Whose Real? Encountering New Frontiers in Westworld
This article explores the themes of psychoanalysis and Lacanian theory discernible in the HBO version of Westworld (HBO 2016- ). This article argues that it is productive to examine the series through a psychoanalytic lens, especially through Jacques Lacan’s concept of the Real. In an examination of Season One of the series, we argue that this new show – given its focus on psychological landscapes and trauma – requires a deeper textual analysis to uncover similar Lacanian themes. These are themes signposted by the quite literal depictions of therapy sessions shown throughout the season. At the heart of the show lies a double irony about the human and non-human characters in the show. Westworld’s robotic characters are gripped by the complexity of their memories: memories pre-programmed, easily adjusted and changed by the scientists running the park. Then, we see the actual human figures of the show in hot pursuit of violent sexual desires, thoughtlessly enacting free plays of desire without consequence and the conscientious interruption of the superego or the ‘Law’. To explain this, we firstly provide an introduction to the contextual origins of the three psychoanalytic orders (or triad) developed in Lacan’s writings, particularly looking at Seminar II of 1954-1955. Using this framework, we then focus on a textual analysis of four key characters in the series, and how each negotiates journeys through these conceptual/spatial zones that delineate some ‘encounter with the Real’. Finally, we argue that the text’s complex narrative devices become allegorical for the viewer him- or herself as a lost figure in search of answers, allowing a meta-analysis of key themes of the show.
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