Doesn't Anything Work Around Here?: Westworld (1973)

While I intend to include one highly experimental western, as well as an acid western in this month of movies devoted to one of cinema's classic and severely under seen genres, I am quite certain that Westworld will prove to be the biggest stretch in terms of falling within the confines of the genre.  Of course, it does have a heavy western feel and centrally exists within the landscape of the traditional west, it is primarily a science fiction feature, therefore, affording it the opportunity to expand beyond this space, to which it does with great pleasure.  Again, it is a sci-fi film at heart, but given that it is decidedly centered in creating the world of the western, I would suggest that Westworld, at the very least does for the period piece, what Cabin in the Woods did for horror films, or considering that it was written and directed by Michael Crichton it would be just as easy to suggest that this is a sort of Jurassic Park version 1.0, although I would contest that the believability is slightly higher in this setting, especially since it involves robots and the false safety individuals place within their control over machines, as opposed to a dangerous landscape occupied by genetic recreations of some of the most ferocious and dangerous beasts to ever roam Earth.  Much like other sci-fi classics that consider the role that artificial intelligence will play within the future and what threats are faced when the machines move closer to sentience and an understanding of their role, of course, Westworld exists in multiple fabrications of fantasy worlds, but Crichton, who both wrote and directed this film seems to be doing something particularly intriguing by focusing primarily on the wild west in his narrative, considering why somebody would decidedly travel to such an unruly and dangerous world, further extending an inquiry as to why viewers desire the decidedly violent, unruly world of the western for escapism, as such becoming a meta-cinematic reflection on the very nature of viewership and gazing on the threat of death in a vicarious desire.  Westworld, like many classic genre films, manages to exist in a perfect space between various genres, subsequently, becoming a hybrid of all that is great about science fiction, westerns and to a brief degree horror films.

Westworld focuses on a time not too far in the future where the wealthy are afforded the opportunity to spend their money to escape to vacation spots not of exotic beaches or isolated mountain peaks, but, instead; of past worlds with a certain degree of intangible lure.  In this world a person with enough money can go to either the hyper decadent Romanworld and engage in various forms of condoned debauchery, or they can go to the lavish and extravagent Medieval world to engage in their fantastic whims of being royalty.  A third option exists for the particularly daring who seek a world of constant threat and danger in Westworld, a recreation of the desolate and wild world of the American west.  Two friends John (James Brolin) and Peter (Richard Benjamin) decide to engage in this trip based on John's assurance that it is a great experience and completely harmless, in fact, John confesses that he feels it to be the perfect opportunity for Peter to move on past his recent divorce.  Once in Westworld John and Peter engage in all the vices offered in the historical west, whether it be whisky or prositutes, however, this is not before Peter has a run-in with Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), to which he kills, realizing the power he has as a tourist in a world of cyborgs.  After this shootout, Peter and John move through Westworld with a carefree attitude enjoying their vacation in what is essentially a sanitized version of the past.  The film occasionally cuts to one man's vacation in Medievalworld, where he finds himself engaging in a relationship with a young chambermaid, although it appears as though the cyborgs begin going against orders.  At this point the narrative exposes the world behind the simulacrums, where scientist run through algorithms and tests to assure safety, stating specific concern for a recent spike in robots going against orders.  After a flat out refusal to briefly shut down the resort things take a particular turn for the worse when Gunslinger emerges again and kills John in cold blood, going against his orders completely.  This falling apart occurs simultaneously to the other worlds, even causing an electronics issue in the main room of the resort.  The breakdown leaves Peter solely on the run against Gunslinger a chase the breaks outside of Westworld and through the various other worlds, eventually leading to a final showdown with the robot which requires Peter to exploit his heightened technological features to destroy him a task that requires multiple fatal blows.  In the end, Peter has one final run-in with another non-threatening robot which causes him to reconsider his entire understanding of humanity, as well as its blind reliance on the good of technology.

Again, Westworld is not really a western primarily and is certainly concerned primarily with being a science-fiction centered consideration of the role technology plays in society and to what degree its reliance is productive and where to draw they line in regards to heavily exploiting its non-human nature, particularly in a highly destructive manner.  However, I am quite convinced that a second layer exists in which Crichton is considering what exactly draws humanity towards curiosity for the violent and unruly.  One could extend this critique in many different directions whether it be a direct attention placed on violence and war on television or a concern with physical violence in social settings, these considerations are certainly present in Westworld, but it is not unreasonable to think that the film also really wants to consider why a person seeks westerns as a form of escapism, particularly since, compared to other periods or fantastical settings they are particularly ripe with terror and danger.  The western film, to pull in a trope as planned, exists in a state of despair or sadness for most characters, whether it be isolation based paranoia or post-gold rush induced poverty all is rarely good in the world of the western, in which matters are only worsened when an individual is of a non-white race or non-male gender.  I would boldly posit that much of the enjoyment in the world of the western is its decided set of signifiers between good and evil as well as its embracing for the lack of certainty and understanding that chaos serves a better world model than oppressive regimentation.  The wealthy within the context of this film, as well as those who seek westerns as escapism, are attempting to grapple with their own existential issues about humanity and in the process seek the inherent seeming order and signifiers of authority or villainy which underlie even the most chaotic world of a western.  Suffice it to say, the western manages to be an insane whirlwind of a film genre, while also managing to create rather clear borders on ethical questions, even in the most antiquated of sense.  While I am fully aware that westerns are loved by many ages, there is a particular age group that seems to absolutely adore them, whose young life was inevitably defined by the trouble good guy making sense of a chaotic world, something they perhaps brought along with themselves to their adult lives, applying it to their psychological and philosophical world view.

Key Scene:  The last fight between Peter and Gunslinger is intense and has a ton of jump moments, proving to be a great closing element to an all-around solid film.

This is an excellent movie and well worth nabbing and the bluray while a bit pricy is worth the investment.

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