HBO’s “Westworld” has made a name for itself as a 22-time Emmy nominated show that garnered the network’s highest ever first season viewership. But the intricate plots, haunting writing and western-future hybrid production design of the genre program do not exist in a vacuum.
“Westworld” showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan took inspiration from several other works to build their perfect dystopian theme park, including — but not limited to — the show’s cinematic source material. Here are some of the projects that influenced the hit series.
“Westworld” and “Futureworld”
While the plot of the premium cabler drama is only loosely based on the plots of its filmic source material, several homages and easter eggs to the movies are planted throughout the series. The show does borrow directly from the Michael Crichton films’ original concepts, which include a western theme park run by robotic gunslingers, cowboys, and natives. However, other subtler references are built into the production design of the show, like a globe statue that is identical to one that decorated the Westworld headquarters from the original films. The focus on robotic hands during the title sequence can also be linked back to the source material, in which robots can only be distinguished from humans by the look of their hands.
The series’ most recognizable tagline, “These violent delights have violent ends” — most memorably uttered by Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) prior to the hosts’ massacre of Delos executives — is taken from the play “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. Friar Lawrence delivers the line in the source material to Romeo before he weds Juliet, but the “Westworld” writers repurposed it with darker undertones to define the show’s eerie appeal. Several other Shakespeare plays are also referenced through the show’s dialogue, including “King Lear,” “The Tempest,” and “Hamlet.”
Edward Curtis Prints
Photographer Edward Curtis’ prints depicting the American West of the early 20th century contributed to the visual landscape of the sci-fi western, according to the showrunners. Much of the production design and costuming from the show are reminiscent of Curtis’ photos, which feature both portraits of Natives in traditional garb, as well as wider shots of the desert and the animals inhabiting it. Joy and Nolan told Variety that they came across Curtis’ prints while on a researching road trip through the west. “The pictures are timeless,” Nolan said. “They capture a moment before you feel the end of the west, if you will. The pictures here were very inspirational for us and the show in terms of the look and feel.”
“Grand Theft Auto” and “Red Dead Redemption”
At the San Diego Comic Con in July 2017, Nolan and Joy revealed that they pulled inspiration from the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Red Dead Redemption” video game franchises to develop the feel of the show. Like “Westworld,” “Red Dead Redemption” is violent and western-themed, featuring gunslingers and horseback riders against a rugged desert terrain. “Grand Theft Auto” resembles “Westworld” in that it offers its customers a choice of different narratives in which they want to participate. The car-racing game also predicates itself on rule breaking, as its drivers are seemingly encouraged to disregard traffic laws, fitting in with Westworld’s “Live Without Limits” tagline.
While consoling Bernard after he has ordered him to murder Delos manager Theresa Cullen, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) uttered the phrase, “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire,” which is pulled from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The 1823 novel is often credited with inventing the science fiction genre, and its title character is similar to Ford, himself, in that he also strives to create an artificial human that ultimately ends up causing him more trouble than he originally intended.
The showrunners also drew photographic inspiration from “Dreamland: America at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century,” a book of photos by Michael Lesy showcasing western textures and cityscapes, appealing to “Westworld’s” “sense of nostalgia for a simpler time.” “The sheer scope and vast, unspoiled land with people pouring into it — we came back to that for inspiration,” Nolan told Variety.
In a Facebook Live discussion, Nolan revealed that the automated player piano, a staple of Westworld’s Mariposa Saloon, is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi novel “Player Piano.” The book imagines a world in which almost everything is mechanized, eliminating the need for human labor — much like how the theme park hosts serve as robotic stand-ins for humans to allow for heightened human recreation. But the use of piano in the show is by no means limited to saloon imagery; it has also provided a striking auditory presence as the primary instrument used for show composer Ramin Djawadi’s classical covers of popular songs like “Paint it, Black” and “Heart-Shaped Box,” which have come to define the series’ musical landscape.
Killian Eng Art
On the sic-fi side, Joy told Variety she conceptualized Westworld’s futuristic elements based on artwork from Kilian Eng, whose body of work includes prints of seminal sci-fi films, from space odysseys like “Star Wars” to cyberpunk action flicks like “RoboCop.” “He blends the landscape with engineered humans, and there’s this element of gazing — these creatures looking at themselves and trying to understand themselves and their landscapes,” Joy said, linking Eng’s work to the likenesses of Westworld’s hosts and their constant quests for self-determination.
The reason Dr. Robert Ford often speaks in harrowing, verse-like soundbites, like “You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil,” is because Joy derived much of his character’s dialogue from poetry. “Because of the way he speaks, I found it inspiring to read poetry and think about those poems — because he would have read those poems and been inspired by them,” Joy said.
“Alice in Wonderland”
In one of the earlier scenes from season 1, Bernard presents Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) with a copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” from which Dolores proceeds to read a passage. Dolores closely resembles Alice’s journey throughout the show, starting out as a naive young woman who is unsatisfied with her reality until her curiosity ultimately leads her to discover a world outside the one she has always known.