“I think for us [that is] the beginning of the invitation of the film,” Nolan says. “That tension there of, well, what if the story spills it’s bounds and escapes into the real world. What does that real world look like?”
The show’s third season launches two major story arcs, one which takes place outside the park, following awakened host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) as she explores neo-Los Angeles in 2058; and the other following another host, Maeve (Thandie Newton), to a new part of the Delos resort, set during World War II.
“The blueprint from the beginning was [that] the hosts are going to explore this beautiful world and then they’re going to burn it down and escape, so part of the conversation when we pitched the pilot to HBO, was that they said, great, but then what?” Nolan says.
“And we said, then Delores escapes and she goes looking to rain misery down on the people who persecuted her,” he adds. “We we get to see what that world looks like. So in agreeing to do a western, we had simultaneously also agreed to do an action movie set in the future, and all of the other genres that are built into the original movie.”
Crichton’s original film gave the audience glimpses of three parks – Western World, Medieval World and Roman World – “so there was an invitation from the beginning to create a cascade of different levels of reality, some of them artificial, some of them virtual, some of them real,” Nolan says.
“But even the real ones have become somewhat curated by this point, so for us as filmmakers, that was an incredible opportunity and challenge,” he says. “We felt from the beginning that we wanted to make a show that invented itself and re-invented itself when it got the opportunity, in line with this idea of a group of artificial people who are trapped and who escaped.”
That said, Nolan notes, “we are well beyond the scope of the original film. There are sequels to the original film, which I have never seen, which at some point when we’re all said and done, we’ll go back and watch. We’re in kind of uncharted waters for us, for the cast, for the crew. This is taking Crichton’s ideas and expanding them into our vision of where we think the future is headed.”
One of the show’s key themes – how a personality is essentially reduced to an algorithm and fed by data – is already here, the show’s co-producer Lisa Joy says.
“We are in it,” she says. “In the show, the way in which data is used, it’s beneath the surface of society. People kind of know it’s there, but they choose to ignore it a little bit, even though they know that they’re being monitored.
“Much in the same way we go about our daily lives with and all of these things listening in and with apps that track our movements and project them to people, health apps that monitor our very heartbeats, and social media apps that tell you exactly who our network’s companions are and what kind of interactions we have with them.
“You can create a very holistic profile of a person who is even a casual technology user through our current technologies,” Joy says, adding that “you don’t even have to be a direct user of those technologies to be mapped. Even the absence of you can be mapped. If you have friends who are tagging you in something, when you are not on that app itself, they can feel the kind of person you would be and infer your preferences.”
The complex aftermath of that, Nolan says, will come to play in the upcoming US election. And can be seen in the response to the Coronavirus crisis. “It’s a f-cking disaster,” Nolan says. “You’ve seen it coming, they’ve done f–k all to prevent it [and] half of us are denying that it’s a problem. And it’s true, I think there’s an awful lot of propaganda pulling in all sorts of different directions.
Edward Bernays, who invented the field of public relations but also invented modern propaganda, “would have had a field day with the technologies that we have created,” Nolan adds.
“[But] I think he would also have been horrified. As a profound thinker, I think Bernays would have been horrified by what we’ve done, he would have said, okay, too far, too much, wind it back. The sad thing is all of these things are technologies that are about humans yearning to interact with each other.”
Westworld is on Fox Showcase, Monday, 11am.
Michael Idato is the culture editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.