives of the hosts. We took that suggestion and ran a country mile with it, up to and including and turning inside out the entire narrative where we could.
Lisa Joy says they have thoroughly mapped out the rules of this park, although we should not expect too much of it to be spelled out in the series:
Though we don’t explicitly address rules that much within the episodes, there is certainly an underlying rule set. The reason you don’t explicitly address them is because we’re trying to root it in the hosts’ point of view and gradually come to understand how the world works with them, to be mystified by it sometimes but then to realize the underlying logic of it becomes clear.
So I’m sure they have answers to everything, some of which we may learn in this upcoming season, others which may never be directly answered on screen. I went in search for the answers through many interviews with the Westworld showrunners and here is what I found.
How Do the Guns Work?
In Westworld, the park guests can kill the hosts with their guns, but the gunfire from the hosts seem to have very little impact on the guests. This makes sense as you wouldn’t want to have your theme park attractions killing the visitors like in Michael Crichton’s other creation Jurassic Park. But how do the guns work in the reality of the world within the series?
Jonathan Nolan has explained that “It’s not the guns, it’s the bullets.”
We thought a lot about this. In the original film, the guns won’t operate guest on guest, but we felt like the guests would want to have a more visceral experience here. So when they’re shot it has sort of the impact. They’re called simunitions. The U.S. military trains with rounds like the ones we’re talking about. But there’s a bit of an impact, a bit of a sting. So it’s not entirely consequence-free for the guests.
So this explains why we do see a BB-gun type impact on the guests. But the real question is, what’s to stop one of the hosts from taking one of the guest’s guns and using the real ammo?
What Year Is This Anyway?
Jonathan Nolan reveals in a behind-the-scenes video that the series takes place in the 21st century. But how far into the future? We don’t know. Nolan told EW that the setting outside of the Westworld park is “something for the audience to discover” so I’m sure we’ll find out more as the season plays out.
One character in Westworld claims he has been a customer for 30 years (he comes off like one of the many entitled Disneyland Annual Passholders, referred to by some cast members as “Passholes”), but it seems as if the park has existed for longer than that. Nolan has compared the park to Disneyland in the press, saying that he imagines that in the world of their show, “Westworld has become an institution, a place that people can come to, and they bring their kids back to.”
78-year-old Anthony Hopkins plays a character named Dr. Robert Ford, the creative director, chief programmer, and founder of the park. You might think this give us some clues to the park’s age. However, later in the 21st century, they may have discovered the keys to extending life, so his appearance might not be so telling. Remember, Ford says that humanity can now “cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive.”