Westworld Is Not About Androids. It's About Religion

Sunday, 09 October 2016 - 10:11PM
Westworld
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Sunday, 09 October 2016 - 10:11PM
Westworld Is Not About Androids. It's About Religion
When Westworld came out last week, I thought it was a well-acted, well-written, and sufficiently exciting show about androids—one that flipped the "robopocalypse" script by taking the androids' perspective. This was enough of a hook in itself, but after watching the first two episodes, it became clear that I was actually watching a different show entirely: an extended allegory about religion.

In the pilot episode, Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Ford, is introduced when the robots start having flashbacks to their previous configurations and displaying erratic behavior. It turns out that Ford has intentionally introduced code that produces these "reveries," and is well aware that they will likely cause very serious repercussions. When a colleague says the code is filled with "mistakes," Ford says ominously:

Opening quote
"You're a product of a trillion of them. Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool: the mistake."
Closing quote

Ford is even more explicit with his intentions later in the episode, when he defends his work with the androids because he's looking to imitate evolution and "create life." And then, when poor Abernathy starts glitching, he tells Ford that his new "drive" is to "meet his maker," meaning Ford. All the signs point to Ford attempting to become the Earth-bound version of a god by creating sentient beings that he can control and lord over (no pun intended).

It's nothing new for AI movies and TV shows to explore themes such as the godlike creation of intelligent life, the desire to destroy your own idols, and the notion that the definition of humanity involves some level of imperfection. However, Westworld isn't exploring these themes tangentially; they seem to be the entire raison d'être of the show. This becomes all the clearer at the end of the second episode, when Ford introduces a new storyline that he calls "quite original," one that involves crosses and a church.

It's still early in the season, but it very much appears that the entire show functions as an extended allegory for religion. Ford is, of course, God, and the androids are humans, while the younger android version of himself (a mixture of God and human) is Jesus Christ. The androids continually repeat Shakespeare quotes as though they're Scripture, which is likely the result of Ford's taste in literature.

And here, the metaphor gets pretty tragic. Since Westworld was willing to include crosses to make its point, the show not refraining from quoting Scripture in order to avoid offending churchgoers. So they must be using Shakespeare as a replacement for Scripture in order to illustrate that religion (or at least the religion in this fictional world) is very pretty and poetic, but entirely manmade, invented by beings even less perfect than us. So all of these androids who are content and confident of their purpose in life actually have very prosaic code written in to give them "drives." And while Dolores thinks that she and Teddy are a match made in heaven, their paths only continue to cross because their respective codes are literally intertwined.

It's an extremely nihilistic show, it turns out. While many stories about AI explore the definition of humanity, this is one of the few that defines humanity as "worshipping petty gods" and "programmed to find meaning in rote, predetermined routines." In fact, the best description of the human condition comes from Abernathy (and originally, of course, from Shakespeare):

Opening quote
"When we are born we cry that we are all come to this great stage of fools."
Closing quote
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