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Westworld's Anatomy

All the inspirations behind the series

Westworld's Anatomy All the inspirations behind the series

It took only a couple of episodes to call it a masterpiece.

They called it the new Games of Thrones, but also "a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin."

What are we talking about? About Westworld, of course, HBO's tv series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and produced by JJ Abrams.

The project, based on the feature film written and directed by Michael Crichton in 1973 – in which the term "computer virus" appeared for the first time – is a sci-fi western full of quotes, tributes and references. Across the episodes broadcasted so far (in Italy by Sky Atlantic), you see the echo of cults like Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, Asimov and Dick, as well as of video games like Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock.

The show's built around an impressive, labyrinthine architecture, full of clues, questions and references, which together draw a complex plot, almost a journey through sex and violence between the instincts and desires of human beings, but also a reflection on what we call entertainment and the true concept of humanity.

Over $100 million of budget and a stellar cast including, among the others, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris and James Marsden, mixed with a taut, exciting and unpredictable script are the premises of an announced success.

The story of Westworld? The future. In a western theme park a population of androids (the "hosts"), created and controlled by programmer Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and by founder Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), bends to the will and wishes of the guests (the "newcomers") arrived in Sweetwater city to live an adventure without limits. Here, between sex and death, people unleash their worst instincts, while the robots, like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden) continue to live the same day over and over again (like in the movie Groundhog Day) in the illusion of a perfect Old West traced on the films of Sergio Leone and on typical imagery of the West in the mid-nineteenth century, unaware of their non-human status.

Until, one day, this artificial ecosystem cracks...


FEEL LIKE: Leonardo da Vinci, Hieronymus Bosch

Westworld is more than just a TV series. It's a full-length movie in episodes that hides an intricate labyrinth of quotations, influences, inspirations from literature, video games, music and art.

The homage to Leonardo da Vinci, in particular to his sketches, it's evident from the very first shots. His Vitruvian Man, representation of a man with the ideal proportions, becomes the perfect base for the 3D apparatus from which the androids arise as an improved elaboration of the human figure.

If the Tuscan genius embodied by Dr Robert Ford, who, like Da Vinci, not only shapes the hosts but also believes he's making art, breaking the boundaries, the work of Hieronymus Bosch permeates the park's artificial ecosystem, turning it into a futuristic "The Garden of Earthly Delights".

With its scenes of paradise full of earthly delights, nude figures, fantastical animals and luxuriant plants that turn into hell, the famous triptych of the "painter of the Devil" (nickname given to the artist for his paintings full of nightmarish details) mirrors the world of robots, an apocalyptic chaos created to satisfy any guests' wish, even the most shady.

The parallel with Bosch is so clear that it also earned a mention in the second episode. Near the end of "Chestnut" Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the narrative director Westworld, presenting his new storyline, a great adventure where visitors will face hordes of Native American, defines it so terrifying that it would "make Hieronymus Bosch look like he was doodling kittens" and continues "I have vivisection, self-cannibalism, a special level, something I call the Horroborous. I don’t want to be immodest, but this is the apex of what the park can provide. Horror. Romance. Titillation".



For costume designer Ane Crabtree, Westworld was a unique challenge. The woman, famous for her work in tv series like Masters of Sex and Justified, this time had to design the wardrobe of a dystopian future in western style, in addition to modern clothing for the park's staff and Ford, always wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch, who, like a bridge between the present and the past, with his look mirrors what is happening in Westworld.

Crabtree has found inspiration in the German Bauhaus movement and in the 90s collection of Prada, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan for the staff, while for the others she was inspired by the nostalgic vision of the American Wild West as portrayed in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and in the latest trend that she defined "Victoriana meets Western gunslinger", viewed at Stella McCartney, Chloé, Marni, Valentino, Balmain and Ralph Lauren's fashion shows.

The biggest obstacle? Finding the textiles. When it wasn't possible, the designer recreated them by using 3D printers. This technique was crucial for example for Dolores' blue dress, considered by many as a reference to Alice in Wonderland.


THINK LIKE: William Shakespeare

If we talk about robots and sci-fi we immediately think of writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick, but, although without their works Westworld probably wouldn't even exist, the most quoted author in the whole series is William Shakespeare.

Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum), Dolores's father, often recites Shakespeare's verses, printed in his memory since his previous life as a professor. He whispers to her daughter "these violent delights have violent ends", a phrase taken from Romeo and Juliet, but also "Hell is empty and all the devils are here" from The Tempest, while in the final shot of the first episode talking to Dr Ford he mixes parts of King Lear ("When we are born, we cry That we are like / to this great internship of fools", "I will have such revenges on you both. What they are yet I know not, but they Shall be the terrors of the earth"), Henry IV ("by most mechanical and dirty hand"), and a line of Gertrude Stein "rose is a rose is a rose", referring to Juliet and the idea that a person’s name shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t change who they are.


SOUND LIKE: The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black

Westworld's soundtrack is curated by Ramin Djawadis, who also worked on Prison Break, Person of Interest, and Games of Thrones.

His music is like a bonus to an already exciting series, the gem that makes already full of pathos scenes shine even brighter.

"The show has an anachronistic feel to it. It's a Western theme park, and yet it has robots in it, so why not have modern songs? And that's a metaphor in itself, wrapped up in the overall theme of the show" explains the composer.

Thus, the saloon is permeated by the notes of Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash, Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, No Surprises by Radiohead and Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones, which accompanies the spectacular entry of Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro)'s gang, a dark shadow that surrounds the city between bullets and blood.




LOVE LIKE: Thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment

"It's not television, it's HBO."

That's the slogan of the tv channel that broadcasts Westworld, always a guarantee of quality and extraordinary products – and the same applies to this new series.

The show goes beyond being a mere TV project and it becomes, as Mary McNamara, one of the most appreciate American television critics, Pulitzer winner in 2015, wrote in the Los Angeles Times "a great, multilayered tapestry of action and unexpected analysis made hypnotic by creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy [...] It isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment."

Everything works in first season's 10 episodes.

The actors are all talented, form the veteran Anthony Hopkins to the young Evan Rachel Wood, perfect in the role of the robot sliding to human. Nolan with talent turn a story in which the hosts acquire humanity into one that tells how men have lost their own. The music, popular rock songs by Soundgarden, Radiohead and the Rolling Stones are the twist to an almost perfect series.