Now for another movie review, or rather an HBO tv series: Westworld.
It is based on the 1973 movie with the same title, starring Yul Brynner. I remember the movie fondly, though not in much detail. The story is about a futuristic Western-themed amusement park that re-invents an old Western town, with robots playing out stories and visitors being able to engage with them. But one android - the gun-slinger, played by Yul Brynner - malfunctions and begins killing visitors.
The new tv series takes the concept to a totally new level, one could say. It is extremely well produced, as HBO series are ... think Game of Thrones. The sets, the simulated technology, the staging, the cinematography as well as the acting are brilliant - Ed Harris is in it and Anthony Hopkins - but they are humans, not androids ... and the best acting comes from the androids. Just think what a challenge it must be to switch from the antics of a humanoid android - with all the varied emotional expressions required by the script - to an inanimate, apparently life-less robot. Stunning. But Westworld is the most rotten show I have ever seen.
We watched two episodes and a day later we’re still sick from it. It truly is the worst show ever, at least since Breaking Bad. I am talking about violence porn, about gun porn, about blood & guts porn here. While the production values are sky high, on every level (and Westworld has untold levels) the morality is rock-bottom.
What is it with America and their fascination with guns and killing? Killing depicted in the most graphic, unrelenting, most horrific manner!? But it is not just the shock and gore that is so unbelievably harrowing; it is the fact that here we have a vehicle for entertainment where the ‘good guys’ - the paying visitors - get to kill people. They pay dearly for the privilege, it’s an expensive resort, and they make sure they get their money’s worth; in extreme graphic detail, where right in front of the camera and in the centre of the frame in glorious close up, you get a 'man' having his throat shot out and the 'killer' boasting, "wow, I just shot that guy in the throat ... did you see that?" Yes, we did.
Or the scene where another man has his brains blown out, again right in front of the camera and in glorious close up detail. With a shot to the back of his head, the front of his face gets obliterated ... the brain, blood and bone fragments are splashed all over the electric piano. Nice.
Oh, and it’s not just that they can kill to their heart's content, no, they can fuck the androids too, I'll get to that in a minute (but I'll say this: I was misled to believe there would be lots of sex ... not so in the first two episodes).
So mostly we were just stuck with untold amounts of graphic killing, people getting their throats cut and their heads mushed up, right there, in your face. The stunt men work overtime at staging the most spectacularly grotesque ways of getting killed; new heights of hyper-reality here. The story line, though, is very convoluted … frankly, I had a hard time making sense of it.
So, if you like a well produced, photographed and acted show about guts and gore, about people enjoying themselves killing others, watching life-like androids killing other androids so life-like you can’t tell them from real people, then this is your show.
I mean, there probably is an element of social critique, where we are taught about human relationships ... are we better as human beings than the worst our mind can conjure up and install? Is our latent desire for violent aggression better let out in a ‘safe’ theme-park environment: If you need to kill, do it where no one gets hurt (though that is probably not how the series develops … I, for one, will never find out). If this is a lesson to be learnt, I say thanks a lot, HBO, but no thanks; this thing is just too awful by a mile. Frankly, I have to admit, there obviously is something I don't get here, and I'm told this issue is being addressed later on in the series. Too late for me.
But that is not even the main thrust of my criticism, that comes now: On what planet do the writers of this stuff live? Where are their heads at when it comes to dealing with humans (I am talking of the viewers now) and their expectations for Saturday night entertainment? There is one glaring, awful omission (at least from the first two episodes) that enrages me, in the context of what they do show. You get all the violence you could ever conjure up in your wildest dreams ... but where is the sex?
Now, this will not sit right with some of my readers, but I say this: My fantasies are not geared around going to town and killing people ... no, my fantasies are about sex. About guilt free, enjoyable sex ... maybe with other women than my partner, maybe as group sex or a spot of BDSM (which are not areas I visit in real life; none of the three scenarios above).
But this show is so unbelievably tame when it comes to nudity and sex. To begin with, the androids very often are shown nude, but the women are nearly always framed above their breasts and the men above their navel, from the side or behind. No genitals (or breasts worth writing home about) in this show. There is a sex scene ... for about one second, with absolutely nothing in it for a discerning viewer.
And at the beginning of ep. two you have a guest being inducted into Westworld by a - may I say, very desirable - woman. They are in the fit-out room and he asks "can I have any of these clothes, hats and guns?" When she say "Oh yes, and you can have me too." Wow! What does the man say "oh, no, I have a wife at home" (or something like that.) Arrrrgggghhh!
Here we have a devastating depiction of the hypocrisy so prevalent in American society: It is perfectly alright to indulge in gun fetishism and violence porn ... but when it come to sex, all doors - even the imaginary ones - are closed shut. Tightly. At least in the first two episodes; and I will not try and find out if that changes later on.
I have an essay on PORNOGRAPHY in my book with no name, instead three definitions for the term en.light.en.ment
Let me sum it up like this: Westworld is an utterly morally bankrupt show ... but probably a very, very, very true depiction of middle class, bourgeois America, in all its hypocritical glory.
Oh, I forgot:
Westworld ranks as the most-watched first season of an HBO original series ever. Westworld has received positive reviews by critics, with particular praise for the visuals, story, and acting.
So there ... whaddo I know.
Westworld is rated MA15+, which
means children under the age of 15 may not legally watch, as opposed
to R18+ material, which is restricted to adults. Such material may contain
classifiable elements such as sex scenes.
So, 15 years olds are welcome to the
kind of violence depicted here, but if there were explicit sex scenes, the
show would have to classified R18+, which of course must be avoided ... they
would not want to lose that audience of 15 or 16 year olds.
Methinks this is despicable. America
is firmly in the thrall of its Puritan history.