The Man in Black’s Influence beyond Westworld

The salary he was going to receive was what motivated Yul Brynner to participate in Westworld, the original 1973 film. The star needed money and, for Michael Crichton, author, and director of the movie, it was a privilege to have a legend in the cast.

Indirectly, it was Brynner’s presence that artistically marked the Westworld universe so definitively that it would become a reference for successful franchises and passionate fans, such as The Terminator and Halloween. The actor lives as an android in a futuristic western-themed amusement park. Unlike the reboot, which gave a name and origin story to “the man in black”, the original didn’t even have a name. It was simply the gunslinger participating in the bloodbath at Westworld Park.

In the original film, two friends are in the park in the western part (it has ancient Rome and medieval times), unaware of the failures in all units where the androids no longer respond to the system, starting to act on their own. That’s why they accept the duel with the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner), the man who is always in black. The android not only kills one of the men but begins to relentlessly pursue the other. In this escape, the guest faces human massacres carried out in all units of the park.

There are several sequences that are now classic, such as the acid being thrown in the android’s face and his way of walking and talking. All exhaustively copied to this day.

Having Yul Brynner in a modern western was a double-edged sword. The author, a fan of the Magnificent Seven, established that the Gunslinger’s appearance would be blatantly based on Chris Adams, Brynner’s character in the classic, and where he was always dressed in black. However, seeing the star as a “robot”, also provoked laughter in the audience. Trauma for the director who realized that the dangerous message of technology and corporate greed was being ignored by calling the film the “robot gone mad”. “The laughs are in the wrong places. There was extreme tension where I hadn’t planned on it. I felt like the reaction, and maybe the image, was out of control,” he said at the time.

Yul Brynner‘s performance was indeed extremely remarkable. Director John Carpenter created his iconic psychopath Mike Meyers from the Halloween franchise a few years later, inspired by the man in black. Another who came to work on the topic of technology, corporations, and greed a decade later was James Cameron, who was inspired by the final scene of Westworld in The Terminator, using the same concept and even angles for the cameras. And yes, he recommended Arnold Schwarzenegger to think about Yul Brynner‘s character when he was on camera. The actor copied it so well that, in 2002, he even developed a remake of the work, with plans to make the Gunslinger himself. The project was shelved.

Now in the 2022 version, having a versatile and respected actor like Ed Harris in the role of The Man in Black was a smart decision, as was changing his story. After all, it’s only in Season 4 that he becomes an android. In the series, he brings together in himself the two cruel sides of the metaphor – technology and greed – uniting in soul and matter the deviation of character that makes him the great villain of everything.

As a young man, William still had innocence, kindness, and hope, even if on a facade. However, with the park’s realistic games and his unresolved passion for the android Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), he gets involved in the pleasure of killing and inflicting pain, corrupting his trajectory irretrievably. After the androids’ revolt, William becomes the main antagonist as he is the majority owner of the park, so even with a perfect copy of him, he was kept alive because he still has a role to play.

It is difficult to anticipate whether William will have redemption. His heinous crimes would not be pardoned, but he is still effectively the only one able to shut down Westworld. If I can be saved… will it?

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