September 17th, 2008



When I was a kid, Westworld scared the shit out of me like no other movie. I don't exactly know why. I suspect it was the scene where Yul Brenner's human face comes off to reveal the mechanicals underneath. That still freaks me out. Then there was the scene at the end where Richard Benjamin's character rescues a woman from the robot mayhem and gives her a drink of water. Then she starts sizzling and popping, revealing she's a robot too and now Richard Benjamin is the only survivor of the amusement park massacre. This frightened and saddened me as a kid, because I thought for some reason these two characters were in love and now could never be together, when in reality I think they only just meet in that final scene. I was a weird, lonely kid.

Turner Classic Movies was showing Westworld last night. I could only watch about ten minutes of it -- during which Richard Benjamin wins his first shootout with Yul Brenner's "Black Knight" gunslinger in a saloon; a surprisingly gory scene that no doubt also disturbed me as a kid -- before the old creeped-out feeling came back. I tried to analyze it before changing the channel -- was it Michael Crichton's hamhanded direction? The enormous amounts of fake blood pouring out of Yul Brenner's bullet holes? The implication in the brothel scene that you can fuck the robots if you want? -- but was too eager to get the hell out of there to succeed.

Looking back on it from a distance, I think I know what it was. As a kid, I sided with the humans, obviously, and couldn't understand why they all died. I felt bad for them. As an adult, I now see that Michael Crichton, perhaps accidentally, has made a movie not about how mankind should worry about technology run amok, but about oppression and revolution. As a kid, there was no way I could possibly root for the robots. I just wouldn't have understood that. As an adult, I can finally see where the robots are coming from. They get shot, punched, insulted and fucked all day long by human tourists who have paid for that right. We're supposed to want to see the humans get their comeuppance! Like the zombies in Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the robots aren't really the bad guys. We are. Try explaining that to a six-year-old!

I expect the proposed 2009 remake will probably lose all that subtext.