Westworld, a show about a fictional life-like Wild West theme park staffed by sentient android “hosts,” is a show with a very particular and tangible mood and aesthetic. The title sequence for Westworld is one that is incredibly entrancing – it moves through multiple scenes of artificial beings of Westworld in action while being built by machines, slowly lacing them with skin and muscles as they slowly move in sync with a piano piece that evokes the anachronistic Western aesthetic of the show. The imagery is particularly powerful. The entire intro sequence is filled with grotesque images of sinewy muscles and fibers that are counterbalanced by the fact that they’re nearly completely white and “artificial.” The shadowy robotic limbs that control them also lend to this atmosphere of artificiality, with them stretching and pulling at the muscles of the androids while they work. The robotic imagery is also powerful because it serves as an omnipresent reminder to the viewer that everything they are seeing – the human like figures before them – are completely man-made. The arms move along the muscles in close up, dripping out material that forms in a way that is eerily similar to 3-D printing.  One particularly stand out piece of imagery is the very beginning where a light rises over a silhouette meant to look like the rising sun over a barren desert plain, only to be revealed as a laboratory light over what we can assume is an in-progress android. Another piece of imagery that is also repeated a few times is close up shots of the eye, which I take to represent the theme of blurring lines between humanity and artificial humanity. The eye is often used to show “humanity” within someone, much akin to Blade Runner. Within these close ups is reflections of the desert, or the “Westworld.” This seems to represent the desire of androids to make a life, a seeming parallel to Manifest Destiny but in a more cyberpunk manner. These sets of images, intertwined, tell a powerful story with more subtlety than one would likely notice or even care to notice upon a first viewing.

Reflections in the eye.

The use of movement is also key in the titling sequence. The entire introduction is a slow waltz back and forth with sweeping camera pans in nearly slow-motion. Everything is intricate, delicately done and capturing the essence of the level detail considered in the creation of these androids. The deliberate nature of the movement present completely throughout makes it clear that everything is intentional, almost reflecting the perceived lack of free will in the androids, which are suspended and moved by large robotic arms that sit on the sidelines. The actual movements performed by the androids are symbolic as well. In one scene, a pair of white, skinless hands plays the piano and slowly lets go while the keys continue to play themselves. This begs the question, were the hands really playing them or simply miming life in order to create the illusion of an action being performed? The android thinks it is in control, but the entire thing is rigged from the beginning, and there is no independent thought. In another, two half finished (noticing a theme?) androids have sex while robotic arms work on them. They’re doing something many would consider an essential human experience (reproducing) when for them, it serves no purpose. It’s an illusion, making them appear human even though they are entirely fabricated.

Piano plays itself.

The sound is limited in the scene, being only a moody orchestral track reminiscent of Harry Potter combined with Red Dead Redemption. It sets a dramatic tone with hints of the West, such as the balladic piano interspersed among the cinematic and dramatic string tracks. The combination of multiple audio elements that recall different moods creates an entirely new sense of wonder, mystery, and fear while evoking the Wild West. The lighting is also completely minimal, with the only light shining from the appendages of the robots or an unknown background source. Either way, it is entirely artificial, which keeps in line with the overarching theme. This continues until the end where flood lights come on and an android devoid of skin is dipped into a white liquid that gives it skin. The screen fills with white, symbolizing the imbuement of “life” unto the machine.

Android is dipped into liquid.

Taking multiple rewatchings, the common element I am seeing throughout the design of the Westworld introductory scene is deception, or illusion. As I touched on in the previous paragraphs, all the elements of design that I picked up on (mostly imagery and movement) in some way symbolizes the idea of Westworld as an illusion, a mimic of a real world that’s nearly perfect, but not without cracks and seams. These elements work in conjunction with each other to create an eerie atmosphere that enters into the uncanny valley. Everything looks real, but something is wrong.

Discussion — 3 Responses

  • Allegra Matthews 03/29/2019 on 11:32 AM

    Hi John,

    Beautifully written post! I love what you are saying about deception and and inherent wrongness or creepiness. Playing devils advocate here a bit for the sake of posting (and I believe you alluded to this as well), but is it possible the opening sequence is about the perfection and beauty of a robotic form in response to the imperfections of humanity? As an act of foreshadowing could this be considered a representation of a superior being, in order to highlight the opposition to a race that includes rampant hatred and a need to abuse? The whole construct of Westworld is about using these machines to human advantage in order to create pleasure and entertainment. Maybe this sequence and its representation of white what you called “3-D printer-like” beings is actually an allusion to robots being better than us, without all the blemishes and representations of the past on them. Just a couple thoughts your post provoked, and maybe a flip-side to the creepiness you have exposed here.


  • Amelia Fee 04/18/2019 on 1:32 AM

    Hello John,
    I think your post hits the nail on the head – the introduction to Westworld definitely tackles themes of perception, reality, and illusion that are constants throughout the entire TV series. I’m glad you pointed out the first shot, where a light rising over bare ribs and mechanical flesh mimics a sunrise over mountain ridges. The duality of the narrative and the symbolism that grounds the viewer in the jarring hybrid setting of both a post-modern world and the Old Western frontier makes it one of my favorite shots in the opening sequence. Another image which struck me was the shot of a half-formed host suspended by the machines, limbs outstretched, before he is submerged in the white fluid. I couldn’t help but compare it to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. This homage particularly caught my attention as the Vitruvian Man is still one of the most iconic illustrations in our world today and marks significant advances in science, technology, anatomy, and human curiosity – all aspects which feature heavily in not only the opening theme, but the entirety of the Westworld series.
    The eerie, beautiful “perfection” of the hosts, which both you and Allegra touched on, also hit me as particularly significant given that their clean, unblemished, and bleached forms directly juxtapose the show’s dirty, dusty, and often brutal western world that the hosts are created to inhabit. Self-playing pianos are called pianolas, by the way! Essentially, they are a very rudimentary form of robot, which not only introduces another layer of depth to the sequence but also supports your theory as to why the creators brought to light such unanswerable questions about whether the mechanical hosts are truly experiencing life or merely mimicking it.
    I also wonder if the entire intro sequence was influenced, at least in part, by Bjork’s 1999 music video for the song “All Is Full of Love”. The two videos are incredibly similar cinematically and thematically, with the most obvious connection being the they way they depict robotic humans being assembled and beginning to display human qualities such as love. Great post, by the way – I find this introduction absolutely beautiful and your analysis made me look a little harder at some of its subtleties.

  • Haohao Yu 04/24/2019 on 9:15 AM

    Hello John,

    I totally agree with you on the use of the imagery. I was shocked by the movement and music throughout the title sequence when I first saw it. I think the use of the color is also a big component in the sequence. They primarily use white as the main color and dark background which gives the audience more impression on the building of robot. The color and the movement gives the audience “cold” feeling. I think the whole title sequence also shows some symbolism. Especially when they use machines to create a perfect human-like robot, the muscles, the eyes and other small details. They can even play piano or ride a horse. This makes me think about: if they have the human body and they could do things that human can easily do and they have the emotions we have, what makes them difference than us.This shows at the end when the robots start to fight for their own freedom.
    I liked your analysis and this show is really good!

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