Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Last night's Westworld was loaded with nods to Tarkovsky's Stalker

Illustration for article titled Last nights emWestworld/em was loaded with nods to Tarkovskys iStalker/i
Photo: HBO

Westworld dropped a doozy of an episode last night, with the 71-minute entry proving internet theorists right on at least one front: Yes, Delos is using the park as a means of experimenting with digital immortality. We see this through the character of Jim Delos (Peter Mullan), who, after dying of some nebulous disease, is cloned and subjected time and again to having his mind uploaded into this host version of his body. Unfortunately, the decades-long project doesn’t quite succeed as they’d hoped.


What stood out for many, including our reviewer, was just how much the introduction of host Delos in his insulated pod evoked the opening of the second season of Lost, when we meet Desmond, the man beyond the hatch. From the fitness to the music to the aesthetic, it seemed as if the ABC series influence loomed large. According to co-creator and director of last night’s episode, Lisa Joy, however, that was not the case.

In a new interview with Vanity Fair, Joy says she’s never seen the show. “It’s kind of funny how sometimes shows can rhyme in ways that are aesthetic that weren’t necessarily intentional,” she said. Rather, the similarities are chalked up to how the “intentions of the sequences are so similar.”


Delos’ dancing and, later, his scarred face, caused fans to also wonder whether or not Joy was inspired by sci-fi flicks like Ex-Machina and Event Horizon, respectively, but those, too, were not intentional. What was, however, were the allusions to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, a movie that Joy and co-creator Jonathan Nolan referenced in a recent Reddit AMA.

Vanity Fair points out direct visual references—spilled milk, to call out one example—to the film, as well as how the episode’s camerawork evoked the “slow, dream-like movements” of Tarkovsky. But author Joanna Robinson sees more connections between Stalker and Westworld that veer beyond aesthetics.


Stalker, the story of three men in search of a room where your fondest wish will be granted, works to disorient by obfuscating time, perspective, and continuity, which you could also say about Westworld. Furthermore, the two shows share themes of humanity’s desire to transcend death. But there might also be direct plot threads that can be drawn between the two stories:

We’ve already established that Westworld Season 2 seems to show several characters on a journey towards the same end point. Who knows exactly where Maeve will end up, since her mission is pegged to her daughter—but William (Ed Harris), Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and a number of other Hosts (including Major Craddock, RIP) are chasing “Glory” or “the Valley Beyond” or “the Pearly Gates.” Dolores seems to think of that place as a weapon that might destroy humanity. I think she learned to think of it that way from Logan, who, back at his father’s retirement party in Episode 2, told her: “That, darling, is the sound of fools fiddling while the whole fucking species starts to burn. They lit the match. So here’s to you, assholes. May your forevers be blissfully short.”

William calls that destination his greatest mistake, so I think it’s safe to say we saw it in this episode. It’s the underground lab where Bernard and Elsie found Jim Delos. That interlocking hexagon image we saw on William’s daughter Emily’s (Katja Herbers) map in Episode 3 is similar enough to the infinity-esque symbol that Delos Inc. uses for its secret projects, so I think it’s safe to say she’s looking for that lab, too. You’ve seen that logo in almost every episode of Season 2, even if you didn’t know what you were looking at.


In other words, the goal everyone is chasing is “digital immortality”—the so-called “Door” of Ford’s design is the same as the dream-fulfilling Room sought after in Stalker. If you’re furiously attempting to cobble together exactly where this season of Westworld is headed, then, you could find worse ways to spend an evening than revisiting one of Tarkovsky’s best.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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