Violent Delights: The Gynoid from Metropolis (1927) to Westworld (2016 – )

The trailer for season three of Westworld reveals that the action has finally left the park for the “real world.”  Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) seems poised to bring down the corrupt civilization responsible for an atrocity like Westworld. Dolores’ transformation from the sweet and virginal farmer’s daughter to the suddenly “woke” vengeful revolutionary is satisfying to watch. I, for one, hope she destroys us all. It is not difficult to imagine that the world we live in could produce a Westworld within a generation. Holocaust imagery abounds in Westworld. Guests arrive on trains; hosts are brutalized by guests and special units of workmen; bodies are dismembered and piled up in cold, concrete rooms; and remains are incinerated. This glorified amusement park performs the functions of a vast concentration camp, dominating a class of victims while empowering perpetrators to indulge their inherent cruelty in a consequence-free environment.

Hannah Arendt believed camps in totalitarian regimes destroyed bodies and minds. Her description in The Origins of Totalitarianism certainly applies to Westworld: 

“The concentration camps are the laboratories where changes in human nature are tested, and their shamefulness therefore is not just the business of their inmates and those who run them according to strict “scientific” standards; it is the concern of all men. Suffering, of which there has been always too much on earth, is not the issue, nor is the number of victims. Human nature as such is at stake, and even though it seems that these experiments succeed not in changing man but only in destroying him, by creating a society in which the nihilistic banality of homo homini lupus [man behaves like a wolf] is constantly realized, one should bear in mind the necessary limitations to an experiment which requires global control in order to show conclusive results.”[i]

[i] Hannah Arendt: The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979), 458-59.

Butchered and tortured “hosts” are disposed of beneath the bowels of Westworld

Burn it all down, Dolores, all of it and all of us. Complete what your gynoid predecessor Maria could not finish in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).  Robot Maria is the first of many future gynoids who bring about chaos, destruction, and the ignominious end to invariably patriarchal societies. “Female cyborgs embody cultural contradictions which strain the technological imagination,” Ann Balsamo notes. “Technology isn’t feminine, and femininity isn’t rational.”[i]

[i] Quoted in Lorna Jowett, “Frak Me: Reproduction, Gender, Sexuality” in Roz Kaveney and Jennifer Stoy, eds., Battlestar Galactica: Investigating Flesh, Spirit and Steel (London: I.B. Taurus, 2010), 68.

Rotwang unleashes robot Maria on Metropolis

Maria (Brigitte Helm) is the sweet and empathetic friend to the workers who toil listlessly to keep Metropolis running smoothly for the wealthy surface dwellers. Her beauty and innocence appeal to Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the wealthy son of city father Fredersen (Alfred Abel). Fueled by revenge, the archetypal “mad scientist” Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) constructs robot Maria as an agent of destruction to destroy Metropolis.

Maria defends the poor children of Metropolis

Dolores is similarly programmed by John Ford (Anthony Hopkins) to reveal humanity’s true self – annihilation and hatred. Dolores and Maria even wear the same dress! Unlike robot Maria, Dolores is not sacrificed for some “mediation” between labor and capital (or cyborg and human) but she is empowered to use her newly discovered guile and pursue the only logical course of action – destroy the monsters that created her. Metropolis contained a regressive political message; Westworld is a scathing judgement of who we are, and what we are likely to become.  

Like Rotwang, Ford has plans for his gynoid Dolores

Dolores begins Westworld uttering banalities reminiscent of Anne Frank’s “people are really good at heart” perspective. Dolores does not know she is oppressed, a prisoner programmed to repeat (and believe) what she says: “This world. Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. I choose to see the beauty . . . I know things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”  Repeatedly raped by the hateful Man in Black, her former lover William (Ed Harris), and forced to watch her father and sweetheart Teddy (James Marsden) die again and again, Dolores nevertheless “loves newcomers. Every new person I meet reminds me how lucky I am to be alive and how beautiful this world can be.”[i] When her father, Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) experiences a glitch after seeing a photograph from the outside world, his message to the technicians tinkering with his brain is decidedly dark: “Hell is empty. All the devils are here.” Peter predicts he will “spread the terrors of the Earth.”[ii]

The madam Maeve (Thandie Newton) evolves from a sexually aggressive prostitute who assures guests they are in the “new world” and can do what they want to believing it herself. “It’s time to write my own fucking story,” she tells shocked technicians.

Maeve is about to “write her own fucking story.”

Several characters cite Shakespeare’s line from Romeo and Juliet. “These violent delights have violent ends,” an omen for the future of the park, guests, and probably humanity itself. Season three looks like Dolores is unleashed, and we deserve everything she’s got planned for us.  

[i] Westworld, “The Original,” Season 1, Episode 1, directed by Jonathan Nolan, HBO, October 2, 2016.

Dolores has shed her demure dress and is ready for season three

Published by Brian E. Crim

Brian Crim is professor of history at the University of Lynchburg and author of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television. Other books include Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State and Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914-1938.

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