HBO’s Popular New Drama ‘Westworld’ and its Provocative Plot 🚂🛤🌵🐎🎬

“These violent delights have violent ends.” ~ Peter Abernathy

Like millions of other viewers over the past few weeks, I’ve been gripped by HBO’s latest drama ‘Westworld’, based on the eponymous 1973 film by writer and director Michael Crichton.

Trailer for the original film with Yul Brynner:

The current Westworld airing on HBO differs in plot and characterisations compared to its earlier, less sophisticated film version, but the premise is basically the same: for an exorbitant sum guests can enter a futuristic wild west theme park where there are no rules, to live out their wildest fantasies.

In Westworld they can maim, kill, rape and plunder at will and without consequences. The murdered and brutally raped inhabitants of Westworld are the creations of Dr. Robert Ford (played chillingly by Anthony Hopkins), co-founder of the park, and are designed to be indistinguishable from humans. Their technology has created highly sophisticated organic robots, programmed with certain memories and narratives that serve the human guests.

These humanoids are referred to by the park’s creators and programmers as ‘hosts’.

Dolores Abernathy

In the first episode we are acquainted with the pretty, sweet-natured Dolores Abernathy, (Evan Rachel Wood), and her loving rancher father. Dolores was the very first host made for Westworld; always youthful and unspoilt, thanks to her constant repairs and ‘upgrades’ after each episode of rough treatment she suffers at the hands of the park’s guests.

We see her going through the same motions at the start of each day, but how each day goes depends on her interactions with the human guests in the park. Her mutual affection for fellow host Teddy, (played by the handsome James Marsden), draws you in to the one beautiful aspect of her world. At first, despite the violence she witnesses on a daily basis and the rapes that she has endured, she does not appear to recall these harrowing incidents.

Or does she?

As glitches are becoming apparent in some of the hosts’ programming they are promptly questioned and either returned with adjustments or taken out of service.

Despite the staff’s efforts to curtail these glitches they only seem to become more widespread and frequent. Trouble is brewing in Westworld…

One of the most harrowing scenes for me was in episode 3 when Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), who is currently the madam of the brothel, awakens during her repairs. She sees strange men in hazmat suits hovering over her, gets up and runs off with the wound in her stomach still unrepaired, staggering around the factory in confusion. To make matters worse she stumbles upon the naked, lifeless bodies of her fellow hosts that were also slaughtered in Westworld as they are being hosed down.

It seems she cannot compute what is happening as it is so alien to her normal world. When back in operation within Westworld she begins to draw the hazmat men on pieces of paper to try and make sense of it.

Maeve also has other distressing memories of being scalped and being killed in other settings away from her current role. It’s not easy viewing.

Although you know she and her fellow machines are not human – Dr. Ford makes a big point of telling Bernard not to forget that they are ‘not real’, you start to feel for them as though they were.

In episode 3 Robert Ford tells Bernard (his chief programmer), the story of his original business partner Arnold, who helped him to create Westworld some thirty years prior. Arnold perished in the park under mysterious circumstances, and we learn from the rather cold and detached Ford that Arnold became too attached to the park and obsessed with being able to help the hosts experience consciousness in a similar way that a human being would.

Rather cruel when you witness the atrocities they go through every day. The internal monologue he tried to imbue them with did not appear to succeed, until now perhaps… I’m sure his motives and fate will become clearer as the series progresses.

utah-landscape

But with errant hosts and even innocent Dolores showing signs of cognition and questioning of her reality, you just know that, along the lines of the original film, the ‘hosts’ are going to rebel against their treatment sooner or later!

The hosts are unable to hurt or kill any of the human guests, but I’m not sure this will remain the case for long. And you can’t help thinking that the guests deserve whatever retribution is forthcoming from the hosts.

Newcomer William (unlike his friend, seasoned park visitor Logan), seems to be the only decent guest in the park who wants to stay true to himself and uphold his values. The park is billed as a place where guests can explore their deepest, darkest desires whilst acting in their chosen story lines and scenarios, and in most cases the free reign to do as they please in Westworld, with no repercussion, brings out the very worst in them!

The most enigmatic human guest in the park is the ‘man in black’ (played to perfection by Ed Harris), a veteran of 30 years in Westworld. In the first few episodes he comes across as pretty ruthless, but now I’m starting to suspect there is more to him than meets the eye and his agenda clearly goes beyond personal gratification. He does not act as a friend to the hosts, but could he really be on their side?

Behind the scenes look at Westworld:

It’s brutal, tender, intelligent, character driven and thought provoking; a great mix of sci-fi and good old western mixed into a mind-bending thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Artificial intelligence going wrong isn’t a new idea in films, although I think the original 1973 film must have been quite ground-breaking in its day, but the moral questions it raises are very pertinent to society.

I think that was the genius of Michael Crichton. He makes you think.

Is it okay to act in a way that you never normally would, in a setting that allows depraved fantasies of every kind to be played out?

Even though these interactions are with robots, they look and react like humans, and surely it begs the question that if you indulge in your absolute worst behaviour, it is going to affect you on some level.

There has been debate over whether the prevalence of violent video games adversely affects players and therefore makes them more prone to acts of violence. Imagine being immersed in a real world and acting in the same manner…

The insidious premise behind the park is pandering to the wealthy and morally corrupt guests of Westworld. If you wouldn’t do it to a real person, why do it to a robot that may possibly develop the senses to experience pain and suffering?

It’s a pretty compelling drama, and no doubt the lack of ethics at the heart of the park will ultimately cause the hosts to exact a bloody revenge!

I’m going to end with the opening credits, which are also brilliant and eerily congruent with the theme of artificial intelligence, violence and suspense:

“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.” ~ Dr. Robert Ford

Thoughts on Nature Vs. Nurture

Prospero: A devil, a born devil on whose nature Nurture can never stick, on whom my pains, Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. And as with age his body uglier grows, So his mind cankers. I will plague them all, Even to roaring. ~ William Shakespeare (The Tempest).

We can thank Shakespeare for the concept of nature and nurture, as elucidated by Prospero in The Tempest about the ‘foul’ Caliban.

George Romney - William Shakespeare's The Tempest - Act 1, Scene 1

George Romney – William Shakespeare’s The Tempest – Act 1, Scene 1

During my recent author interview with Viv Oyolu at Dream Corner – which gives inspiring women a voice – we talked about my novel, The Virtuoso, life and dreams. Towards the end of the interview we discussed children and education, and Viv mentioned that as someone who doesn’t have kids she was able to look objectively at how parents raise their children.

family-holding hands

She mentioned the nature/nurture scenario and it got me thinking. The nature vs. nurture debate has long been hit about the court of public and professional opinion like an endless ping pong, so as a mum of four, with some experience of nurture, I thought I’d serve up my take on it.

From a maternal perspective nature deals the earthly hand, whereas nurture gives a helping, developing hand. It’s a team effort!

We’re born with specific physical attributes, personality traits, various talents, but our future success and happiness in the world depends largely on how nurture shapes and molds these raw ingredients that we have to work with.

dancing

Rather than asking which one is better, or which one has the most influence, I think we should consider the possibility that the two are co-dependent and therefore inextricably linked.

Max Macdowell explains the basic question of Nature Vs. Nurture:

It’s a complex interaction of genes and environment that shape who we are, and more importantly, who we can become. Nature without nurture and vice-versa means that we face greater challenges in reaching our true potential.

seven-psycho-perspect

Nurture can come from different sources, but early in life it’s predominantly from our parents or another caring adult.

I saw a fascinating and moving programme on BBC 4 Sunday evening about two identical Chinese girl twins. I missed the very start, but basically the two had been separated at birth and adopted in China at the same time by two different families, one living in Norway and the other in North America. The two families, (having met in China) only found out for sure that their adopted daughters were twin sisters six months after they have been caring for them.

Mia and Alexandra eventually met and got to know each other, distance and language challenges notwithstanding. Both are growing up in loving homes, albeit in different cultural and environmental circumstances, yet when visiting the other family their mothers noticed shared behavioural tendencies in the twin daughter.

A fun and interesting talk from experimental pyschologist, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, about his book, Human Nature and The Blank Slate, where he focuses on the arts and parenting:

Interestingly, British runner Mo Farah, now one of the most successful athletes in the world, has a twin brother in Somalia, who he used to race against as a child before he came to the UK. Mo didn’t always win. Today Mo’s brother is a car mechanic. He may be very happy with that, but it’s obvious that environment/nurture played a massive role in how their lives and careers diverged.

Trauma in childhood can be a massive hurdle to overcome. You may have great genes, but a terrible environment. How do some people achieve and emerge victorious from their circumstances, and yet others don’t?

Earlier this year I learned the story  of Mohed Altrad, which blew me away. I recommend you read his inspiring story: From Bedouin to Billionaire.

Here is an example of a young and vulnerable boy losing his mother in a cruel twist of fate, an outcast even among the Bedouins, yet he had the strength of character to understand that school would give him the nurture he needed to escape his environment. His story strongly supports my view that nurture can also be an inside job.

If you intend to nurture your abilities and dreams the people and circumstances who can help you will show up. It reminds me of this Zen proverb:

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

On the other side of the coin I’ve heard stories of child prodigies and young musicians in particular, (Mozart is the most famous example of this), who learnt one or more instruments at an early age. Many were propelled by their parents who recognised and encouraged their musical talent and actively supported them in attaining their musical goals. In Mozart’s case his nature trump card was a brilliant mind, but it’s unthinkable that he would have been the sensation he was without some serious nurturing from his family, (especially  his father Leopold), tutors as well as wealthy and influential patrons!

It’s the same with many achievers, whether they’re athletes, dancers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, actors and so on…they had teachers, coaches, supporters and benefactors.  I suppose the bottom line is, if you don’t have the genetic makeup (physique) to be an athlete, then no amount of coaching will get you the gold medal. It has to be a combination of both.

nature-vs-nurture

There are also stories of talented people not achieving all they could in life because they just didn’t develop resilience, persistence and self-belief, which to me is also product of nurture. Reading a book and learning from the author is nurture. You may not know that person, but they can still help you.

The backbone of being nurtured is being loved and cared for. It also encompasses education, home environment, a healthy diet, sleep, being out in nature, learning skills, enjoying hobbies, having a mentor and the desire for a better life.

But is there such a thing as negative nurture? You only have to study religious fanaticism to understand that the wrong kind of nurturing produces evil deeds.

Nature or Nurture? Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman explores the link between genes and poverty in studies of twins:

It seems to me they are surmising that the more nurture a person receives the more nature comes to the fore.

Yet the facts of Mohed Altrad’s life buck this trend. Whilst it seems fair to say that poverty radically decreases one’s chances of fully expressing inbuilt genetic benefits, the rags to riches stories mean you can’t write people off just because of their socioeconomic background. They have faced and overcome challenges that those in more privileged positions haven’t and so develop an inner strength that can influence everything.

Sheer intention, imagination, determination, faith and deeply felt dreams can surely elevate nature and provide nurture to any individual’s circumstances?

Sometimes a person can have everything going for them and still squander it all. Perhaps there is such a thing as too easy a life?!

Maybe there’s an extra dimension to this conundrum…

What about the human spirit/soul? Does it have a pre-set blueprint (Karma) for life on Earth? What if we assumed for a moment that it has a divine nature and exists beyond time and space? If it isn’t genetic, and it isn’t defined by its earthly environment, how does it interact in the trilogy of Spirit Vs. Nature Vs. Nurture?

I thought I’d share this wonderful lecture given by Professor Steve Jones at Gresham College, in which he explains about genes and environment and their interaction beautifully. Nature, Nurture or Neither? The View from the Genes:

In conclusion I feel I may have asked more questions than I answered! But to me, it seems that a human being born in good health, with properly functioning genes, but neglected as an infant without a shred of nurture will perish, just as an individual born without robust genetic material will either die or have health problems despite nurturing.

Ultimately, for a person blessed with a sound body and mind by nature and given enough of the right kind of nurture, the sky’s the limit!

The Game of Life – Exploring Consciousness, the Playing Field of the Human Condition

I know it sounds obvious, but by virtue of our humanity we are all playing the game of life, whether we think about it or not, in astonishing energetic interactions of cosmic proportions.

There’s a word in Sanskrit: SAT-CHIT-ANANDA

SAT:  the absolute being, the essence that is pure, timeless and never changes.

CHIT:  the true consciousness

ANANDA:  joyfulness and pure bliss.

Earth_Eastern_HemisphereSo, by Eastern philosophy there is nothing that is outside of us, for we are one with the universe. Everything is connected. We are the one energy that’s everywhere and aware of itself, in a state of bliss.

Perhaps somewhere along the way you asked yourself: Who am I? Why am I here? What does existence mean to me? These are the fundamental questions that most people want answers to.

Religion has tried to give us the answers. Some have postulated the doctrine that we must be ‘good’. Do not sin and the kingdom of heaven shall be yours.  These rules that have been set out for us are rather black and white, with no room for grey. The aim of the game of black and white is that white must win. The game of life is one of duality, and seeming opposites.

We all need to eat, sleep, love, work, play, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, so we all play the game… It’s up to us if we are a pawn, a bishop, a knight, a rook, a queen or a king!

Black and white, joy and sorrow, right and wrong, good and evil. However, every coin has two sides. You can’t know one without the other, as each gives context to the other. In order to play the game we create these separations of the mind. We decide our preferences as we go. Ideally we find balance and equilibrium somewhere in the middle.

Traditional religion has rather set us up to fail, because it’s impossible for white to always win. We’ve already established that you must play the game, but you can’t win it in the indoctrinated sense.  Sadly, some play too hard and decide to opt out before their game is up.  ,

We are straddling two worlds. Jesus told us, ‘You are in the world, but not of the world.’

circle of lifeThat is the conundrum of the human condition. The nature of our physicality means we have to separate things and events, and draw the boundaries for what’s me and what isn’t me. Doing this however, puts us between a rock and a hard place, because the polarity only exists in our minds.

Buying and selling, giving and receiving, hot and cold, living and dying are all one thing. Bees and flowers are not separate. They are an eco-system that can only survive with each other. You could argue they also need the soil, worms, microbes, water and sunshine.

Physics calls the ‘one thing’ the Unified Field. Humanity could be compared to billions of water droplets from the same ocean. Individual: yet made from the same ingredients and from the same source.

Dividing things is helpful from the point of view that it enables us to go about our daily lives, stay safe, and make choices. The downside is that we risk becoming too separated and feel either alienated or in opposition from others. Social conventions magnify these perceived separations.

“Our entire biological system, the brain and the earth itself, work on the same frequencies.” ~ Nicola Tesla

Oneness-ReflectionIf someone asked you, how big is the sun? What would you say? ‘Well, it’s a massive burning ball of gas in the sky,’ or you might even go as far as to say, ‘it’s the extent of its light.’  Yet again, you could say, ‘Its beams of light are still travelling millions and millions of light years away.’

In reality there are no separate events. When did you begin? Was it with your conception, or your birth? Or did you come into being when your parents met, or perhaps when their parents met and all your ancestors going back to the dawn of time…? Maybe our souls have never not existed? We have our ideas about reality that are convenient for us, but in reality everything is one thing.

Lovely poem by Simon Welsh – The Zero Point Field:

You cannot know what it’s like to feel good without having felt bad and vice versa.  We can do things so we feel good more often than we don’t (and who wouldn’t want to if they are a conscious being), but to deny that bad exists and to resist it sets us up for frustration and anxiety. This is when we have to be aware of what kind of game we are playing and not play so hard. It’s a choice how hard we play, but our awareness self regulates us if we know where to direct it. Watch with awareness how you divide your world into ‘this’ and ‘that’.

To resist reality only causes more suffering.  I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt on that one! To accept the full spectrum of what life immerses us in gives us the choice of how to react. If we are in sync with spiritual laws we will always feel that oneness that we pretend isn’t there. Have you ever had that complete and perfect feeling that you belong, that sense of connection with everything? However you are feeling right now is what oneness feels like. You can never-not be oneness. The whole spectrum of human emotion is how it feels.

To get past our minds which are conditioned to compartmentalise information is to get past resistance. Whoever wrote the script for Star Trek was a genius. “Resistance is futile.” Resisting life causes fear, anxiety, depression and alienation. Acceptance of ‘what is’ in the present moment is key.

mj-quote-swan-reflectionAttachments cause us suffering. But to be a human being means that we have attachments, (unless you are hermit). We all have attachments to people, to places, to things, to ideas. Life would be dull and boring without these attachments (I honestly don’t think we could live effectively without them), but the double-bind is that we must learn to relinquish them as and when the time comes. Whatever you love will change over time. That’s the root of our human condition. The question isn’t whether you are going to suffer, but how you deal with it.  There are times when we should all relax and play a softer version of our game.

From Harry Palmer’s book, Private Lessons:

“Adversarial games bring out the worst in human beings. Among successful adversarial traits are brutality, ruthlessness, deception, intolerance and exploitation. The resulting balance that adversaries create is more a wasteland of despair than fertile ground for life.

Inwardly the adversarial model is battle between desire and resistance, right and wrong, being a winner or a loser. The inner balance in an adversarial mind is stressful and unstable.

There must be a better way, and there is: Cooperation.

Let me offer you an ancient way of looking at opponents that does not lead to conflict. Think of opponents as depending upon each other. Instead of conflict, they complete each other. No up without down, no light without dark, no happiness without suffering… Everything has its season. When the competitive state of mind is honoured with trust and patience, it softens and comes to recognise the greater cycle of give and take.”

The brilliant author, journalist, researcher and lecturer Lynne McTaggart talks about the universe in an exceptional presentation that bridges science and spirituality at the LESA 2013 summit:

If we are not aware of the kind of game we are playing we react to situations by putting our stuff automatically either into the white pile or the black pile. When we are in the ‘witness mode’ we can observe how we create our personal game and adjust our strategy and the way we play accordingly.

Whilst we may have had to yield outwardly to worldly circumstance, we do not have to weaken inwardly.

“A Human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to enhance all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

You don’t need understanding to master the game of life. The only ingredient you need is awareness, which is our innate Self. May we all gain awareness of who we are behind the mask of mind.