by Steve Lancaster 6/13/17
Asimov’s three rules of robotics: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. • 2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. • 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
For over 50 years the notion in science fiction writing is that technology would advance far enough and fast enough to accept the creation of truly artificial intelligent forms that mimic natural life. The next step was: What happens when that life form becomes sentient? Terminator demonstrates one of the answers.
In 1973, the original movie, Westworld, was released with Yul Brynner as the robotic man in black. In this incarnation, the man in black is Ed Harris. He is human but he is a seeker, looking for answers where there may not be any. A lot has changed from the ’73 movie. The technical effects and CGI are smoother and the blending from set to outdoors and back is almost flawless. Most of the outdoor shots were in Monument Valley. The ’73 movie was mostly an action/adventure with a science fiction overlay. This Westworld is psychological and deals with questions of reality, what is or who is G-d and the essence of creation.
HBO’s Westworld is written, and sometimes directed, by Jonathan Nolan who is one of the most talented of the new group of writer/directors in television and movies. Along with his brother, Christopher, he captures a visual and intellectual quality that has been lacking in movies for a long time. The Batman trilogy is the most notable.
The series focusses around Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the farm girl, and her continuing enlightenment as guided by Bernard Lowe (Jeffery Wright), the creator of the park, and director Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Bernard discovers his identity in the process. He is also a robot, programmed by Dr. Ford to resemble a long-deceased partner of Dr. Ford. He has a human lover who is unaware of his robotic status.
The park itself is intended for rich vacationers, costing thousands per day, and allows the visitors every debauchery imaginable. Murder, rape and pillage are at the top of the list. And because no living human is harmed, only robots, it is encouraged as part of the experience for the guests — an opportunity to discover who they really are.
Each day the robots are reconditioned and sent out on the same loop for another group of visitors. The robots are programmed to make minor adjustments to the basic story line in their programming to accommodate guests’ desires. Dolores is always the innocent farm girl, and Teddy Flood (James Marsden), the cowboy in love with her. He gets killed almost every time, and Dolores gets raped on a regular basis. This is not Country Bear Jamboree.
However, as the story line progresses, the robots, owing to stimulus from Dr. Ford, begin to develop consciousness and memories of their environment and the limitations of the park. They begin to be cognizant that they are faster, smarter, and stronger than the visitors that they die to entertain. This is the point that some serious philosophical and theological thought on the part of the viewer is required.
The first concept the series must deal with: What is life? Science fiction writers have been dealing with this as long as there has been science fiction: Asimov and his robot novels and short stories, and Phillip K. Dick in, Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, AKA Blade runner. The robots of Westworld do not seem to be hard-programmed to follow Asimov’s three laws, and as the series progresses some of them achieve a degree of cognizance of their environment and the limitations of their programming. Not only do they pass the Turing test for sentient life but they begin to question the wisdom and goals of their creator.
All of this calls into question the relationship between humanity and the Creator. For casual Christians and non-Christians that relationship is, at best, problematic. For Orthodox Christians, especially evangelicals, it is close to heresy. Dr. Ford is G-d for the robots. He decides how long they live, their function in life, their culture, and their sexual orientations.
The question the robots face is whether or not to obey Dr. Ford as a primary command. But within that command is a yearning for freedom. That yearning is also part of Dr. Ford’s program. And, the question that is begged in the last episode is: Is Dr. Ford Human? We should ask ourselves what is freedom and who gets it. Additionally, as humans, what is our relationship with the Creator? Westworld is a challenge to many accepted norms. But if we do not ask these questions of ourselves and G-d, are we truly free?