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The Dark Is All Around Us: The Film Classic, The Lion in Winter

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Christmas, and all the family is gathered together for the holidays. There’s a massive tree, lots of presents, spiced wine, feasting, and rancor galore. All the past year’s resentments and disappointments come bubbling to the surface because Daddy — a great, roaring lion of a man — is getting older and needs to think of which of his sons will follow him as the leader of the pride. He’s made no secret of his favorite, and his choice displeases everyone else. Mommy has her favorite, you see, and is determined to see that her special boy gets to succeed.

As if that weren’t enough tension and conflict, there’s yet another son who can’t understand why nobody in the family ever thinks of him when they think of the next head of the family business. To make everyone more edgy, let’s toss in the leader of a rival family, who has his own agenda, which mostly involves making sure the lion of this family goes down hard. To complicate things even further and make everything even more dangerous, lets throw in some tapestries for hiding behind, as well as some sharp, shiny knives — metaphorical and literal ones — for everyone to use against everybody else.

Welcome to the Christmas court of England’s Henry II in 1183. Adapted from James Goldman’s Broadway play of the same name, the witty, brutal, and passionate holiday gathering in the Oscar-winning classic The Lion in Winter (1968) makes crime dramas like The Godfather seem downright tame.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (right) and Katharine Hepburn as his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (left), The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is 50 this Christmas, and he lets his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) out of prison for the holidays. It seems Eleanor has led quite a few civil wars against Henry, over the succession no doubt, and Henry has to keep her imprisoned in order to feel safe. He’s letting Eleanor out this holiday season so they can plan, i.e., plot, who will become the next king.

Anthony Hopkins as Richard, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Their first son, Henry, died, and while you might think that their next son, Richard (Anthony Hopkins, in his first starring role), should be the designated king, and Eleanor heartily approves of Richard as England’s next ruler, and not just because he’s her favorite. Richard, known later as Richard the Lionheart, is a great miliary leader and a proven warrior, and Queen Eleanor thinks that a necessary qualification for Henry’s successor, if only because France and England are still fighting over land.

(L-R) Nigel Terry as John, Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, Anthony Hopkins as Richard, and John Castle as Geoffrey, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry is the King of England but also the Lord of Ireland, Count of Anjou (similar to the English Duke of York, which would make Henry second in line to the French throne), and Duke of both Normandy and Aquitaine (in France, through his marriage to Eleanor), and Henry II doesn’t want Richard as the future king of England. Henry has other ideas for his presumptive heir.

John Castle as Geoffrey (L), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry wants his youngest son John (Nigel Terry) to succeed, not because he’d make a better king but simply because Henry loves John best.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France (L), John Castle as Geoffrey (center), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

None of this squabbling over Richard vs. John sits too well with brother Geoffrey (John Castle), who can’t understand why both Henry and Eleanor think their middle son would make a wonderful chancellor to the next king but never seem to think of Geoff as King Geoffrey, so he begins to plot against his father with both Richard and John as well as with one of Henry’s allies.

Jane Merrow as Alais, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Young Princess Alais (Jane Merrow), who’s betrothed to marry the future King of England, doesn’t want any of Henry’s sons to be the future king. As Henry’s lover and long-time mistress, she want’s no one but Henry as king.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Alais’ brother, King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton, in his film debut) wants the lovely Alais to be wed to the heir to the English throne right away. If that doesn’t happen during this Christmas visit, Philip wants his sister’s dowry back. Since Alais’ dowry is land in France, which both England and France claim at the time, Henry certainly doesn’t want to give back the dowry. Philip already knows this, so he’s plotting with Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and Philip is planning war with Henry, no matter whom he chooses as his successor.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (L), and Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry’s fighting with his wife and all three of his sons, not only about who will be the next king, but who will get to marry Princess Alais. Henry doesn’t really want to give us Alais either: he’s madly in love with her.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and Jane Merrow as Alais (foreground), and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

And Eleanor, despite inciting rebellion against her husband and king, still madly loves Henry herself, and she’s well aware that Alais just happens to be young enough to give Henry more sons.

The first 15-20 minutes of the film are a bit slow, probably because everyone was trying a little too hard to say, “Look: we’re making a film, not jusstage playplay,” and while we get to see some outdoor shots where we meet the members of the family, none of these initial scenes really adds to the forward movement of the story. Once everyone is gathered together, however, it becomes obvious why this film is a classic.

from L to R: Timothy Dalton, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Katharine Hepburn, John Castle, and (sitting in foreground, L to R) Nigel Terry, and Jane Merrow, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

The script is magnificent, the characters brutally fascinating, and the acting superb: O’Toole most definitely should have won an Oscar for his role as the anxious, angry, roaring Lion who feels his own winter coming on far too quickly and who is willing to do almost anything to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.

Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II of England, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor (O’Toole) and Best Costume Design (Margaret Furse), the film won three: Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Goldman), and Best Music Score (John Barry). Lion in Winter also won BAFTAs for Hepburn and composer Barry, and won Golden Globes in Best Picture, and Best Actor for Peter O’Toole as the fiery Henry II.

Available for rent ($1.99-3.99) or purchase from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Bravo & Kudos to the Fans of Westworld: Theories & Finale

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(Show & Fan Theories)

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From the premiere episode of HBO’s sci-fi/fantasy series Westworld, created for television by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and based on the 1973 film written by author Michael Crichton, fans have been weighing in on their theories about where the storyline would ultimately end up. Despite some critics’ complaints that the “Internet ruined Westworld” for viewers, I found the fan theories fascinating. Of course, I never felt morally obligated to read all the theories, to join Redditt and get the immense details of the fan “Reveals,” or to posit any ideas of my own, so instead of ruining the show for me, the fan theories added a layer of complexity to the show, if only a layer that revealed the intelligence and cleverness of its viewers. Fan theories didn’t show show how “predictable” Westworld and other shows may be. Instead, these theories — most of which turned out to be true — demonstrated just how sophisticated the contemporary television viewing audience is.

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Bernard as Host

Even I guessed that Ford’s right-hand-man, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) was, in reality, a host. Some fans surmised this by the second episode, but most viewers certainly knew it by the time Dolores repeated Bernard’s line about the pain of grief. Asked by his “wife” if he didn’t ever want to forget and let go of the pain of their son Charlie’s death, Bernard replied that the pain of losing his son was all he had left of his son. When Dolores repeated the same sentiment to Bernard himself after he asked if she wanted to forget the pain of her parents’ murders, and Bernard looked slightly and momentarily confused, viewers knew Bernard was a host. Though the show itself didn’t reveal it for a few more episodes, it wasn’t a surprise to us when it happened.

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Bernard as Arnold

I think Bernard is Arnold, though I got really confused in the finale by Arnold’s only appearing in Dolores’ memories in the form of Bernard, when Bernard is a host which Ford claims to have made in homage to Arnold after his partner’s death, and which Ford named “Bernard” because it wouldn’t have been appropriate to call him “Arnold.” Dolores only recognizes Bernard as Arnold, however, and in all the scenes where she is created by Arnold, or where she is going to kill Arnold, he is in the form of Bernard. I’m not sure what this means. Is Bernard literally Arnold, who was killed by Dolores at his own request, re-invented as Bernard the host, with Arnold’s consciousness somewhere inside? Is that why the portrait of Ford and Arnold in Ford’s office also includes Bernard, but only after Bernard realizes that he is (probably) Arnold? I can’t figure that one out, and multiple characters as the same physical person has always confused me since I can determine how it’s possible, but suffice it to say that fans theorized about Bernard being Arnold, and it looks like they were right.

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Maeve’s Army

As Maeve (Thandie Newton, above R) gained consciousness, she was looking for an “army” to help her defeat the “gods” of Westworld, whom she disdained. Where on earth would a conscious host get an army except in the bowels of the theme park itself? Maeve recruited Hector (Rogrigo Santoro, above, second from R), his snake-tattoed partner Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, in back) and body shop tech Felix (Leonardo Nam, in front of Armistice), who aspired to become a programmer and who seemd to be in love with Maeve. When the park’s Head of Narrative, Lee Sizemore, opened the lower level cold-storage during the gala celebration of the park, he found it empty. The army of retired hosts, which fans predicted Maeve would enlist, was indeed an army. It wasn’t Maeve’s, however, but Dr. Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins), and he unleashed the army of hosts onto the Board of Directors (to the delight of the Man in Black, who has long wanted hosts to think for themselves). Fans got this one mostly right: the hosts did become an army; fans just got the recruiting officer incorrect.

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Dolores as Wyatt

Fans were spot-on with this theory. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) was, indeed, responsible for the massacre of all the other hosts. She was “combined” with the evil personality of Wyatt for the purposes of attaining consciousness, and for keeping the park from opening due to the “deaths” of all the hosts. Fans noticed the similarity in the massacre scenes behind Dolores, Maeve, and in Teddy’s memory. Teddy (James Marsden) thought he was responsible for the massacre, but, in reality, it was Dolores. In fact, the massacre before the park opened may be the reason she was unable to shoot the gun when Teddy tried to teach her to shoot. Westworld investors may have insisted that Dolores lose the ability to destroy the hosts again.

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Fans predicted that Dolores, whose name means “sadness,” would be Wyatt and was responsible for the massacre. They didn’t predict that she would also shoot Teddy and then commit suicide. Still, fans guessed the most important part of the story.

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Dolores Killed Arnold

Bang-on with this theory, Fans. Dolores  did kill Arnold, but fans didn’t guess that Bernard was, in fact, Arnold’s consciousness (?) — and please don’t ask me to explain how this was possible — or that Arnold lost his own son to death, or that Bernard-Arnold, created by Ford after Arnold’s death, was given the back-story of a son’s death to help Bernard achieve sentience. All I do understand is that Dolores did kill Arnold — at Arnold’s behest — and that Arnold, now permanently in the guise of Bernard, was the “general” that Wyatt killed. Arnold-Bernard wanted to die so that he could join his son. I don’t know if Dolores’ sentience was a side-effect of that desire or vice versa.

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The Two-Timeline Theory

Kudos to the fans for figuring this one out, long before Dolores found the City of Sand, with its buried church, revealing only the steeple, and asked a confused William (Jimmi Simpson), “Where are we? When are we?” Even someone who doesn’t engage in fictional “conspiracy” theories, like me, noticed the “when” in Dolores’ second question. Fans tried to “prove” this dual timeline theory with the flies, as in, the flies are on the hosts in the present, because the hosts have a more human skin, and the flies are not present on the hosts in the past, but I couldn’t see this theory holding up, even when I watched the marathon of the entire series, specifically looking for the flies, if only because all the flies seem to have disappeared.

The best example of this dual time-line theory seemed to have been Dolores’ changing costumes, from her prairie dress in the present,

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to her pants and shirt in the past.

This dress theory falls apart, however, when Dolores wears a dress in the past, as when she shoots Arnold,

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when she first “finds” William (in the past),

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and when she massacres all the hosts, (she’s standing, in the center background, in front of the train), kills Teddy,

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and then shoots herself — all while wearing the dress .

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Ditto when she’s wearing pants with the Man in Black, who is most certainly in the park’s present time-line,

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and when she’s in the “final” scene with Teddy, which is at the park’s Gala celebration (when Ford is revealing his new narrative), and which is most assuredly in the present since it is just before the hosts invade the park.

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Still, the fans were correct about the two, simultaneously presented time-lines: Dolores and William’s encounter and relationship happens 30-35 years ago, in the past, while her experiences with the Man in Black are in the present. Fans solidified this theory by matching MiB’s story of his marriage lasting 30 years, his coming to the park every year for that time period, and with William’s statements that he was getting married as soon as he returned from the park.

And this dual time-line theory made it possible for the fans to posit another extravagantly elaborate theory, that I refused to believe initially, because of the MiB’s continued violence toward, and rapes of Dolores: that William and the MIB are the same man.

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William and the Man in Black as the Same Man

Fans have been “proving” this theory with elaborate images of William (Jimmi Simpson) morphing into the Man in Black (Ed Harris), but that didn’t convince me, if only because the relationship between the two men and Dolores was so wildly different. William, in the past, as was revealed in the finale, came to care for Dolores, believed her to be sentient, and wanted to even help her escape. The Man in Black, however, annually helped kill Dolores’ parents, to kill Teddy, and to rape poor Dolores. He seemed, in fact, to seek Dolores out specifically so that he could hurt her.

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I agree with Sonya Saraiya of Variety that we weren’t actually shown William becoming the Man in Black. Instead, we got a rather amateurish “telling” rather than “showing” of this transformation, presented as a monologue by the MiB to Dolores in the church graveyard — and this despite the show’s writers’ constantly mocking the Head of Narrative’s poor writing skills, and having Board Member Charlotte remind him of the “show, don’t tell” maxim.

William becomes a monster, which is perhaps the most human story of them all. But what’s odd about this revelation is that it comes to the audience in an expository monologue accompanied by a series of flashbacks. We are not shown this story, we are told, in about five minutes of dissolve cuts. William does not become the Man in Black in “Westworld,” because his becoming — his breaking bad, if you will — just doesn’t interest the show. (emphasis in original)

The fans were correct in surmising that William was the Man in Black, but I still don’t know why he became the Man in Black. We’re told he didn’t like killing, but quickly took to it. He seems to be kind and empathetic, but then he’s nasty to his future brother-in-law in MiB’s story. William seemed to have sincere feelings for Dolores, and not just because he was sexually attracted to her. She helped reveal his “deepest” self — as opposed to his “basest” self — 30-35 years ago, so why does he, as the MiB, constantly rape her?

I can only assume that William/MiB does not know about Arnold’s theory that pain, suffering, and tragedy are the way toward self-knowledge and to sentience for the hosts. W/MiB also would not know that Ford promoted these same tragic stories and events after his own suffering over the loss of his partner Arnold (another event that is merely told, never shown, so it’s difficult to believe) and then included tragedies in the hosts’ back-stories in order to help them reach sentience. So why does MiB constantly rape Dolores?

Is he actually violently angry that Dolores, and his own feelings for her, triggered some baser instincts of his own? Is he punishing Dolores for his own base feelings? Is he attempting to punish Dolores for being a host in the first place? After all, when he was still only William and was searching desperately for her, convinced that he needed to save her from her suffering in the big bad Westworld theme park, he found her in the town, once again dropping her can of condensed milk, and smiling ever-so-sweetly at the man (yes, it’s always been a man who retrieves the can of milk) who comes to her aid. In that scenario, Dolores doesn’t even seem to see William, let alone to be the damsel in distress he was hoping to rescue. Did he get so angry that Dolores wasn’t who she seemed to be that he returned annually to Westworld to punish her by raping her?

This is my most serious problem with William and the Man in Black being the same. The sexual violence of the MiB toward Dolores seems to indicate that he feels she, in some way, deserves to be violated simply because his own life didn’t turn out the way he’d expected it to, and I find that gruesome and unconscionable. Also, his rather cavalier statement, as the MiB, that he “grew tired of her” and went in search of other storylines is also troublesome since it would seem to indicate that, once again, the MiB is punishing Dolores for being who — and what — she is, punishing her because she’s not able to meet his needs. After all, the guests don’t need to rape the hosts to have sexual relations with them. Maeve and Clementine are there only to cater to the guests’ sexual desires.

So why the rapes of Dolores by the Man in Black? In the premiere, when Dolores tells him that she’ll do whatever he wants if he spares Teddy, the MiB says, “You don’t understand. I want you to fight.” She does fight. He rapes her. But it doesn’t seem to be enough for the MiB.

I can hear the fans already, shouting at me that the MiB’s main goal is to have the hosts rebel against the guests, to have the hosts hurt the guests, to make the “game” more “real” for the guests, and by raping Dolores whenever he comes to the theme park, W/MiB is merely attempting to get her to rebel, to fight back, to hurt him…

Sorry, I don’t buy it. If only because the real source of the MiB’s constantly raping Dolores is the writers of Westworld, and I wonder what on earth they’re trying to say about sexual violence, rape, etc. I wonder what they’re saying about a victim’s “responsibility” for sexual violence, and, as a survivor of incest-rape for 15 years, that is where I start to get angry.

But, I digress…

Back to the fan theories, which is what this post is about.

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Everyone is a Host

That doesn’t seem to be true. From Theresa (Sidse Babbett Knudsen) to Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), from Board Member Charlotte to Head of Narrative Lee Sizemore, not everyone in the corporate Westworld universe was a host. Many of them were, in fact, humans, and some of them got killed:

Theresa (by Bernard, at Ford’s order),
Elsie (by Bernard, at Ford’s behest, though we can’t be sure of Elsie’s fate since we never saw her again after she was attacked),
Head of Security Stubbs (by hosts, on Ford’s (?) request, but ditto on our not being sure of Stubbs’ fate, since he was attacked in the park looking for Elsie and his fate wasn’t revealed in finale),  and
Ford himself (by Dolores, at his won request).

Also, the most important “guest” of them all is a real human being: William, aka the Man in Black, who, as the company’s majority-shareholder owner, has always been given whatever he wants at the theme park, no matter how many hosts he kills.

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Ford as Demented God

Nope on this fan theory as well, as well as on the theory that Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was a cruel, demented, egotistical, and uncaring “god,” or on the theory that Ford, as the un-empathetic creator of Westworld, had only one goal: to have everyone’s adoration and love. Ford wasn’t a bad guy, intent on trapping or imprisoning the hosts forever in Westworld. In the finale, Ford was revealed as the “good guy,” one who reluctantly came to the realization that tragedy and suffering were the only sure way to help the hosts achieve sentience, and one who orchestrated some of the park’s rebellion (by changing Maeve’s programming, for example, and by updating the hosts so that the reveries were re-installed, allowing them to access their “memories” of their previous narratives). I don’t think I ever read a fan theory that had Ford as anything but a host or a “bad guy,” so if I missed any theories that said he was going to be the hosts’ Saviour, please do let me know.

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Finale’s Unanswered Questions

There were a great many fan theories that weren’t correct, of course, as well as a great many questions left unanswered by the show’s writers.

  • What happened to Elsie? to Stubbs?
  • Why didn’t Ford act surprised to see Bernard return after he’d committed suicide, on Ford’s narrative instructions?
  • Did Maeve “return” to the park (she was on the train but got off after constantly looking at the mother and daughter across from her) because she consciously chose to find her daughter, or because Maeve was “not programmed” or “authorized” to leave the park by Ford, who changed her programming to make her rebel in the first place, i.e., not on her own volition, so that her sentience and consciousness are called into question?
  • Are Felix and Sylvester — the body techs who helped Maeve in her rebellion — also controlled by Ford? Maeve said Felix made “a terrible human being,” and that she meant that “as a compliment,” but it doesn’t mean that Felix and Sylvester aren’t also hosts. Fans are divided on this theory of the two as hosts controlled by Ford, but relatively united in not understanding why the pair so readily followed Maeve’s commands given that she’s nothing but a host.
  • If all the hosts have achieved sentience, and if all the hosts destroy all the humans at the Gala, then who’s going to maintain the hosts when their artificial bodies break down? Viewers weren’t given any evidence that the host-bodies could maintain themselves without human intervention, and, besides, this question bothered my guy Tom so much that he kept asking it all through the encore presentation of the finale.
  • What was with the show’s bad writing at times, e.g., in telling viewers that William became the Man in Black rather than in showing this important transformation, and doing it in a show where the characters mocked bad writing on the part of the Head of Narrative? (two more examples of the show’s bad writing follow)
  • What’s with the heavy-handed black hat/white hat symbolism? (I hate to even call it symbolism, it was handled so egregiously.)
  • Why all the heavy-handed exposition on consciousness, sentience, morality, and the god-ness within the human brain on many of the characters’ part, especially in Ford’s monologues to Bernard and Dolores, when viewers could have gotten those points without being hit in the face with it?
  • Why is Teddy (James Marsden) nothing but a pretty face? Why didn’t he have anything more important to do in the show, that is, why did the MiB need Teddy when it seems that Lawrence and his family members would have sufficed? (I guess I’m wondering why James Marsden was cast if his character wasn’t to play a larger role.)
  • What’s so important about the bicameral (two-chambered) mind? It’s a hypothesis in psychology that argues that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking,” and a second part which listens and obeys. The term was coined by Julian Jaynes, who presented the idea in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, “wherein he made the case that a bicameral mentality was the normal and ubiquitous state of the human mind as recently as 3,000 years ago.”  According to Jaynes’ theory, human consciousness develops or evolves when this right- vs left-side of the brain distinction disappears, i.e., when humans stop thinking the gods are talking to them and realize that it’s their own consciousness, intuition, etc. I’m not sure why this bicameral mind theory is so important that the writers titled the finale that, had Dolores seen talking to herself as the person whose voice she’s been hearing while struggling toward consciousness, and had Ford state that all the hosts initially heard their programming as internal voices, driving many of them to madness. Are the show’s writers supporting the theory of the bicameral mind and that consciousness comes from discarding this inner/outer voice premise, discounting it, or attempting to make some profound statement about humanity that most of us have already figured out?

And finally, the most important question to the fate of everyone left alive and functioning at the end of the finale.

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Now that William-the-Man-in-Black has finally gotten his wish that the hosts act on their own volition and can actually hurt the guests, does MiB — who is technically the owner of Westworld the theme park —  still want to come to the park every year and play games?

Bravo to all the fans who bravely put forth their Westworld theories during the show’s initial season, and kudos to you for being right almost all the time.

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HBO’s Chilling Westworld

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Even if you’re familiar with the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by bestselling Michael Crichton, and starring Yul Brynner as the Man in Black, you’re in for a treat with HBO’s revamp of the Wild West theme park. Like Crichton’s subsequent novel, which was adapted into Spielberg’s classic film Jurassic Park, Westworld is a place where filthy rich tourists — newcomers, in this series — come to spend some time in the Old Wild West, where they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want (as long as they’re not other theme park guests), without any consequences to themselves. In the original film, as in last night’s premiere, something goes wrong. Unlike the 1973 film, however, the surprise is not discovering that most of the major characters are robots or beings with Artificial Intelligence. The message of Westworld, the series, is much more chilling.

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The Premise

Westworld is a theme park, where wealthy guests, i.e., “newcomers,” pay mega-bucks to pretend they’re in the Wild, Wild West. They dress the part, have six-shooters, drink in a saloon, and can do whatever they want to the inhabitants, i.e., “hosts,”  of the theme park, including committing rape and murder. The theme park “hosts” have only one function, whether they know it or not: to make sure the guests have the time of their lives, tell all their friends and acquaintances about the great time they had, and return on a regular basis since each experience in the theme park is unique. The newcomers cannot be hurt, since that would be bad for business, but the newcomers can hurt, savage, and even kill the “hosts,”  but only in theory, since the hosts are rebooted each day to start again.

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The Lovers

“The Original” opens with a reunion between Teddy (James Marsden), who arrives on the train coming into Westworld, and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who lives with her parents on their ranch. The two obviously know each other; moreover they seem to care deeply for each other. Pretty quickly, viewers forget about who’s a guest and who’s a robot: instead, they become emotionally connected to the characters, especially to these two lovers.

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The Man in Black

Of course, there has to be a bad guy in Westworld, and that means even in the theme park world. A cadaverous and threatening Ed Harris is the Man with No Name, The Man in Black, the Big Bad Wolf of the Wild Wild West in a place where he’s been coming for 30 years to act out his own sadistic fantasies.

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The Westworld Management Team.

In a twist on the original Westworld, viewers are introduced to the theme park aspect of Westworld relatively quickly. After all, the series is about more than the shock of learning that your favorite character is not even human. It’s about the people who created the hosts, the people who take care of them, the people who write their scripts and manipulate the hosts’ lives.

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Jeffrey Wright plays Bernard, a programmer at Westworld, who reveals that the new computer program for the hosts is allowing them to access “memories” from prior programming.

Yeppers, that means something is bound to go wrong.

And if you still doubt that all is not well in Westworld…

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Enter the “mad scientist” who created it all: Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who seems to like his creations even more than he likes his co-workers, and who tends to get philosophical about the human condition, insisting that humans have reached their apotheosis, which ain’t looking too good since there’s a lot of political maneuvering going on already.

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Throw in one of the Administrators, Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is stressed to the max just anticipating something going wrong in the theme park, if only because nothing has gone wrong for at least 30 years, and who apparently has a lot of power to shut things down, even if all the other administrators do argue with her.

Just for good measure, throw in Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who probably wanted to be a novelist but wasn’t good enough to get traditionally published: he ends up writing the scripts at Westworld, and some of them are pretty corny. But he has greater ambitions, and he wants to team up with Cullen if there’s a shake-up in management.

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Back at The Theme Park

Throw in a few other characters, like Maeve (Thandie Newton, above), a whore at the local saloon;

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Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), another whore at the saloon, with lips to rival those of Angelina Jolie. Clementine has been updated, so she’s already accessing “memories” of previous incarnations, resulting in more natural “movements” and gestures;

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causing theme park employee Elsie (Shannon Woodward) to be sexually attracted to Clementine.

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Just for fun, let’s add some more baddies to the mix, like Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive-Poster-Boy Hector (Rodrigo Santoro),

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and his tattooed sidekick Armistice (Ingrid Bols Berdal), who have already killed a Marshall and have no problem upping their violence-quotient “on demand.”

Add a few unnamed theme park guests, including a kid who’s downright cruel to the hosts, and you’re in for a thrill ride at Westworld.

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The Themes

Westworld has all the classic themes that have concerned artists for centuries, all handled in a way that is sure to intrigue viewers, rather than have them feel like they’ve been hit over the head with “bigger issues.”

What is the nature of good and evil?
Who or what is God?
Does God have a moral responsibility toward his creations?
Can man become like God?
If man does become like God, in that he can “create” life, albeit artificial life, does man have a moral obligation to his own creations?
Are there then different levels of “god-ness”?
Is God good, evil, or indifferent?
What makes us “human”?
Are humans the top of the evolutionary pyramid?
Do other life forms, even if artificial ones, have moral rights?

And those were the themes I found in “The Original,” which was only the first episode. Whew.

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Last, but not Least

Now throw in sex and violence and (alluded to) violent sexual acts, and what more could any guest at a Wild Wild West fantasy theme park hope for?

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The acting by everyone involved is top-notch, and some of the actors, like Luis Hertham as Dolores’ father Peter Abernathy (below), are downright astounding.

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Writing and pacing are beyond great, and, despite my noting some of the major themes, the symbolism is intricately woven into a fast-paced story. Westworld is chilling and fantastic, scary and fascinating. You’re going to like it, my Lovelies.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9:00p.m. ET on HBO and repeats throughout the week. HBO subscribers can watch the premiere free. Rated Mature for Graphic Violence, Nudity, and Sexual Situations. Even the official trailer is Mature, so be warned.

(all photos & video courtesty HBO)

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Filed under Actors, Fantasy, Film Videos, Horror, Movies/Television, Review, Science Fiction, Violence, Westworld

Unrequited Love in the 2016 Remake of the Movie THE DRESSER, Review & Recap

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When I first saw the film version of The Dresser in 1983, based on the stage play by Ronald Harwood, starring Tom Courtney as Norman, the Dresser (below, R), and Albert Finney as Sir (below L), the fading and ailing stage-star, I was very moved by the unrequited love involving all the principals.

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Though I was obviously much younger during the screening of the first, award-winning film of The Dresser,  I was certainly looking forward to seeing some of my favorite actors in the Starz-BBC remake. Anthony Hopkins as the senile and ailing leader of a third-rate acting troupe, Sir; Ian McKellan as his Dresser, Norman; Emily Watson as Sir’s common-law “wife” and stage co-star, Her Ladyship; and Edward Fox in a small but powerful role as Lear’s Fool; all promised to make this a memorable visit to the backstage and dressing-room world of theatre during World War II. Alas, though most of the performances were understated and subtle, some of the production values were less than wonderful, and some of the interpretations of the characters were too over-the-top to be as effective as they were in the original film.

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Sir (Anthony Hopkins, above R) is clearly having difficulties that he can no longer hide from the other members of the acting troupe, including his common-law wife, Her Ladyship (Emily Watson), who urges him to announce his retirement after the night’s performance,

and the troupe’s stage manager, Madge (Sarah Lancashire), who urges him to let her cancel the show if he can’t go on.

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Sir’s long-time Dresser, Norman (Ian McKellan, below, standing), however, insists that Sir can perform, that Sir’s just a little tired, and that Norman himself has plenty of time before the curtain goes up to get Sir ready, once again, for the stage.

Norman continually insists that the show can go on despite the fact that Sir simply cannot remember the first line of the play and asks for it repeatedly, that he puts on the wrong make-up (for Othello, in a rather gruesome, decidedly unhumorous black-face moment), and cannot recall what tonight’s play is (King Lear). Despite Sir’s initial inability to recall his lines just before going on stage, Sir eventually gives the performance of his career, which may not be saying much considering that his “wife” Her Ladyship calls him a “third-rate actor” not a “Colossus” conquering the world.

Most of The Dresser is set in the intimate, almost claustrophobic arena of Sir’s dressing room, with other actors coming in and out to discuss their discontents, their ambitions, and maneuvering their way around Sir’s “political” position as the head of the troupe. Her Ladyship, tired of the grueling routine of the troupe, which must perform a different Shakespeare play each night, wants Sir to retire at the conclusion of the night’s performance. When Her Ladyship is not urging him to retire, she’s bitterly complaining about the fact that neither her personal nor her professional life, both intimately connected to Sir, has turned out the way she’d expected.

Irene, the young ingenue (Vanessa Kirby, below), attempts to “seduce” Sir, in what Dr. Zaius of Den of Geeks calls the “strangest faux-seduction” scene ever, in her ploy to replace Her Ladyship as the female star of the troupe. Actually, the scene seemed well-done to me, given Sir’s supposed age, physical frailty, illness, and impending death. Sir insists that Irene, whose name he cannot recall, lift her outfit so he can examine her legs, then he grabs them, commenting on the fact that she’s rather thin, then lifts her, shouting something about that’s the way it should be (he’s constantly complaining about all the weight that Her Ladyship has gained over the years, yet she still plays Cordelia in King Lear and Sir has to carry her onto the stage whenever they perform the play). In short, with the young, ambitious ingenue, Sir’s spirit is willing, but his flesh cannot complete the seduction: he must settle for grabbing her upper thighs and for lifting the younger actor in his arms, instead of having intercourse with her in his dressing room during the show’s Interlude.

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Sir may have a passion for the ladies, but it’s Norman who has the greatest passion for Sir, unrequited though it obviously is, especially given the story’s time setting. In the original version of the film, I didn’t realize that Norman was actually in love with Sir. I knew the Dresser was attached to the aging actor, that Norman felt his own position was insecure if anything happened to Sir, and that Norman felt unappreciated — most of the time. Norman’s somewhat bitter but still poignant revelation that he loves Sir as much as any of the females in Sir’s life was, in the 1983 film, startling and emotional in a way that, no doubt, earned Courtney the Oscar nomination and the BAFTA award as Supporting Actor.

In the new BBC version, shown by Starz, Norman’s final revelation that he loves Sir as much as anyone else, if not more because Norman’s love is hidden and unrequited, was barely audible, and, unfortunately, it had none of the punch and surprise that the original 1983 film version had.

This may be, as  Noel Murray of AVclub writes, a “sign of our more progressive times.” But it may also be due to the poorer production qualities of the 2016 version, in which many of the actors’ lines, especially McKellan’s and Hopkins’, were mumbled or otherwise inaudible and unclear. It may also be due to McKellan’s reinterpretation of the role: his Norman was more obviously gay — less nannyish and more campy — and his love for Sir seemed obvious even to Sir himself. That wasn’t true in the 1983 film, where Norman’s final revelation was startling and emotional.

One of the 2016 The Dresser‘s best performances was by Edward Fox as Geoffrey, who has been called in to play The Fool in Lear after losing the troupe’s original actor. Berated by Sir for constantly getting between Sir and the spotlights, Fox’s Fool was visibly shaken and tyrannized. As  Tim Goodman of Hollywood Reporter writes, Geoffrey is “another member of the troupe who, like Norman, was initially hired as ‘play-as-cast’ actors — meaning they would play whatever they were told to play, but always lesser roles — both [come] to terms with their lessened dreams.”

After the show, however, when Geoffrey reveals how thrilled and excited he was at being able to turn in a strong performance, and how he would like to be considered for larger roles, if there ever are any, while Sir listens — clearly bored — and Norman silently stands there — obviously having heard this speech many times before — Fox gave one of the best speeches of the evening. Halting and hesitant, rambling and nervous, cowed and intimidated, Fox’s Fool and his Geoffrey  were powerful, indeed.

Though Hopkins was consistently strong in the role of Sir, his lines were sometimes difficult to make out. I had to simply guess what was going on. And I’d already seen the film in 1983. This was the major flaw in the current production: if the viewers can’t hear the lines, the story loses much of its effect.

The Dresser is a story about actors playing actors putting on a stage-play, which I usually dislike almost as much as books about writers writing books about writers, but the relatively strong performances by the entire 2016 cast make it an interesting story, even if it’s lost the punch of the final “daring” Reveal: Norman’s “semi-subversive” love for another man, who’s his employer besides, the ailing and dying Sir.

Unfortunately, true to Her Ladyship’s continuous complaints and accusations, Sir cares for no one but himself.

Certainly not for his devoted and loyal Dresser, Norman.

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If you missed the Memorial Day premiere of The Dresser, you can watch it on Starz (free, any time, on Starz OnDemand, for subscribers) or when it re-runs (for subscribers or with a trial membership).

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