Brief Thoughts on Westworld (1970's version) and the HBO Show
Recently I watched the film Westworld (1973) with Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. The film is about a theme park of sorts in which people pay $1,000 a night to visit and fully live in one of three parks: Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld.
Much like Las Vegas, visitors to these parks can indulge in any desires and fantasies they have, ranging from participating in a drunken fight in the saloon, a gun-slinging duel, to a night with a lady (who's definitely not your wife). The best thing about the park: you can't get hurt. Wink. Wink.
I sat down a couple of weeks ago and watched this film for a number of reasons.
FIRST, J.J. Abrams has been producing (executive producer) an HBO TV show with the same title that is incredibly popular and has already been nominated for three Golden Globe awards. The show is based off of the 1973 film.
SECOND, Westworld (1973) was written and directed by Michael Crichton who wrote well-known thrillers such as the Jurassic Park novel series. I enjoyed his novel Jurassic Park as well as the film adaptations of it.
FINALLY, Jurassic Park and Westworld (1973) are cautionary tales, stories about the misuse of technology and man's desire to play "god." Crichton's use of the science fiction genre (with a tad of the horror genre) in many ways overlaps with Scripture's call for wisdom and discernment using fear to warn us. It also teaches pretty strongly that man should not be able to indulge any fantasy or desire he has.
>> WHEN CAUTIONARY LOOSES ITS CAUTION
I was drawn to the HBO reboot because I like J.J. Abram's work, but I soon realized that the show wasn't for me. While it was beautifully filmed and no doubt engaging, it no longer felt like a cautionary tale. I decided to watch a 12-minute overview of the entire show (a couple seasons) and this affirmed my hunch.
Abram's show (it's not just his...there are a lot of producers and writers including Jonathan Nolan) may still be a cautionary tale...if you look really hard, but it indulges so heavily and graphically in the fact that Westworld is an opportunity to indulge your flesh that you're left thinking...if you're honest with yourself...that this world still sounds appealing.
Proverbs speaks about the adulteress, even about her allure, but at the end you're left in horror. This Scriptural book emphasizes that the momentary "pleasure" is not worth the "sting" that comes and lasts afterwards. Abram's show diminishes the "sting" by over-emphasizing the "pleasure."
In Crichton's 1973 film, there was much, much less of this. Yes, there were some sexual scenes that I skipped and others should as well, but pretty quickly the film helps you experience the consequences (or "sting") of indulging your deep, secret, unjudged fantasies.
There's a reason we shouldn't do anything we want! Of course, the dramatic irony of the film is that you really can get hurt in this "utopia." I might even venture to say that the film shows "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23)...or at least lots of pain.
>>DIFFICULTY WARNING US
One reason why I sense Abram's show has departed from this message is because our present postmodern world lacks the moral conviction and (philosophical and, especially, theological) grounding to warn us about how to live. And when it does warn us, it comes off us as mighty inconsistent.
I can't say that I really recommend Westworld (1973), even though its concept is intriguing and thought-provoking. But, Christians, I strongly warn you against Abrams' very HBO-ish adaptation. Any thing this show may offer that is true or interesting is overshadowed by its dance in graphic fleshly indulgence.
So, let us continue seeking to approach all stories with wisdom and discernment for the glory of God and our joy in his Son.
Dane is president of Stage & Story and cast chaplain at LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, CA.