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“It’s going to happen.” Those are the words of Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about one aspect of the HBO drama’s third season that he fully believes will happen in real life: the self-driving automobile.
In “Parce Domine,” the season three premiere directed by Nolan and co-written by Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy, Westworld launches viewers into a brand new world: our own, albeit some decades down the line. In some ways it’s unrecognizable, as folks like Aaron Paul’s Caleb Nichols wander around at night committing crimes via a phone app called RICO. In other ways, it’s startlingly real (humanoid hosts like Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores included in that number), which is very much by Nolan and Joy’s design.
“The approach we took in terms of grounded futurism is actually a pretty tricky one,” Nolan tells THR. “In many ways, it’s easier to go with a more hyperbolic take on the future, one that’s dystopian, dark and crazy. We wanted to do something that felt very authentic and almost uncanny — that people would look at it and think, ‘Okay, fair enough. That’s probably where we will be.’ It meant finding ways where technology has changed in dramatic ways, but also in subtle ways. We wanted to create a future that’s exciting and exhilarating but in some ways a little bent out and disappointing, with the sense that things have not radically changed.”
Listen to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Series Regular podcast recap of the Westworld season three premiere:
One radical change: self-driving cars. Much of the season three premiere takes place in Los Angeles, where most people are transported via vehicles that drive themselves. There are exceptions to the self-driving car rule, such as when Dolores runs an enemy over in one of the premiere’s tensest action scenes, but just a few minutes later, she’s joined by a robotic ally who arrives via a car that moves all on its own. According to Nolan, this isn’t a question about if self-driving cars will become normalized, but when.
“We’ve been researching the end of the automobile,” says Nolan. “Whenever you set a period piece in Victorian-era London, the first shot is a crane shot that starts with someone dumping a latrine bucket out the window. You go, ‘God, how do they live in such filth?’ Our grandchildren will [similarly] be astonished to learn that we have allowed automobiles to corrode and invade our cities to the degree that we did.”
“There are cars in the show, of course,” he continues. “I’m a fully red-blooded American when it comes to cars. I love them. But we have had fascinating conversations with Bjarke Ingels, who is a brilliant thinker and architect, and we thought about what the city would look like in the future. There are a couple of neighborhoods in Barcelona called ‘super blocks,’ and another town in Spain where they eliminated automobiles from the city center, and you look at pictures of them, and you instantly go: ‘That’s the future. That is absolutely the future.'”
Nolan points back to the way cities operated in the 1920s, before the advent of the automobile, as a reason why he believes in the self-driving future: “On a road like Broadway, people walked across it back and forth. There were fruit vendors to conduct commerce. For three generations, we have reoriented cities 90 degrees away from the way they’re supposed to work. It’s all the cause of the total domination of the private automobile. That’s clearly going to end. I live in L.A. and there isn’t enough room for all of the people, let alone all the fucking cars. So I think this one is a safe bet. It’s clearly going to happen. It’s going to happen in the next 10 years. When it happens, the idea that the second most expensive thing someone will ever buy aside from a dwelling is a private car, it will disappear the way that horse ownership disappeared.”
On this front, at least, Nolan believes Westworld is making an argument in favor of technological advancements, even if much of the rest of the show (i.e. the murdering and maiming at a certain robot-filled theme park) argues otherwise: “It’s one of the aspects of our dystopia that isn’t wishful thinking, because I think it’s going to happen, and I think it’s a more utopian idea.”
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